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.  

September 10, 2019

For Love of Humankind: A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy

Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, calls on fellow funding organizations based in the South to respond to the federal government's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies with three concrete actions. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Justin 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. The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which strives to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice, is a member of NFG.


 

Justin MaxsonWe are issuing a clarion call to Southern philanthropic organizations to respond to the manic drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruelty coming from the White House. This month began with a mass shooting targeting the Latinx community. Days later, massive raids tore apart hundreds of families and destabilized Mississippi communities but levied no consequences for the corporate leadership that lures vulnerable people to work in grueling, dangerous conditions. It is astounding that since those events, with the resulting fear and trauma still reverberating through immigrant communities across America, the administration has: 

  • repeated its intention to end birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment guarantee that babies born on American soil are citizens. 
  • attempted to terminate the Flores Agreement, which sets standards for the care of children in custody. This would allow the administration to detain migrant families indefinitely in facilities where children are dying of influenza, yet flu shots are not administrated, where children are sexually assaulted, where soap, toothbrushes, human contact and play are not standard, and where breastfeeding babies are taken from their mothers. Child separation is known to cause permanent psychological trauma and brain damage.
  • announced changes to the so-called “public charge rule” to make it harder for legal immigrants to secure citizenship if they use public assistance. As our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue, this change would cause many to “forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.” Further, the decision “rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.”

There was also a recent effort to effectively end asylum altogether at the southern border. And despite the Supreme Court ruling blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, advocates believe the debate will depress response rates. As we wrote earlier this month, this administration’s animus against immigrants and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

Why Southern philanthropy? 

An analysis of recent grantmaking by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found our region has deportation rates five times higher than the rest of the country, yet Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. Barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations benefits immigrants and refugees, and even that money doesn’t go to state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots and immigrant communities. Organizations in Southern states receive less than half of the state and local funding of California, New York and Illinois. 

Where to begin? 

Speak up. As Desmund Tutu taught us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Use your institutional voice to influence decisionmakers.

Examine your foundation’s policies. Find out if your endowment is invested in private detention centers. Consider how supporting organizing, power building and policy advocacy could advance your mission. NCRP has more recommendations in its report.

Give generously. Our partners at Hispanics in Philanthropy have curated a list of organizations helping the families affected by the raids across Mississippi. Our partners at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees have compiled a list of ways to help, from rapid response grants to long-term strategies. 

Many of the Babcock Foundation’s grantee partners are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and often putting themselves at risk. They are keeping families intact in the short term while building power for the long term, so history will stop repeating: 

If you know of more resources, please share them. If you’d like to learn more about the organizations on the ground across the South – or think about ways we can do more together – contact us. We are always looking to learn and act in alignment with our fellow funders toward a shared vision of a strong, safe, welcoming and equitable region. 

Activist Jane Addams said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us.” Regardless of a foundation’s mission, abject cruelty surely undermines it. It also undermines the most basic tenet of philanthropy, which literally means “love for humankind.” We see no love in this administration. It’s up to all of us to spread it.

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!