July 12, 2018

Philanthropy’s Role in Holding Tension

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, Megan Armentrout, Program Associate at the Incarnate Word Foundation and St. Louis local, reflects on the possibilities of shifting philanthropy's focus to long-term change.


headshot-megan.jpgWhen I first started in philanthropy just two years ago my boss said, “Keep an eye out for Neighborhood Funders Group - they are your people”. I had just missed the 2016 convening in Oakland and learned I had to wait another two years before the next convening. To my surprise, the 2018 convening was being held in St. Louis and I was asked to serve on the Program Committee as a local partner. The decision to hold the convening in St. Louis, the city I call home with such a rich history and recent national spotlight, only made sense. 

Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice highlighted issues at the intersection of race, class, gender, and environment. Activists and funders held space for discussion around strategy (how do we actualize the deep change that must take place) and contemplation for healing (how do we encourage a movement rooted in radical self-care). Strategy and healing, an interwoven cycle, must be at the heart of our movements and philanthropy must do better to support those integral parts.

In his opening keynote, Rev. Starsky Wilson rooted people in place as he spoke of St. Louis. A city caught in the tension between what it thought it was and the wounding underbelly beneath. In 2014, a movement of the people did not allow for that underbelly to remain just under the surface. The Ferguson Uprising brought it out to the streets and forced the city (and the country) to take a long, hard look in the mirror and wrestle with its “soul-trauma” - and I can think of no better imagery of this than the mirror casket created by local activists and carried to the Ferguson police department during the uprising. 

This is a deep tension and Rev. Wilson urged us to “hold the tension long enough for people’s actions to change”. I’m left contemplating the role of philanthropy in holding this tension. In our fast-paced world, driven by the forces of instant-gratification and capitalism, philanthropy continues to shift priorities every 3-5 years. What would it actually look like for philanthropy to join the long-game with organizers who are in it for the long-haul? Are we well situated to use our power to hold the tension long enough for things to shift around us? What does that look like and how do we do this well?


I kept these questions close to my chest as I navigated through the rest of the conference. 

Organizers, funders, and neighborhood activists helped answer this question in pieces and it is up to us to work this out; to stay accountable to the movement before us for a more just and equitable society. Post-conference I’m still ruminating and a couple key points have stuck with me. Edgar Villanueva brought me back to hope rooted in forward progression in his session on Decolonizing Wealth. He spoke of this process as a path toward healing the trauma so many communities have faced so that their “possibilities are endless”. Philanthropy is a center of power and concentrated wealth existing at the core of capitalism and yet I believe philanthropy has the ability to create lasting change in the world around us and liberate itself from the strongholds of white supremacy and colonization. As we decolonize wealth, we can move toward the solidarity philanthropy Aaron Tanaka spoke of when he said, “if the money isn't ours to begin with, solidarity philanthropy would urge us to put money back into the communities that money was taken from”.  

Holding the tension requires a recognition of the root of the problem, holding fast with an unwavering stance until others begin to recognize the complex nature of justice issues plaguing our nation. In this way, I believe philanthropy does have the power to hold the tension, both in funders’ ability to shift and move conversation as well as long-term, continued support of folks on the ground doing the work day in and day out. 

I knew by the first program committee phone call that I had found “my people”. It was by the end of this convening that I knew I found “my home”. This beautiful, radical, intentional group of people, representing a multitude of institutions across the country, is a mirror of the philanthropy I want to see in the world. The philanthropy I now have hope in to hold the tension, to enter into brave space with others, and play an active role in the healing of systemic wounds. May it be so.

Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.

Follow the Incarnate Word Foundation at @IWFSTL.

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

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October 24, 2019

Reflections from Philanthropy Forward's First Cohort

Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change is a CEO fellowship program created by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The program's first cohort started in October 2018 in furtherance of building and advancing a shared vision for the future of philanthropy.

Hear perspectives from members of the first cohort as they reflect in this video on their work together as strategic thought partners, addressing philanthropy's most challenging issues and aligning to build a financial engine for social change.

