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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July 20, 2021

Transformative change, rooted in place: NFG's July 2021 Newsletter

Can you imagine what New York would look like if private equity funds weren’t evicting low-income renters? What about, if in the Washington, DC area, historically Black neighborhoods were not being gentrified by wealthy white people and behemoth-tech corporations like Amazon? What if, in Southern California, essential workers had the power to set policies that limit the environmental and health & safety impacts of warehousing?

These aren’t just dreams — Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led movements in New York, the DC area, Southern California, and beyond have imbued these visions for racial, gender, economic, and climate justice in their work towards transformative change. And in each place, local grassroots organizers are leading the way to ensure that our communities can thrive — with homes that working families can afford, jobs with livable wages, neighborhoods with clean air and access to water, and genuinely democratic systems.

We at NFG know that in order to achieve transformative and lasting social change, philanthropy must mobilize resources to Black, Indigenous, people of color, and migrant-led movements that are rooted in place. And funders at the national, regional, and local levels all have a role to play. There are no federal, state, Southern, or Midwestern strategies without supporting local action.

Learn and strategize alongside NFG about how your grantmaking can help build power in place:

Keep reading for full descriptions of these events and more resources from your community of co-conspirators at NFG.

Onwards,
The NFG team

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June 24, 2021

Reflections after my first year as NFG President: NFG's June 2021 Newsletter

I didn't choose my first leadership role — it chose me. As a child who emigrated from Mexico to Detroit with my family, I became my family’s language broker. I learned English the fastest, un-learned my accent the quickest as a survival mechanism, and learned how to navigate the systems for my family. I took this role with pride, resentment, and ambivalence. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to understand and unpack this role, to see it as a leadership role that many immigrant children have.

As I’ve navigated my career, it has felt different to choose a leadership role consciously and with agency. In 2019, I chose (after some encouragement from my mentors) to apply for the position of NFG’s leader. I was ready to lead, not follow — the words from my long-time friend and mentor Denice Williams. After three years as NFG’s Vice President of Programs and nine months as interim co-director, May Day 2020 marked my first day as NFG’s President. I was ready to build upon the legacy of this team that had been led by Dennis Quirin for six years, and share my vision for NFG’s next iteration.

My first year as NFG’s leader was a rollercoaster: emotional, isolating, exhausting, a privilege, a gift, a chosen challenge. [For all my other BIPOC first-time Executive Directors and Presidents: I see you, I am with you. You got this. And when you feel like you don’t (or find yourself asking, ‘why did I want this?’), reach out to me. As one of my favorite leaders, Joanne Smith, from Girls for Gender Equity says: “we got us!”]

When I reflect on my first year in this role that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, racial justice uprisings, and navigating work & life in wholly new ways, the power of support and the power of space and spaciousness stand out as key lessons.

The power of support and asking for support:
 I have had what should be a nonprofit standard and unfortunately isn’t: a supportive Board of Directors and co-chairs who stayed present as they managed their own work and lives, and who didn’t scale down their involvement after the executive search and transition were completed. I had a board committee that worked with me during my first three months on my 90 day goals, professional development, and support needs. When I was managing a harder process that I felt needed more board support, I asked for it and got it. I also had my leadership coach and a peer coaching circle that kept me grounded and was witness to what I needed.

Launching NFG’s Senior Management Team with Sarita Ahuja, our Vice President of Operations, and Faron McLurkin, our Vice President of Programs, has provided me and NFG with the leadership team that best fits this organization. I have felt the support of NFG’s staff and our network of members by my side. These multiple layers of support got me through the hardest moments, steadied me when I felt out on a limb, encouraged me when I felt imposter syndrome creep in — and have filled what has been an ‘unconventional’ first year as NFG’s President with connection, camaraderie, and community.

The space to practice, think, be: As leaders, our time is in demand. Being a people-pleaser, and someone that was used to managing (and controlling) my own calendar, had me at times over the past year in 7-8 zoom meetings a day. I had little time to think, reflect, or follow up on the action items I named as next steps, let alone eat at regular times.

These pitfalls of being a new leader are all too common. When sharing this with my coach, she challenged me to reflect on what I would need to do to create radical spaciousness. Initially, this felt impossible. But with her challenge (I am an Aries, afterall), I felt an unlock: I hired a virtual assistant and she helped to protect my mornings and time to eat lunch; I found one day a month to have a meeting-free day for reflection and journaling; I began more fiercely resisting urgency and the white supremacist & capitalist notions that keeps us reacting & responding versus thinking & reflecting.

From the technical fixes to the larger adaptive challenges, I continue to commit myself and NFG to practice spaciousness. This spaciousness has helped think, write, and get clear on my priorities — and to become more rooted in the role of President. My body and my son urge me not to rush back to be on the road for 50 percent of my work/life, and to continue to lead with impact and spaciousness. This practice will inform a thoughtful approach for how and when to travel to reconnect with NFG’s staff and members at in-person meetings and convenings. And we at NFG have seen that we can be impactful, experimental, and creative virtually — all while moving money to movements.

The space to dream and reimagine: In our most recent Philanthropy Forward session, which brings together CEOs of foundations in a leadership cohort, we talked about what we would do if we were 10x bolder. I love this question and call as a leader to consider what the world and philanthropy would be like if we were more bold and our wildest dreams came true.

Last week, NFG received the gift of a $3 million unrestricted grant from MacKenzie Scott. This grant allows us to dream and reimagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable to move more money and shift power to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, low-income communities and workers, rural communities, queer, trans, and gender non-conforming people, women, and immigrants. What a difference this makes to our work and the spaciousness; what a signal of support to our work and our staff, board, and member leadership.

As I embark on my second year as NFG’s leader, I carry my lessons on support and spaciousness — and I welcome your ideas for a 10x bolder NFG.

NFG is a place for philanthropy to strategize new and more ways to show up for our communities now and in the long-term; a place to move more money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice; and a place that provides space to find your co-conspirators, draw strength, be nourished, reflect upon and celebrate the wins and work that has been accomplished so far.

What comes to mind when you imagine what it looks like for NFG to be 10x bolder in holding philanthropy accountable? Send me a note, reach out to the NFG team, join a Member Connection Call (the next one is June 29 and then we’ll take a break until September), learn alongside us and share your ideas at our events.

I look forward to continuing to be in community and solidarity with you.

Un abrazote!
Adriana Rocha
President

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