January 14, 2019

Supporting Transformative Change with NFG

Alex Desautels

Alex Desautels, Program Manager for Strategy Development and Dissemination with The California Endowment, remembers her first encounter with Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), just after entering philanthropy from the field of public health:

I have been in philanthropy now for 4 years. When I was first assigned to go and sit in on an NFG strategic planning conversation, for me it was like ‘Wow, this is the conversation I want to have!’ It focused on the root causes of what we want to solve and grounded everything from there, which is not the typical way that these conversations happen. I felt like I had found a home for me to develop my analysis and partner with other funders in applying that analysis to our funding strategies.

She appreciates NFG’s clarity and boldness in naming and elevating issues of racial and economic justice in philanthropy:

The role that NFG plays in the field, being explicit about their analysis related to racial and economic justice — and what it means for advancing democratic decision-making — is important. NFG helps us ask, ‘What does this analysis mean for who we fund?’ And they have brought on staff with a deep understanding of organizing and the challenge of building a stronger grassroots infrastructure for change – not to the exclusion of other areas like research and policy advocacy, but really centering the voices and analysis of people who are most impacted by the problems funders are seeking to focus on. Their unwavering focus and high capacity is important in the field. 

Alex has been an active part of NFG’s Democratizing Development Program (DDP), a working group of NFG members engaged in learning together how to back community-led and equitable approaches to development in the built environment. With its focus on developing a shared frame, building relationships, and centering the experience of partner-organizations, DDP has been a generative space, setting the stage for members to launch strategic efforts both within their home institutions and in collaboration with others.

One offshoot of DDP – the California Funders Working Group – commissioned Martha Matsuoka, a long-time thinker and activist around urban inequality, environmental justice, and social movements, to develop a framework to help its members understand the root causes of displacement and lack of safe, affordable housing. This led Alex and others to a stronger understanding of the role power-building plays in moving the needle on housing justice issues and to consider what a coordinated intervention from funders could look like:

It helped us understand and look at root causes, including but beyond the traditional focus on supply and demand. This framework has sharpened our analysis of the systemic conditions and shifted our thinking about how to support transformative change. It has forced us to center racial and economic equity, and highlighted the need to focus not just on the what -- the policy solutions -- but also the how: the power that needs to shift in order to change the systemic conditions driving the crisis beyond this moment once the pressure lifts off of middle class people.

In 2018, The California Endowment partnered with other funders to launch the Fund for an Inclusive California (F4ICA),  a collaborative fund investing in power-building strategies along with organizations working in low-income and communities of color to tackle the urgent housing crisis at the local, regional, and statewide levels. Alex sees that the fund’s strength lies in how F4ICA has anchored its emerging grantmaking framework in the participation and perspectives of community-serving organizations in the field:

Our collaborative funding strategy is committed to deepening and redefining relationships between funders and the field to co-create goals (and metrics) that reach beyond individual organizations and coalitions. We host one-on-one conversations and convenings with critical organizations from the Central Valley, Bay Area, Los Angeles, and statewide to co-design the strategies and priorities. The transformative, systemic change we seek requires a new way of working together – from our root-causes analysis to how we allocate resources for change and the transparency of those resources. We strive to model effective ways of being in relationship with each other to advance a collective vision and disrupt the drivers of gentrification and displacement.

This is an intentional effort to disrupt traditional funder–grantee dynamics and to ground F4ICA in the expertise of base-building organizations. Connecting with NFG and its central working principle of strategically moving the philanthropic sector towards more partnership with community-serving organizations has supported Alex in taking a strong position as a funder committed to deepening partnership with the field.

Alex credits NFG with increasing the legitimacy of organizing funders to move resources for social change:

I believe NFG’s role in the field is adding credibility to these ways of thinking about organizing funders, allowing space for further contributions and details. NFG makes possible and expands conversations between funders that center racial and economic justice.

She continues to learn with NFG how to activate more funders at a larger scale, expand and build investment in racial and economic equity, and apply this leaning to her work with TCE and F4ICA: 

I am excited to refine a funder organizing strategy — how do we unlock new and more resources for long term base and movement building? In developing sustained and impactful strategies, the promise of place-based initiatives ultimately lies in the people who live there and the power they wield to change conditions in their communities. At F4ICA, we began by bringing in funders that have a shared analysis of the issue. We are now moving out to those funders and donors who are interested in starting a housing justice and inclusive community development portfolio and are looking for an entry point, as well as those already working on housing and community development issues but not centering power-building. Our hope is that over the course of the collaborative fund, we can connect funders who are new to housing justice and/or power-building directly to the organizations themselves so that we can continue to strengthen the resource environment for our organizing partners.  

March 17, 2021

How Philanthropy Can Move from Crisis to Transformation

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here by the Trust-Based Philanthropy Project.

Dimple was part of the first Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniIt was just a year ago, and yet it feels like a lifetime.

Last March, I was dreading a hectic month packed with too much work travel. Long before we had heard of Covid-19, many of us had been preparing for 2020 to be a consequential year, one in which our democracy was on the line.

My mother had generously traveled from Houston to help with childcare during my travels. Her two-week visit turned into three months, and our worlds as we knew them changed.

Covid happened.  

Then the racial justice uprisings happened.

The wildfires happened.

The election happened. 

And then an armed insurrection to overturn the democratic election results happened.

Every turn in this tumultuous year reaffirmed the reality that justice is a matter of life and death. 

Our democracy survived, though barely. But more than half a million Americans did not, and this unfathomable loss, borne disproportionately by communities of color, is still growing.

