July 12, 2018

Bringing Our Whole Selves to Philanthropy and Our Grantmaking

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, Ryan Li Dahlstrom, Program Officer for the Fund for Trans Generations at Borealis Philanthropy, reflects on ways funders can live their values in their work.


 

Ryan_Li_Dahlstrom_headshot.jpegOften times in philanthropic spaces we are not encouraged to bring our whole selves—to share and reflect on how our identities and values as people and as funders intersect. This year, during my first time attending the Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) convening, I was thankful to be able to bring my full self, as both a funder and an organizer, to the experience.

I see my role in philanthropy as helping to redistribute resources from a reparations framework. I know it is a privilege to be in these spaces and I feel an incredible responsibility and accountability to my communities to share back learnings, help make connections, and serve as a bridge of information and knowledge between philanthropy and grassroots communities.

I was fortunate to experience my first NFG convening as a member of the Program Committee thanks to the leadership and invitation of NFG VP of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and conference co-chairs Marjona Jones and Retta Morris.

In my experience on the committee, I was heartened by the centering of people of color, specifically women of color, including trans women of color, in the planning process. There was a strong commitment to intersectionality and members showing up as their whole selves. 

The recognition of people’s multiple identities and centering of communities that are traditionally marginalized in philanthropy continued from the planning process into the convening. One highlight was how disability justice and accessibility were uplifted: at the opening of the convening, Sebastian Margaret, who served as an advisor to the conference to help ensure stronger accessibility within the space, provided a 10-minute overview of what disability justice is and why it matters, along with concrete ways that every participant could co-create an accessible space for people of all abilities. Making a space accessible means that more people can participate, and we have a more inclusive and democratic conference.

For example, Sebastian instructed us to look at the floor – were our backpacks in the middle of the aisle? Had we cleared walkways so people can easily enter a space? That moment reaffirmed that we must all do a better job at truly addressing how and why disability justice is integral to every issue and community we care about.

Screen_Shot_2018-07-10_at_5.23.31_PM.pngWe were also pushed to consider how we are living our values during the workshop session by the Movement for Black Lives. Given the history of slavery and genocide coupled with how most people have accumulated their wealth, philanthropy must begin to truly address what it means to approach grantmaking from a radical redistribution of wealth framework and recognition of how wealth has been made from stolen land and on the backs of Black and Indigenous bodies in particular. “Caring about Black lives” means investing in Black-led work not just because it’s timely and long overdue, but also because it’s the right thing to do.

The number of funders and grassroots leaders who “came out” as survivors of sexual violence as part of what shapes their work as organizers and/or funders was another powerful moment in which people were able to share more of their full experiences, particularly amidst the #MeToo movement-moment. All too often funder spaces mirror a certain level of middle-class, white, professionalism that asks people to leave parts of themselves at the door. This felt like a different and new moment in which more people were able to courageously tell their truth and be heard so that others too know that they aren’t alone in this collective struggle to end all forms of violence – particularly sexual violence, assault, and harassment.

I’m looking forward to joining the #metoo strategy conversation that will bring funders together to talk about how philanthropy can better respond to sexual harassment and violence happening within the sector and in social justice movements. (This conversation is taking place in September and is for members of NFG’s Funders for Justice program – to get involved, write to fundersforjustice@nfg.org.)

My time at the conference left me with five reflections on how we can be more responsive, responsible funders by living our values and recognizing people’s full selves in our grantmaking:

  1. Believe in and fund constituency-led work. That means investing in the leadership of Black, Brown, immigrant, queer, trans, intersex, women of color, poor and working class, disabled, and currently and formerly incarcerated communities.
  2. Trust the people doing the work on the ground. Communities have the solutions and strategies that work best for them. People closest to the problem are also closest to the solution.
  3. Provide flexible, multi-year, general support grants. Strengthening grantees’ capacity to do their work comes through a steady stream of reliable resources that they can choose how to use.
  4. Reduce barriers to access and apply for grants. Ask yourself, why is our process so laborious? Are there ways we can simplify the burden on current and prospective grantees? Could we eliminate some reports? Could we take applications or reports over the phone? Ask for advice from other funders.
  5. Invest in alternative and anti-oppressive systems. Support healing justice, transformative justice, anti-criminalization, and anti-violence work that seeks to create alternative futures where all of us can be free from oppression, policing, and violence.

I look forward to seeing you at the next NFG event, and learning what brings you to your work as a funder.


Connect with Ryan Li at @ryanlidahlstrom and FTG@borealisphilanthropy.org.

Follow Borealis Philanthropy at @BorealisPhil.

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.