July 19, 2018

Why We Move Money for Justice

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, Lorraine Ramirez, Senior Program Manager of NFG's Funders for Justice, talks about mobilizing resources for social change.


IMG_0972.JPGThe Ferguson uprisings sparked change in St. Louis and around the world. Funders for Justice (FFJ) was honored to meet some of the leaders of the uprisings, and understand the connections between their work and movements for justice across the US.

What I Learned in St. Louis

The power and magnitude of the uprisings sparked by Michael Brown’s murder was clear at the conference’s screening of Whose Streets?, a powerful documentary made by activists and leaders of the uprisings. In discussion with Damon Davis, one of the filmmakers, and Kayla Reed, one of the leaders featured, we learned that four years later, Ferguson residents who stepped up create the movement in Ferguson in 2014 are still navigating the charges from the uprisings and volunteering as organizers, working other jobs full time to pay bills.

There have been tremendous wins in Ferguson since the 2014 uprisings, but the struggle for justice will be a long fight. St. Louis organizing infrastructure is strong on knowledge, skills, experience, and relationships – but the funding has been limited and un-sustained. Most groups don’t have enough funding to pay people for the organizing work they do. Community spaces like the Ferguson Library, which provided refuge and solidarity meeting space during the uprisings, are still deeply underfunded as well.

This wasn’t visible where the conference hotel was located in the Central West End of St. Louis, which is lush green, full of fancy restaurants, and seemingly at ease with a significant police presence. In stark contrast, Ferguson and other municipalities are unable to get first responders on the scene in emergencies. The selective and unrelenting policing through fines, fees, and legal run-arounds continues to keep residents in poverty. And the Black residents who led the uprisings are still facing hostile police and white neighborhoods with yard signs supporting the police.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-19_at_8.14.56_AM.pngFour years after the Ferguson uprisings began, The Movement for Black Lives, a nation network of organizations, is one of the major national forces completely shifting how we understand and talk about race in the US. The conference workshop on how to support The Movement for Black Lives’ five-year strategic plan was a full room. I was struck by how many NFG members are committed to finding a way for their institution to support M4BL and its member organizations. Participants came looking for information, and left with solid commitments to take action and new colleagues to partner with. This gave me not only hope, but total confidence that together we can mobilize the necessary resources to support M4BL in a plan that will change all of our lives.

I also attended the Native Voices Rising workshop, and Edgar Villanueva’s workshop on Decolonizing Wealth: Keys to Funding Our Healing. One message resonated with me: organizing looks different in Native communities than it does in other communities of color – and so most funders are hesitant to take the time to learn more and make grants to support Native organizing. I left both presentations thinking about the incredible amount of learning that we as funders need to do in order to meaningfully partner with Native communities and Native social change struggles. To join the Native Voices Rising collaborative fund, write to Laura Livoti, President of Common Counsel Foundation.  

What does community safety mean? What does justice mean? 

Many NFG members, like much of this country, grapple with the meaning and magnitude of a complete transformation of what is currently the US criminal justice system. What would a vision of a whole new frame and practice of community safety and justice even be? Charlene Carruthers, director of BYP100 and FFJ Advisor, spoke to this on FFJ’s State of the Police State briefing panel: “Abolition is about changing our response to violence.”

A learning-to-action trajectory is central to FFJ’s member organizing approach. We mobilize grant dollars and leverage our positional currency to move resources to communities creating models for community safety and justice that don’t look to police and prisons to keep us safe. Many members of the Funders for Justice community, myself included, are a part of the communities we fund, and have a personal stake in their success. And we know that in order for any of us to be truly free, we must all get free.

FFJ members frequently call on each other for models and recommendations on how to move money to Black organizing, racial justice organizing led by multiple communities of color, and the types of grassroots-led policy fights that will end mass criminalization as we know it. FFJ members seek connection with other funders on a similar trajectory of change in their own institutions. This is always a reminder to me that it is in these conversations that we are doing our own work as funders to envision a new future for our institutions. Peer coaching circles, which NFG is launched at the conference and will begin this fall, will be an important place to do this work. To participate in a peer coaching circle, contact Adriana Rocha, Vice President of Programs at NFG.