Across the philanthropic sector, funders stepped up to meet the moment. We saw payouts increase, the removal of unnecessary bureaucracy, and commitments to flexible support from not only public and private foundations but also individual philanthropists who gave unrestricted billions.

A year ago, we all faced a rapidly changing reality — one that it made it hard to know what the next month, or next year might hold.  Now, we have turned a corner in a most consequential time in American democracy, a time that has been defined by the leadership of Black women and grassroots movements for social justice that are building the power of people — and these movements are just getting started. There is momentum for change, leadership that is solidly poised to make that change, and broad-based support for the bold solutions that will move us towards a more just and equitable society.  We are in a dramatically different time that continues to call for a dramatically different kind of philanthropy.

As we look back on this year of crisis, and see the opportunities before us now more clearly, how are funders being called to contribute to the change we know is needed?  To answer these questions, I point to the truths that remained when everything else fell away.

We have the power to change the rules.

In the early days of the pandemic, close to 800 foundations came together and pledged to provide their grantees with flexible funding and to remove burdens and barriers that divert them from their work. Restrictions on funding were waived, and additional funds were released. These changes were not the result of years-long strategic planning; instead, this was a rare example of strategic action. These quick shifts allowed movement leaders to be responsive to rapidly shifting needs. Grantees were more free to act holistically, to mobilize collectively, make shared demands, and achieve staggering change.

Today, our grantees are coping with the exhaustion, burnout, and trauma from this last year, the last four years, and even the last four hundred years. Recently, many of us have begun to invest more intentionally in the healing, sustainability, and wellness of our grantees. Systemic injustice takes a toll on a very individual human level, and as funders, we can and should resource our grantees to thrive.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Co-Executive Director of the Highlander Research and Education Center, has urged philanthropy to, “Fund us like you want us to win.” Last year, we learned that we are capable of doing just that — and doing it without delay. Let’s build on funding practices that center relationships and shift power to our grantees.

White supremacy got us into this mess; racial justice will get us out.

Racial justice went mainstream in 2020 as the multiple crises exposed deep inequities and injustices in our midst. In the months after the world witnessed a police officer brutally murder George Floyd, many funders responded with explicit new commitments to fund Black-led racial justice work. These standalone funding commitments have been hailed as a turning point in philanthropy — a recognition of the importance of resourcing racial justice movements.

As we move forward, we must ensure that these newly made commitments are durable and not just crisis-driven. Movements should not have to rely on heartbreaking headlines to drive the flow of future resources. We can build on new funding commitments by centering racial justice in all our grantmaking. As resources begin to flow, let’s ensure that our frameworks are intersectional and include a gender analysis. To demonstrate a true desire to repair, heal, and build a multiracial democracy, philanthropy must do meaningful work in our institutions so that, at all levels, there is an understanding of the root causes of inequality and the importance of investing in racial justice.  Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change, captured the centrality of this when he said, “We don’t get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get a true democracy out of racial justice.”

We know how to be “all in” when it's important. In this next period, it’s important.

With crisis as the rationalization, many endowed foundations were inspired to suspend a practice that our sector has long taken for granted: the 5% minimum distribution rule. In the face of compounding threats to our lives and our democracy, 64 individuals and foundations pledged to increase spending to 10% of the value of their endowment in 2020. And for the first time in years, the philanthropic sector is giving meaningful attention to the topic of spending decisions and the problem of treating the payout floor as though it is the ceiling.

To take full advantage of this once-in-a-generation opening for transformation, funders must put all the tools in our toolbox behind our ambitious missions. Social justice philanthropy can build new spending models that are not only more responsive to the moment, but also set our institutions up to better fulfill our missions — today and in the long-term.

This past summer, 26 million people marched in the streets of their small and large cities to proclaim that Black lives matter. It was the largest mobilization in our country’s history. Last fall, despite numerous efforts to suppress voters, social justice organizers mobilized the largest voter turnout we’ve ever seen. Now, as a result, we are in a moment that holds immense possibility. 

In big and small ways, we are all changed by this year. 

Our sector and our practice of philanthropy has changed too.  Let’s claim the opportunity that is before us by reimagining our norms and adopting practices that will continue to catalyze transformation.  The old philanthropy has been exposed as unfit. The new philanthropy is ours to create.

March 25, 2021

Philanthropy must be accountable: NFG's March 2021 Newsletter

We need each other and all of us in the fight for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. The latest incidents of hate against AAPI women, elders, and our communities have left us grieving, angry, tired, and steadfast in our commitment to make philanthropy more accountable to AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities and low-income communities. See our full statement calling on all of us to Stop Asian Hate.

As Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of General Service Foundation, said in Neighborhood Funders Group’s 40 Years Strong convening series, "We must create cultures of accountability. How are we meeting this moment? A lot of what we need to do could be called organizing, but I think of it as meaning making." It is our collective work to make meaning of systemic injustices and resource power-building led by AAPI, Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities at the level that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

NFG is holding philanthropy accountable by urging funders to utilize all of their institution’s assets to pursue social justice, center worker justice movements and strategies, strengthen organizing infrastructure built by Black women to shift political and economic power, support reparations and drive wealth back to Black and Indigenous communities, and reimagine public safety and community care to ensure everyone has a place to call home.

In the next few weeks, we'll be announcing more opportunities to connect with the NFG community, sharing Funders for a Just Economy's next Building Power in Place report featuring organizers in Texas, and releasing a new report on rural organizing in New York state commissioned by Engage New York and NFG's Integrated Rural Strategies Group.


In solidarity,
The NFG team

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