May 16, 2017

No Time for Business as Usual

Sharon Alpert, NFG member and President & CEO of The Nathan Cummings Foundation, shares an update on NCF's strategy for combatting inequality and climate change. She describes how NCF has built out its integrated framework and committed to expanding payouts in response to this political moment.

These are extraordinary times. For more than 25 years, the Nathan Cummings Foundation’s mission has explicitly named a commitment to democratic values and social justice, supporting the most vulnerable, respecting diversity and promoting understanding across cultures, and empowering communities. Today, we are facing assaults on the values we hold dear. Racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia are on the rise. Our democratic institutions are under attack. The legitimacy of the press is being questioned and critical public institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency and National Endowment for the Arts are being undermined.

People are responding to these extraordinary times in extraordinary ways. The Foundation’s grantees are on the front lines, confronting Islamophobic travel bans, standing up for sanctuary for families separated by deportations, and sounding the alarm on the increase in anti-Semitic acts. They are organizing vast groups of people who are showing up at airports and in the streets, finding reasons to hope and work together to defend shared values. They are partnering with and pushing companies to stand up for immigrant workers and communities, and defend progress on clean energy and climate change. The work of these advocates is not a spontaneous reaction to a single president, but a result of years of investing in organizing and building innovative initiatives and visionary leaders.

No Time for Business as Usual

Earlier this month, the Foundation’s board and staff met for the first time since November to answer the question: how can we stand alongside our grantees and philanthropic partners and respond to this challenge with leadership, urgency, and impact. 
 
Our board was clear that this was no time for business as usual. Gathered around our board table, we made the unanimous decision to increase our payout in 2017 and 2018, and to join with and encourage other philanthropic organizations to do the same.  
 
Philanthropy is the risk capital in our society, and collectively, we were made for this moment. We are being called to act and to provide resources that catalyze leaders and solutions to the most pressing problems of the day. The question of how to respond is an essential discussion in the boardrooms and staff meetings of foundations all across the country. Over the last several months we listened and learned with partners in the field, and I am inspired by the other foundations that are doing the same.
 
We engaged our grantees through in-person conversations and an online survey, which brought us deep insights into the ways our grantees are responding to these challenging times and what they need from us now. Those insights have shaped our response in four primary ways. We will:

  • Increase grantmaking dollars to the field now when there is great need; 
  • Modify our processes and types of support in order to make grants more quickly or more flexibly;
  • Communicate and advocate for our values and interests; and 
  • Convene and collaborate to bring new resources and ideas to the field. 

We are clear that the changes we seek will take more than two years and we will hold ourselves accountable to making sure that our resources and actions are making a difference.

Lessons from the Field

We were joined at the April board meeting by Debbie Almontaser, Nan Aron, Angela Glover Blackwell, Farai Chideya, Dee Davis, Caroll Doherty, Marisa Franco, George Goehl, Kristen Grimm, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Brad Lander, and Heather McGhee. Together, we grappled to understand the racial, economic, and cultural dynamics at play in our country, and were encouraged by stories of local organizing, activism, and journalism making a difference in this moment. People are finding community, pushing on the idea of sanctuary and achieving significant wins, especially at the intersection of immigration policy and criminal justice reform.  
 
They reinforced that our programmatic pillars were right for this moment. They urged us to continue to take risks and to help build a narrative for the future that crosses racial, social and geographic boundaries, and bridges the chasms between communities.

Doubling Down on Our Integrated Framework

In the last quarter, we approved $2,667,800 in grants renewing funding relationships and building new ones in line with the four focus areas of our integrated framework. The framework seeks to find solutions and transform systems and mindsets that hinder progress toward a more sustainable and equitable future for all people, particularly women and people of color. We amplify voice, creativity and culture to shift narratives, build empathy, bear witness, challenge injustice and move people to action through the work of organizations such as the Momentum Training InstituteAsian American Writers Workshop and Firelight Media. The poets and the preachers are our prophets—allowing us to find our place in an ongoing story, moving hearts and minds, and sparking our collective moral imagination through organizations like through Church World Service’s support for the New Sanctuary Movement and through Muslim community infrastructure groups like the Pillars Fund. Our racial and economic justice work supports the efforts of groups like JustLeadership USA and the Advancement Project to develop solutions for a multiracial working class by unlocking markets that have excluded generations from economic opportunity, reforming systems that criminalize too many, and lifting up new models of economic and democratic inclusion. Our inclusive clean economy work partners with organizations like New York Renews and 350.org to demonstrate solutions, supporting movements on the ground that shift the narrative and galvanize people, ushering in a just transition to a new economy. Through partnerships with groups like the Center for Political Accountability and World Resources Institute, we use our standing as both a grantmaker and an investor to hold corporations accountable and safeguard the integrity of our political system.   
 
With additional resources, we can deepen coalitions, explore new ideas, and set aside space for some big bets that could emerge. While we don’t have all the answers, we are identifying an emerging set of themes and grantmaking strategies within each focus area and opportunities to work collaboratively across them. 

Safeguarding the Truth

In an era of alternative facts, the undermining of the public trust in the media, science and public institutions, we can shine a light on the relationship between truth, narrative and social change. We believe that journalists, particularly those representing marginalized voices and communities, have a unique ability to move people because they bear witness and tell the truth in ways that challenge power and mobilize communities and policymakers for meaningful change.

Strengthening Civic Engagement

There is a great need to channel the tremendous energy emerging in communities across the country to protect the values of truth and justice. Organizing models are stretching to absorb newly activated people, and we are heartened by the innovation happening on the ground by so many of our partners. We want to expand efforts to mobilize democratic participation and cross-movement collaboration to defend important policies and programs, and also spur new ones.

Investing in Resilience Practices

Leaders and organizations are being pushed to the limit of their capacity in a time of rapid change and flux. There is no better time to invest in the kinds of faith and spirit-rooted resilience practices, especially for those experiencing politicized attacks on their basic dignity, that will help our leaders keep their minds clear, hearts expansive, and eyes on the prize.

Building Bridges Across Divides 

Social and economic tensions are fraying the fabric of civic life in America. We will add our voice and resources to those working to see humanity in one another, share stories that bind, and engage with dignity as they confront difficult issues like the income and wealth gap, the balance of public safety and equitable treatment under the law, and the need for local solutions to counter efforts that would exclude people based on race, gender, religious identity or immigration status.   
 
This is an incredibly important moment for the nonprofits and communities we serve. The board, staff and I are deeply energized by their leadership and courage to speak up, stand up and show up for truth and justice. In the words of our Board Chair Ruth Cummings, as a family foundation focused on social justice, we consider ourselves in the movement and of the movement.
 
I look forward to what we can do when we stand together and show up when it matters most. This is the moment we were made for.

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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 January 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