Philanthropy on the Frontlines of Ferguson

The Deaconess Foundation seeks to shift public policy, mobilize community members, and strengthen advocacy efforts related to children and youth. By Rev. Starsky D. Wilson Standford Social Innovation Review - Spring 2016 Few moments in life are filled with the hope and promise of a high school graduation. Marked by celebration and anticipation of the future, commencement is one of the most important milestones in a young person’s life. For students in Normandy High School’s class of 2014, though, graduation was also a stark reminder of the deep inequities facing many of America’s young people. The district, in a suburb of St. Louis, had lost its accreditation in 2012, and in 2013 it found itself at the center of a school transfer debacle that at one point saw dozens of white parents from nearby suburbs yelling for Normandy’s predominantly black young people to leave the schools in their communities and “go home.” Shortly after graduation in 2014, the Missouri State Board of Education announced that the Normandy School District would close that same year. Then Michael Brown Jr. was shot. Brown was one of the last students to fulfill the requirements for graduation in the Normandy School District. The events in Ferguson since his death have underscored the health impact and trauma of racism, from incidents experienced on the street to the implicit bias found in institutions. In brief, the summer of 2014 marked the very public diagnosis of an unhealthy community with suffering youth and racial inequity as the most prominent symptoms. Brown’s death at the hands of former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson sparked a national dialogue about racial inequality. It brought home the point that, just as place and poverty are social determinants of health, racial equity is an important indicator of our communities’ health. This dialogue has been a critically important step toward addressing the complex challenges and deep fissures that exist in communities plagued by racial tension and economic instability. But we at Deaconess Foundation strongly believe that in order to overcome these challenges and heal the fissures, the dialogue must be followed by action on a systemic level. Beyond Grantmaking  At Deaconess, we came to the conclusion that a systemic approach to change was the best course of action—for us, and for other foundations seeking to effect lasting change—a few years ago. Deaconess is the successor of the Evangelical Deaconess Society of St. Louis; it began its grantmaking in 1998 with proceeds from the sale of the Deaconess Incarnate Word Health System. In the spirit of its United Church of Christ faith heritage, our mission is to improve the health of the St. Louis metropolitan community and its residents. The foundation envisions a community that values the health and well-being of all children and gives priority attention to the most vulnerable. The first of our five core values is justice, as we believe that “a just society is essential for the full achievement of individual and community health.” In November 2013, Deaconess decided to build on a decade of knowledge and deep relationships with child-serving agencies and congregational partners to expand impact through a community capacitybuilding plan. The plan aims to shift public policy, mobilize community members, and strengthen advocacy efforts related to children and young people. The plan also seeks to expand the role of the foundation by providing the community with resources in addition to funding—specifically, by investing reputational and relational capital as an influencer, convener, and broker. Those efforts set the stage for our response after the shooting. Ten days into the uprising and widespread civil unrest in Ferguson, Deaconess made a flexible funding commitment of $100,000 to support youth organizing. In 2015, Deaconess followed up by establishing the Ferguson Youth Organizing Fund, which allows other donors to invest through Deaconess. We also launched a new grant opportunity that provides dedicated annual funding for youth organizing. Deaconess’s response to the uprising attracted the interest of funders outside the region. To date, outside funding partners have been as diverse as the Public Welfare Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the NBA Players’ Association Foundation, Casey Family Programs, and Anheuser Busch InBev. To advance racial and socioeconomic equity post-Ferguson, the foundation’s ability to build and sustain relationships at both grasstops and grassroots levels is even more important than the dollars invested. From nonviolent direct actions (including being arrested with clergy leaders attempting to enter the US Attorney’s office on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death) to closed-door strategy meetings, Deaconess staff members have engaged directly, taking on coordinating roles with community organizers, elected officials, law enforcement, local clergy, civil rights activists, and national funders. The Ferguson Commission The various roles Deaconess played in the wake of the unrest led to an invitation from Missouri Governor Jeremiah Nixon for me to co-chair the Ferguson Commission. Created by executive order in November 2014, the Ferguson Commission has been called an experiment in inclusive democracy. It has