2018 - 2019 Philanthropy Forward Cohort

A grid with individual photos of each of the 20 members of Philanthropy Forward's 2018-2918 cohort..

Click here for participant bios

  • Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
  • Sharon Alpert, Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, Solidago Foundation
  • Ned Calonge, The Colorado Trust
  • Irene Cooper-Basch, Victoria Foundation
  • Farhad A. Ebrahimi, The Chorus Foundation
  • Nicky Goren, Meyer Foundation
  • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Joan Minieri, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Maria Mottola, New York Foundation
  • Mike Pratt, Scherman Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, Hyams Foundation
  • Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation
  • Starsky D. Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Institute Forum for Community solutions
  • Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation
September 10, 2019

For Love of Humankind: A Call to Action for Southern Philanthropy

Justin Maxson, Executive Director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, calls on fellow funding organizations based in the South to respond to the federal government's anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies with three concrete actions. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Justin 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 Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, which strives to help people and places move out of poverty and achieve greater social and economic justice, is a member of NFG.


Justin MaxsonWe are issuing a clarion call to Southern philanthropic organizations to respond to the manic drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric and cruelty coming from the White House. This month began with a mass shooting targeting the Latinx community. Days later, massive raids tore apart hundreds of families and destabilized Mississippi communities but levied no consequences for the corporate leadership that lures vulnerable people to work in grueling, dangerous conditions. It is astounding that since those events, with the resulting fear and trauma still reverberating through immigrant communities across America, the administration has: 

  • repeated its intention to end birthright citizenship, a 14th Amendment guarantee that babies born on American soil are citizens. 
  • attempted to terminate the Flores Agreement, which sets standards for the care of children in custody. This would allow the administration to detain migrant families indefinitely in facilities where children are dying of influenza, yet flu shots are not administrated, where children are sexually assaulted, where soap, toothbrushes, human contact and play are not standard, and where breastfeeding babies are taken from their mothers. Child separation is known to cause permanent psychological trauma and brain damage.
  • announced changes to the so-called “public charge rule” to make it harder for legal immigrants to secure citizenship if they use public assistance. As our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities argue, this change would cause many to “forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.” Further, the decision “rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.”

There was also a recent effort to effectively end asylum altogether at the southern border. And despite the Supreme Court ruling blocking the citizenship question from the 2020 census, advocates believe the debate will depress response rates. As we wrote earlier this month, this administration’s animus against immigrants and increasingly aggressive ICE actions are compounding the devastating effects on communities across the country. 

Why Southern philanthropy? 

An analysis of recent grantmaking by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found our region has deportation rates five times higher than the rest of the country, yet Southern pro-immigrant organizations receive paltry philanthropic funding. Barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest foundations benefits immigrants and refugees, and even that money doesn’t go to state and local groups that are accountable to grassroots and immigrant communities. Organizations in Southern states receive less than half of the state and local funding of California, New York and Illinois. 

Where to begin? 

Speak up. As Desmund Tutu taught us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Use your institutional voice to influence decisionmakers.

Examine your foundation’s policies. Find out if your endowment is invested in private detention centers. Consider how supporting organizing, power building and policy advocacy could advance your mission. NCRP has more recommendations in its report.

Give generously. Our partners at Hispanics in Philanthropy have curated a list of organizations helping the families affected by the raids across Mississippi. Our partners at Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees have compiled a list of ways to help, from rapid response grants to long-term strategies. 

Many of the Babcock Foundation’s grantee partners are doing more and more immediate protection work, stretching themselves thin and often putting themselves at risk. They are keeping families intact in the short term while building power for the long term, so history will stop repeating: 

If you know of more resources, please share them. If you’d like to learn more about the organizations on the ground across the South – or think about ways we can do more together – contact us. We are always looking to learn and act in alignment with our fellow funders toward a shared vision of a strong, safe, welcoming and equitable region. 

Activist Jane Addams said, “The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us.” Regardless of a foundation’s mission, abject cruelty surely undermines it. It also undermines the most basic tenet of philanthropy, which literally means “love for humankind.” We see no love in this administration. It’s up to all of us to spread it.