July 12, 2018

Choosing to be a Liberated Gatekeeper

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Amoretta Morris, — Director of National Community Strategies at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, NFG Conference Co-Chair, and NFG Board Member — reflects on the theme of her opening plenary address.  


 

people-amorris-headshot_(1).jpgRecently, a trusted social justice leader called me a philanthropic gatekeeper. And hearing those words stung — a lot.

But once I got over my initial defensiveness, I realized it was true.

Gatekeepers, after all, control the flow of power, funds, information and resources, and they’re often in a position to speak for and translate for people without access to those things.

Sounds pretty similar to grantmaking at times, doesn’t it? 

As good progressives, we’re used to examining privilege and how that shapes the experiences of marginalized communities. But what about our own privilege as philanthropists? How often do we turn the mirror around?

If we did, we’d see that we are all gatekeepers. Whether I am a program officer deciding what to advance to my director and board, or a trustee approving an investment strategy — we are controlling the flow of resources that folks need, often with only their limited say.

Merely wanting this to be untrue because of our commitment to justice doesn’t change it. We have to acknowledge the inequity of philanthropy and our role in it in order to change the way these systems work.

Another blind spot, especially for people of color in philanthropy (regardless of our current income level), is our own unexamined history and feelings about money and wealth. Left unchecked, these things can stand in the way of us effectively moving money to our people.Screen_Shot_2018-07-11_at_1.53.17_PM.png

Access to information is yet another gate we’re keeping. As grantmakers, we often see that full inbox and stack of reports as a burden. Just another thing we must read and squeeze into our day. The reality is, a lot of folks on the ground would love to have those materials and the nuggets contained within them. We must be more intentional about sharing that information; otherwise, we’re unintentionally keeping that gate locked. And that’s not helpful or why we got into these roles in the first place.

It’s certainly not why I did.

Being back in St. Louis for the Neighborhood Funders Group conference felt great — and it’s what inspired me to reflect on my journey. Though I started organizing during high school in Houston, going to college in St. Louis during the late 90s is where I got politicized as an adult.

And what was true then is still true now. Not enough philanthropic resources are going to low-income communities or communities of color to build power and advance justice.

In addition to many structural factors, this continues because grantmakers experience internal and external barriers to moving resources aligned with their values. I feel them, too.

Here’s the good news, though: No matter what we have or haven’t done up until now, we can do more.

It starts by asking ourselves these questions: How can I stretch? And what skills and support do I need to do it?

I’m here to tell you that your fellow NFG members can help.

Before I was a funder, I was an organizer. Following that, I worked in local government. Though I’d served on the board of a small national feminist foundation, Third Wave Foundation (now the Third Wave Fund), I was new to grantmaking when I joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The learning curve was steep.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-11_at_1.53.02_PM.pngMy colleague introduced me to NFG’s place-based working group and I breathed a sigh of relief. NFG has been my political home in philanthropy since then. And, by taking advantage of NFG’s network calls, learning tours and the annual conference, I’m becoming what we want more of: a liberated gatekeeper.

When we deny the power we hold as grantmakers, we allow ourselves to be unaccountable to communities for that power. Rather than deny our positional privilege, let’s consciously use it to disrupt power and shift it to the people we’re aiming to serve. Let’s open the gates, keep them open and work daily to break these explicit and implicit gates down. Let’s strive to be liberated gatekeepers who are accountable to our communities.

There are three C’s that can get us there: Connect, Celebrate and Commit.

Connect and build your community within NFG. Get to a know a new person who you can call when in doubt or when you need to talk through a strategy.

Celebrate victories and the incredible work that is happening on the ground and inside our institutions, then help others replicate it. In NFG, we focus as much on how we do the work, as what work we should be doing. We want you to know that no matter what type of institution you are in, or where it falls on the political spectrum, there are tangible steps you can take to align your grantmaking with your values and advance justice.

Finally, we want you to commit to moving a specific amount of resources by this time next year. Set an intention for yourself about how you will get more money and resources to our people to advance justice.

No one program officer, director or board member can do it all. But collectively, we can shift more resources toward communities and give those on the frontlines more resources to win. We can create a world that works for all of us.


Connect with Amoretta on Twitter at @rettaworld.

Follow The Annie E. Casey Foundation at @AECFNews.

Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on the NFG blog.

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June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!