Supporting Transformative Change with NFG
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.