As Kevin Ryan, longtime NFG member and recipient of the 2016 NFG Award for Excellence in Philanthropy, once told me: “I fundraise because I love my community”.

Why do you move money for justice?


Sign up for the FFJ listserv by emailing fundersforjustice@nfg.org.

Visit fundersforjustice.org and follow FFJ on Twitter at @Funders4Justice.

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

December 10, 2018

Welcome to the new NFG website!

Thank you for visiting Neighborhood Funders Group's new website! We've completely redesigned and improved how it works to make it easier than ever for our members to use as an online resource.

We're currently in soft launch mode before we publicly announce the new site in 2019, so thanks for taking an initial sneak peek! Please excuse our digital dust as we finish testing all of the features of our new website. You can find a temporary archive of our old site at old.nfg.org.

What new features can you find on the site?

  • Search the entire website for news, events, and resources using the search bar at the top of every page
  • See where all of the members of our national network are based, right on our member map 
  • Discover more related content, tagged by topic and format, at the bottom of every page
  • Look up NFG member organizations in our member directory
  • Log in to view individual contacts in the member directory and register for events in the future

If your organization is an NFG member, first check to see if your account has already been created for you. Click "Forgot Password" on the log in page and try entering your work email address to activate your account and set your password.

Let us know at support@nfg.org if you come across any issues logging in, or anywhere else on the site. Stay tuned for our official launch announcement, and thanks for visiting!

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December 4, 2018

From Sector Newcomer to Board Member

Marjona Jones joined the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock four years ago after working in the field as an organizer for 14 years. She came to Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) through an existing relationship between Veatch and NFG: Molly Schultz Hafid, former assistant director at Veatch, also served as an NFG board member and co-chair for the Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) working group. “She was outgoing co-chair when I was hired at Veatch — the relationships she had built through that working group were important to me as well because I also worked around economic equity,” says Marjona. Initially, NFG was a space of learning for Marjona as a newcomer to the sector:

I joined [FJE’s] program committee, and then was invited to join the coordinating committee. It was an education! It was really about supporting the working group in order to create opportunities for funders to come together, hear about grantees, and think about how to create more space within philanthropy for this. That takes building relationships within philanthropy. That takes creating more breadth for funders to leverage what we have, and more, for our grantees. We’ve got to do that by educating one another within philanthropy.

NFG was also a space of affirmation and sustenance for Marjona, whose organizing background and perspective from the field anchors her work as a grantmaker and informs her relationships with grantees. At NFG, she found a commitment to racial and economic justice that matched her own. She has gone on to become centrally involved in NFG, joining Funders for Justice (FFJ), participating in Project Phoenix, and now serving on NFG’s board. 

An Intersectional Framework

NFG centers people in its work, helping funders understand the meaning of an intersectional analysis and apply it to their grantmaking. Marjona lifts up FJE’s Working at the Intersections program as an example:

Something I really want to share is a report that Working at the Intersections put out [titled Journey Towards Intersectional Grant-making] about best practices for how we want and need to support work at the intersections of identity. “Intersectional” is often just a buzzword, and so we thought it would be good to offer understanding around how that perspective plays out, and how it plays out within philanthropy too.

To me, it was a beautiful convening that we did [with Working at the Intersections]. It really opened up folks to talk about what it is we deal with as women of color within philanthropy. We need to be mindful about how that impacts the field of philanthropy, and how we move our work. There are layers that we have to be very intentional about if we really care about justice liberation and how all those things intersect. If we aren’t mindful of this, we can be really shortsighted then in funding program work because we are so siloed in philanthropy — ‘This week she will show up as a worker, next week she will show up as a woman, the following week as a person of color…’

Because of [Veatch’s’ general support grants], our funding isn’t requiring people to carve up their identities, which I think is a disservice. Requiring people to show up in this way sometimes impacts and distracts from the work.