engaged more than 2,200 citizens and 100 subject matter experts in more than 60 public meetings, and it has marshalled nearly 20,000 volunteer hours to explore issues such as citizen-law enforcement relations, municipal courts and governance, racial and ethnic relations, regional disparities in health, education, housing, transportation, child care, and family and community stability. The commission’s nearly $1 million budget was funded primarily by the State of Missouri through economic development, community service, and community development block grant dollars. Funding was also provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Missouri Foundation for Health, and Deaconess Foundation. The United Way of Greater St. Louis served as the commission’s fiscal agent. The Ferguson Commission report, Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity, was released on September 14, 2015. It includes 189 calls to action for regional and statewide policymakers. Priority recommendations are organized into four categories: racial equity, justice for all, youth at the center, and opportunities to thrive. The life expectancy gap among citizens in this region differs by almost 40 years depending on ZIP code, with residents of majority white municipalities outliving majority black ones by decades.1 The state of Missouri ranked 50th in the racial discipline gap among primary- school-aged children and 47th among secondary school students.2 According to the University of Missouri-St. Louis Public Policy Research Center, the 2012 gross domestic product for the St. Louis region would have been $13.56 billion greater (at $151.3 billion) if there had been no racial income gap.3 The commission’s findings and recommendations were telling, but the report’s frame is vital. The report is about race, regionalism, and responsiveness to community outcries. The very first page states, “We know that talking about race makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But make no mistake: this is about race.” With the numerous studies and increased attention focused on the area—from US Department of Justice reports to President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing—it was important that the Ferguson Commission produced a “People’s Report,” informed and owned by citizens rather than elected officials or policy wonks. Leading the commission gave Deaconess the opportunity to influence the prioritizing of policy recommendations, and we emphasized the need to advance racial and health equity, as well as to create policies that are supported by research and that will have generational impact. As the commission moved toward implementation and evaluation, the foundation’s experience supporting collective impact further informed the discussion. Since the recommendations became public, Deaconess has convened a group of community organizing and advocacy organizations to coordinate campaigns and public actions to assure accountability for civic leaders. In November 2015, we worked with activists to host two public accountability meetings where civic leaders—including the attorney general, the city mayor, legislators, the Chamber of Commerce president, and school superintendents—pledged support for Ferguson Commission calls to action. In many ways, the Ferguson Commission gave Deaconess an opportunity to learn and explore its emerging approach to social change in real time. Public testimony from people directly affected assured robust community engagement in policy development. Foundation leaders advocated with partner organizations within work groups and with elected officials. Foundation funding undergirded each element of the process. This experiment in inclusive democracy has accelerated staff learning and validated relatively new governance platforms, including a policy and community advisory board that includes youth voices and elected officials informing our long-term program. Looking Ahead Michael Brown Jr.’s death was singular in its impact on raising national awareness about racial inequities, but his experience in the St. Louis region was not uncommon. His classmates effectively started their adult lives through the haze of tear gas. They still face barriers that limit their quality of life and life expectancy. The disparities are vast and the need is pressing. If philanthropy wants to continue to be venture capital for social change, health foundations and others must recognize the root causes of the problems they are trying to solve. They must invest in our most vulnerable young people’s future by supporting systemic change. Notes 1 St. Louis County, Comprehensive Planning Division, “Aging Successfully in St. Louis County,” 2014. 2 Daniel Losen, Cheri Hodson, Michael A. Keith II, et al., “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” The Center for Civil Rights Remedies, February 2015. 3 Public Policy Research Center, “An Equity Assessment of the St. Louis Region,” University of Missouri-St. Louis, 2015. The Reverend Starsky D. Wilson is a pastor, philanthropist, and activist pursuing God’s vision of community marked by justice, peace, and love. He is president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation, pastor of Saint John’s Church (The Beloved Community), and co-chair of the Ferguson Commission. Read the original post in the Standford Social Innovation Review.  
November 23, 2021

