April 10, 2019

NFG speaks with place-based funders on how they are using impact investing to further justice and equity

A newspaper page with graphs and charts for the stock market.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

An increasing number of foundations are embracing impact investing as a powerful strategy to potentially make use of all of their assets — not just 5% — to advance their place-based and justice-oriented missions. Last month, several Neighborhood Funders Group members attended Confluence Philanthropy’s 9th Annual Practitioners Gathering to explore how the philanthropic and investment sectors can accelerate movement-building for equity. In reflection, a few folks from NFG’s funder network share their perspectives on, and experience in, mission-related investing.

Beyond grantmaking for racial equity

Soon after Confluence Philanthropy’s Gathering, NFG member Amalgamated Foundation launched the Hate Is Not Charitable Campaign. The campaign brings to light how Donor Advised Funds (“DAFs”) have been used to finance hate groups — often times anonymously — and calls on DAF providers to stop this trend that can fund in direct opposition to some of these foundations’ missions. While the campaign highlights how DAFs can be misused when they are eventually dispersed, Amalgamated is also considering how these funds are being used while they are waiting to be dispersed.

Quote by Tyler Nickerson of Amalgamated Bank: “This is an opportunity for foundations to put all of their resources towards mission alignment and supporting enterprises that center a racial justice strategy.”“DAFs provide a set of resources... that can be risk tolerant, quick moving, and significant in their scale. Utilizing current IRS tax codes, DAF holders are allowed to make program related investments with their resources,” says Tyler Nickerson, First Vice President for Philanthropy Banking at Amalgamated Bank.

By choosing not to invest in some of the market’s largest companies in the fossil fuel, gun manufacturer, and private prison industries, Amalgamated is proactively aligning all of its assets with its values of environmental and social responsibility.

Incourage Community Foundation invests all of its endowed funds, including DAFs, in the same investment pool that includes their impact investments. According to Heather McKellips, Director of Learning & Engagement, "Incourage looks for investment opportunities that advance its vision of an inclusive, adaptive, and sustainable community.” She says, “Prudently thinking through how the principal portion of an investment portfolio (the 95%) can be effectively deployed to positively impact an issue, in addition to the traditional grantmaking portion (the 5%), greatly increases the ability to impact the real issues facing our communities.”

Impact investing strategies

For Incourage, this includes an African American-led private equity fund that seeks to provide business ownership opportunities for entrepreneurs of color and regional Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that channel capital and technical assistance to underserved populations including entrepreneurs and households of color, and nonprofit organizations serving communities of color. Heather explains, “By investing in CDFIs that do small business lending in a community, area businesses can then more readily access needed funding to start up, retain, and expand operations, meaning more families have jobs and then have less of a need for support services that are often funded by grant dollars.”

Quote by  Mark Paley of The Hyams Foundation: “Hyams does, however, have a long history of utilizing PRIs… These investments are examples of using issue-specific investment models to further Hyams’s racial equity work beyond direct grantmaking.”For foundations just starting with impact investing, it can be helpful to look at these alternatives. NFG member The Hyams Foundation considers itself to be at the beginning stages of its impact investment work and is exploring investment strategies to further its mission to increase economic, racial, and social justice and power within low-income communities in Boston and Chelsea, Massachusetts. In addition to its affordable housing PRIs, Hyams is exploring additional social, economic, and racial justice investment opportunities including social enterprise, wealth building, and solidarity economy models.

“Hyams does, however, have a long history of utilizing PRIs, including two active loans to affordable housing loan funds. These investments are examples of using issue-specific investment models to further Hyams’s racial equity work beyond direct grantmaking,” says Mark Paley, Director of Administration & Finance (and NFG board member).

Quote by Heather McKellips of Incourage Community Foundation: “We have found it to be much more effective to start with the problem or issue, and then look holistically at what the resources are that you, or someone you can collaborate with, can bring to bear.”There are many approaches to impact investing. Unlike Amalgamated Foundation, Nia Community Fund's approach is to invest directly into solutions-focused companies with diverse leaders, rather than screen out sectors. Founder and Director Kristin Hull says, “We begin with our end goal in mind, rather than with traditional investment philosophy. We think about how we can use each dollar to maximize our positive impact.” Their investment dollars go to women and people of color-led businesses working to address social justice and environmental sustainability.

Amalgamated is also exploring new models seeking to expand capital to Black, Brown, and Native communities. “This is an opportunity for foundations to put all of their resources towards mission alignment and supporting enterprises that center a racial justice strategy,” says Tyler Nickerson.

Impact investing should always be centered around core values. Evaluating how a foundation is putting its values into practice can even start with how they interface with the investment industry itself. For example, Nia Community Fund looks for companies, funds, and investment managers that use a racial justice lens, and predominantly works with women and people of color.

Quote by Kristin Hull of Nia Community Fund: “Our investment dollars far outweigh our grant dollars and so we are really strategic with both buckets and do as much to leverage what we have and have every dollar be as effective as possible.”Incourage Community Foundation takes their role as an investor even further by being “active owners who vote proxies and practice other forms of shareholder engagement to encourage inclusive and fair labor practices, strong governance, and responsible environmental practices by corporations doing business in our state,” according to Heather McKellips.

Amalgamated’s Tyler Nickerson suggests that investors and grantmakers “listen to the communities in which they seek to support. They know what the community needs and the type of businesses it can support. Community members also know who is a fair employer and a good steward.” He notes that centering those voices and racial justice is key in developing solutions like a fair and equitable business strategy, whether it involves grocery stores or clean energy or manufacturing jobs.

Takeaways and lessons learned

1. Much like a healthy business model, communities need diverse forms of investment.

“Communities need multiple types of capital to become inclusive, thriving places. Charitable grants can’t be the only the tool to build greater equity within community,” says Tyler Nickerson. “Grants coupled with investment capital will create an integrated stream of resources to build communities where all people can succeed.”

2. For some funders, the grant-to-investment ratio can be strengthened, even while preserving an endowment’s lifespan.

Nia Community Fund’s Kristin Hull points out, “Our investment dollars by far outweigh our grant dollars and so we are really strategic with both buckets and do as much to leverage what we have and have every dollar be as effective as possible.” Nia Community Fund focuses on working beyond the status quo and investing into a just, sustainable, and inclusive economy, which means having an investment policy statement and investment practices that keep equity and justice as the core principles.

3. Focus on community needs first, and develop your investment model accordingly.

While foundations often start with an investment product that they then try to figure out how to use to address their focus issues, Heather McKellips of Incourage Community Foundation says, “We have found it to be much more effective to start with the problem or issue, and then look holistically at what the resources are that you, or someone you can collaborate with, can bring to bear."

4. Spread the risk and enhance the impact through collaboration.

This collaboration is key to moving the philanthropic and investment sectors to a more integrated and effective model. Confluence Philanthropy and NFG are creating spaces to explore ideas around impact investing, such as the Hyams Foundation’s interest in engaging with other organizations on what racial justice investment metrics could look like.

Amalgamated’s Tyler Nickerson advises, “Find your allies and ask them to join in community-based solutions. Doing so spreads the risk, expands the capital stack, and helps move other institutions in their learning journey.”

June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!