In speaking about how NFG promotes an intersectional approach in the philanthropic sector, Marjona also highlights her participation in NFG’s Project Phoenix: Connecting Democracy, Economy, and Sustainability, a year-long cohort collective learning program for funders. For Project Phoenix, the term “new economy” means intersectional activities with an intention to support a democracy that works for all, an economy that provides good jobs and promotes local economic prosperity, the growth of ecologically sustainable and non-extractive sectors, and a re-prioritization of the role of capital in society to better serve these goals. Marjona shares how participating in Project Phoenix expanded her understanding about environmental grantmaking:

Project Phoenix really helped me understand my work a great deal, because it was focused on democracy and the environment. It was hard for me as a general support funder to see our role in moving that work because we have an environmental portfolio, but we didn’t have a way of supporting those intersections [of racial and economic justice].

Project Phoenix was helpful for me to understand all the different ways the work that we fund had a place [in the environmental landscape]. It was important for me to understand where we fit in the larger field of philanthropy. And it was also really helpful to understand our current socio-economic moment — capitalism, it extracts not just resources from the ground but it extracts resources from working-class, poor communities; it extracts people, it extracts lives, it extracts health. Prisoners are used as free labor to make goods and then those goods are sold back to us. It extracts our wealth — from the way the banking system works to the way it suppresses wages.  

So it helped me understand when you are talking about climate change and environmental protections, you need to be talking about worker protections, and housing, and health, and education. All of these things are connected. You can’t talk about these things in a vacuum. Those organizations that are focused on the environment without thinking about people need to be focused on people as well.

Amplifying Resources and Awareness in Critical Times 

Marjona shares an example of how NFG plays a powerful and responsive role in amplifying resources for racial justice through the network of funders with whom the organization has built a shared values framework and provided concrete, immediate avenues for funders to take action. With the organizers in 2014 who were taking a stand on the ground to protest the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Marjona understood the importance of supporting them with navigating the same criminal justice system that was being used to target and intimidate them. She worked closely with NFG’s Funders for Justice program staff to convene a conference call to mobilize resources and support the organizers’ legal costs: 

There were protests happening in St. Louis, and they needed emergency funds for bail support and organizers to work on legal aspects such as defending people, going with them to court, and helping them through the process. I felt that was critical because it is something that gets left out of grant proposals. People are going to put their freedom on the line — what happens to them once they are arrested, charged, and have to go to court? This is a concern especially in St. Louis, where folks are often new or first time offenders.

I remember emailing Lorraine [Ramirez, Senior Program Manager] at Funders for Justice, asking, ‘Can you send this out to the listserv?’ And she said, ‘Why don’t we do a call?’ I helped get folks on the phone, and they ended up getting support. It wasn’t a large call; it was just a handful of funders. But, I feel like if there had not been FFJ, I would have had to do that legwork myself, and to be honest, I don’t know if I would have been able to call funders individually to get that support while I had the work of my docket. I could not have brought people to the table so quickly on the strength of my own relationships.  

Because NFG has been organizing within philanthropy over the years with convenings and webinars, they have built up integrity in the field. People know to go to NFG if they have questions about black organizing and police brutality. So when NFG puts a call out asking if we can move resources for something, people will join and pony up.

Supporting Members to Engage Actively 

The ways that NFG supports its members to go deeper and develop a broader understanding of their role and potential for impact is important to Marjona in her work:

I think folks [at NFG] understand that we need to organize. They understand that philanthropy has to be as organized as we expect our grantees to be. NFG’s convenings and information sharing help create conditions so that can happen. A lot of [the staff at NFG] are former organizers... I said it before, and I will say it again, I don’t know if I would still be in philanthropy if it had not been for NFG.

Veatch has always had a commitment to racial justice, but we have increased our giving to over a million dollars to racial justice organizing — and part of that was from our work with NFG. We said to ourselves, ‘Yes, we are doing this, but we can do more. So let’s figure out how to be creative, and how to support our colleagues in being creative as well.’

After what happened with the Ferguson uprising, there was so much handwringing on the left. Helping to break through that to take action was important — because this isn’t just about Missouri, and this goes beyond Michael Brown. This is about the nation. It helped people do something, get in the game, and be public about how they were going to support that work. Was it perfect? Hell no! Especially when you have got money and power in the mix. But it did move funders in the right direction, and that’s what we need. Because it’s really easy to sit in our offices and say, ‘I [only] have this much money, and I have to get this docket out the door.’ But we have a greater responsibility. NFG helps you understand that greater responsibility, as well as how you can take that responsibility, hone it, and bring it into the program work