Looking back & what's ahead: NFG's November 2021 Newsletter

As we're approaching the end of the year, our team at Neighborhood Funders Group has begun reflecting on the many ways we've been organizing with funders to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. In this month's newsletter, you'll find our highlights from 2021 and a glimpse of what to expect from each of our programs in 2022 to get you excited about continuing to co-conspire with the NFG community.


  

AMPLIFY FUND

  • In 2021, Amplify Fund distributed $3.6m in general operating grants to our 56 grantees in 8 places, including $700k in capacity building grants and collaboration grants; we hope you consider co-funding these amazing organizations with us!
  • We also worked on a more public presence this year by creating and distributing videos about our grantees and our grantmaking model, and by publishing in a major magazine.
  • Next year will be a big transition: our grantees are leading our theory of change refresh, our Steering Committee is doubling down on efforts to shift our field towards racial justice and power building, and we are fundraising (i.e., encouraging you all to join our Steering Committee) to ensure the Amplify Fund continues for years to come.

 

DEMOCRATIZING DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM

  • This year, the Democratizing Development Program (DDP) brought community and philanthropic leaders together to advance BIPOC organizing and policy solutions for land, housing, community ownership, and power.

  • ICYMI: check out our sessions on Addressing the Housing Crisis in New York and Beyond, which featured tenant leaders and advocates in New York State who are building power to address the housing crisis, and Philanthropy and the Case for Reparations in collaboration with the Decolonizing Wealth Project, featuring organizations that are advancing reparations as a strategy to heal, restore, repair, and rebuild communities.
  • In 2022, DDP will be engaging local and national-level funders interested in learning how to be more aligned with movement priorities, with a focus on power building strategies for housing justice. Our sessions will share experiences of how funders have approached partnership and power-sharing with community organizations, and outcomes that are possible through this approach.

 

FUNDERS FOR A JUST ECONOMY

  • Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) focused our efforts this year on learning from movement partners who are building a powerful movement for inclusive worker power, considering both rising fascism and the new federal administration, and sharing how funders can support multiracial, multi-gender movements toward policy wins that build community and worker power, combat austerity policies, and support transformational and longer-term strategies toward racial, gender, climate, and economic justice.
  • We did this through many programs and reports this year. Don’t forget to rewatch and re-read some highlights, including the March Policy Briefing and learning about the amazing local organizing in Nashville, Houston, Washington DC, and Southern California’s Inland Region.
  • Next year, FJE aspires to double down our efforts to organize funders to resource grassroots power building, address racial capitalism, and commit more money to movement organizations that are boldly organizing to improve the quality of life, health, and working conditions of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities, and queer, trans and gender non-binary people. Stay tuned for more information about upcoming meetings with the US Department of Labor (every few months) and FJE’s annual Policy Briefing in March 2022.

 

INTEGRATED RURAL STRATEGIES GROUP

  • Integrated Rural Strategies Group (IRSG) deepened its roots in rural community-led work with the launch of our Movement Advisors Committee; launched the Resourcing Rural Organizing Infrastructure: A New York Case Study report containing analysis and funder recommendations for supporting rural communities; and continues to support funders in actualizing these recommendations and the guidance of our Movement Advisors by developing a Rural Equity Funding Toolkit that includes a funder self-assessment and set of resources.
  • IRSG will be hosting its flagship annual event — the Multiracial Rural Equity Summit — on December 9. We invite any funder interested in learning the critical role rural communities play in advancing justice and equity to join us. For a taste of what we’ll dig into at the Summit, check out this 10-minute video on how funders can support place-based rural community power.
  • In 2022, IRSG will live into its charge to mobilize philanthropy by launching a New York Rural Organizing Funding Portfolio, offering funders of all types the opportunity to resource rural community organizing across New York State in a strategic, coordinated portfolio. We will also be hosting workshops and learning communities to mobilize philanthropic resources to build rural power with our Rural Equity Funding Toolkit.

 

MIDWEST ORGANIZING INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDERS

  • In 2021, the Midwest Organizing Infrastructure Funders hosted our first events, which have already moved resources to organizing and power building work in the Midwest. We also launched our first campaign and worked to deepen our relationships with funders to better understand Midwest-specific needs around moving resources to movements for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.
  • To connect with us, please read our November newsletter and email Amanda Hwu to learn more about opportunities for engagement.
  • In 2022, we will be launching our inaugural Coordinating Committee to guide the vision and priorities of this new program, continuing our racial justice campaign for Black farmers, and designing and hosting interactive spaces for funders to deepen their engagement with grassroots organizing infrastructure in the Midwest.

 

PHILANTHROPY FORWARD

  • In 2021, Philanthropy Forward hosted virtual sessions and peer coaching spaces for the 16 CEO Fellows in Cohort 3. We hosted Network Gatherings for 50 current and past Fellows to deepen their work and analyses on racial & gender justice and community power building to disrupt and transform the future of philanthropy.
  • To learn more about Philanthropy Forward, please see here; and get more info about Cohort 3 here. Please contact Adriana Rocha for any additional questions.
  • In 2022, we look forward to launching Cohort 4 and continuing to provide programming for Cohort 3 and the Philanthropy Forward network.

 

NFG is offering a few more opportunities this year to co-conspire with us! Keep reading to find out more about IRSG's Multiracial Rural Equity Summit, and funders — don't miss our final Member Connection Call of the year on December 1.

At this Member Connection Call, we'll ask you to share how you've centered care in your grantmaking and/or what you've shifted at your foundation to fund BIPOC communities to build power. Share what support you may need as a grantmaker to fund racial, gender, economic, and climate justice with even more resources so that BIPOC communities, low-income communities, workers, migrants, rural communities, people with disabilities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and all of our communities thrive in a liberated world where we are all well, where we are all cared for, and where there is abundance for all.

