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.  

August 14, 2019

Identify. Describe. Dismantle. Repeat.

Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, writes about calling out and then rejecting systems and institutions rooted in racism as a way to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist. This post was originally published here on Medium.

Nicky 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 Meyer Foundation, which pursues and invests in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington, is a member of NFG.


 

Nicky GorenRecently, the president of the United States openly targeted four women of color in Congress, overtly lying about and mischaracterizing things they have said and suggesting they, “go back to where they came from.” Later, at a reelection rally in North Carolina, he continued to stoke these flames of racism and hate as he appeared to bask in the glow of his supporters chanting, “send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This, along with his tirade against Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the Baltimore-area district he represents, was just among the latest in a long track record of openly racist comments, actions, stances, and tactics the president has used since long before he was elected to the highest office in the nation, and make crystal clear what he and his supporters seek to uphold.

We are long past any question about whether the president and many of the people around him and supporting him are racist. His actions and his words by any objective standard make it so. What is more important is to understand how our systems of government and white culture actively enable racism to continue to play out in our election processes, our governance processes, in virtually every aspect of our day-to-day existence in this country.

A great example is what happened after the president’s remarks when members of the House of Representatives condemned those comments through a resolution. In the context of that debate, some House members attempted to derail the resolution by turning to a House precedent that would preclude the speaker of the house from characterizing the president’s comments as racist; essentially, using precedent and procedure designed to inhibit the ability to call out racism in order to avoid confronting the very issue that is at the core of how we function as a country. If you can’t name it, you can’t address it. This is a prime example of how those in power (historically, white men) have created systems, processes, procedures, cultures, and norms, that allow them to maintain the status quo. We should all be scratching our heads.

We need to call out those in power who are silent or who use a so-called desire for civility — from the White House to the state house to our own houses — as a shield to maintain the structures of white supremacy that have gotten them to where they are and continue to oppress people of color in the United States on a daily basis.

White people who believe themselves to be socially aware need to understand how we are using our dominant cultural norms — that show up in ways including a general avoidance or reimagining of historical facts, an over-reliance on precedent, and outrage at the very idea of being thought of as racist — to shield ourselves, our systems, and those in power from accountability for equitable outcomes. Many of us are constantly deflecting and, thereby protecting, the way things are.

I challenge white people to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist — and to call out racists and racism when we see it. We need to hold those who are perpetuating systems, institutions, and practices rooted in racism accountable. And we need to recognize what we are seeing for what it is; not something from our ancient past that we can absolve ourselves from, but something that is deep in the DNA of this country. We must actively name and refuse to accept racism any longer if we want to move forward and reflect the standards of freedom and democracy we believe we stand for.

In the words of author, historian, and professor Ibram Kendi: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”

Let’s keep going.

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August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

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 on the foundation's website.

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 AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.