In solidarity,

— the NFG team

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October 28, 2021

Philanthropy’s horoscope for care + liberation: NFG's October 2021 Newsletter

I’ve been on NFG’s staff team since July 2019 — popping into your inbox (whether you knew it was me or not) as one of the behind-the-scenes creators/writers/editors of our monthly newsletters and other communications pieces.

In addition to being NFG’s Director of Membership and Communications, I’m a puppy parent, an avid car camper, a chaser of sunrises & sunsets, and one of many queer folx who leans on astrologer Chani Nicholas to help me ‘discover and live out my life’s purpose.’

For those of you who are not astrology aficionados, we’re now in Scorpio season (I’m an Aquarius sun, Gemini rising, and Cancer moon). And Chani’s horoscope for me this season really struck a chord; here’s a snippet:

“In astrology, the house we associate with physical ailments is also the place where we toil. This Scorpio season, you’re called to investigate how the two interweave. How do your work habits and expectations impact you physically? Where does stress live in your body? How does it let you know?

By gathering the morse code of your heart beats, your nerves as they rustle, or the needling heat of a back ache, you transfigure these inconveniences into valuable data: into information you can pivot from. By heeding the complaints of your body, you leave an offering at the steps of your most precious temple — you.”

This invitation to collect the data from my body, locate where I feel stress, and explore the interconnectedness between my work habits & expectations and my body’s aches, pains, fatigue, satisfaction, etc. is a welcome and timely one.


Over the past year + some change, the NFG team has begun to explore what it means to create & steward our culture of care. We are still in the nascent stage of defining NFG’s culture of care and how it will & can evolve. So far, this has looked like the following:

  • Annual self-care stipends for staff
  • Flexibility with annual professional development funds and the ability to repurpose some of those funds for our individual wellness
  • More administrative closures at the end of the year and at other times of the year (NFG closed for 3 weeks at the end of 2020 and will be closed from December 15, 2021 - January 4, 2022)

We’re continuing to imagine what kind of world is possible — and what role philanthropy plays in moving all of us toward liberation — when we honor the data from our bodies, dismantle the oppressive structures that aren’t serving us at work or in any parts of our lives, and truly center care for ourselves as individuals, in our teams, with our movement leaders & grantees, and in our communities.

I’m ruminating on questions like:

  • How do we center care in our work as we all grapple with white supremacy culture characteristics of urgency, quantity vs. quality, and perfectionism?
  • How and where do we incorporate care into schedules that have many folx in 4, 5, or 6+ zoom meetings a day? What is the toll of the way we work on our bodies, minds, and spirit?
  • How is care reflected in our organizational policies, in our theory of change, and in our values and work culture? Where can care be more deeply rooted in these aspects of our organizations?
  • How do we fully resource our team as humans to show up as their full selves and feel fully supported to do their best work (which also means taking breaks and pausing and resting and honoring whatever data our bodies tell us)?
  • How does care, wellness, and the ability to be well show up in philanthropy (or not)? And what does that mean for NFG as we strive to fulfill our mission to organize philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities thrive?
  • How can our practices of care at NFG and across the philanthropic sector ripple out so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities, workers, migrants, rural communities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and all of our communities thrive in a liberated world where we are all well, where we are all cared for, and where there is abundance for all?

Last week, NFG’s President, Adriana Rocha, and I hosted our October Member Connection Call, where we asked grantmakers who joined us from Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, and New York: how you are caring for yourself, your team, and the movement leaders & grantees that you're supporting as we move through Scorpio season to the end of the year? Members shared ideas and practices including: creating care packages for team members; organization-wide pauses & sabbaticals as a call to rest (see this article from Headwaters Foundation on sabbatical, shifting culture, and systems change); starting the day with a walk outside instead of emails; centering healing justice in our work; and extending care into grantmaking by providing wellness grants (shoutout to NFG’s Amplify Fund!).

I pose this same set of questions to you: 

  • How are you caring for yourself?
  • How are you caring for your team?
  • How are you caring for movement leaders and grantees as a grantmaker?

Send me a note to let me know; we’ll keep sharing these strategies for care in NFG’s communications.

And funders: please join us on December 1 for NFG’s final Member Connection Call of the year, where we’ll continue this conversation on care + liberation, as well as reflect on what you’ve done/learned in 2021 to shift your grantmaking to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.

Sending all the good & nourishing vibes your way,

Courtney Banayad
she/her
Director of Membership and Communications
 

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