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, 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 million 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 dignitiy 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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August 14, 2019

Identify. Describe. Dismantle. Repeat.

Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, writes about calling out and then rejecting systems and institutions rooted in racism as a way to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist. This post was originally published here on Medium.

Nicky 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 Meyer Foundation, which pursues and invests in solutions that build an equitable Greater Washington, is a member of NFG.


 

Nicky GorenRecently, the president of the United States openly targeted four women of color in Congress, overtly lying about and mischaracterizing things they have said and suggesting they, “go back to where they came from.” Later, at a reelection rally in North Carolina, he continued to stoke these flames of racism and hate as he appeared to bask in the glow of his supporters chanting, “send her back!” in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. This, along with his tirade against Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the Baltimore-area district he represents, was just among the latest in a long track record of openly racist comments, actions, stances, and tactics the president has used since long before he was elected to the highest office in the nation, and make crystal clear what he and his supporters seek to uphold.

We are long past any question about whether the president and many of the people around him and supporting him are racist. His actions and his words by any objective standard make it so. What is more important is to understand how our systems of government and white culture actively enable racism to continue to play out in our election processes, our governance processes, in virtually every aspect of our day-to-day existence in this country.

A great example is what happened after the president’s remarks when members of the House of Representatives condemned those comments through a resolution. In the context of that debate, some House members attempted to derail the resolution by turning to a House precedent that would preclude the speaker of the house from characterizing the president’s comments as racist; essentially, using precedent and procedure designed to inhibit the ability to call out racism in order to avoid confronting the very issue that is at the core of how we function as a country. If you can’t name it, you can’t address it. This is a prime example of how those in power (historically, white men) have created systems, processes, procedures, cultures, and norms, that allow them to maintain the status quo. We should all be scratching our heads.

We need to call out those in power who are silent or who use a so-called desire for civility — from the White House to the state house to our own houses — as a shield to maintain the structures of white supremacy that have gotten them to where they are and continue to oppress people of color in the United States on a daily basis.

White people who believe themselves to be socially aware need to understand how we are using our dominant cultural norms — that show up in ways including a general avoidance or reimagining of historical facts, an over-reliance on precedent, and outrage at the very idea of being thought of as racist — to shield ourselves, our systems, and those in power from accountability for equitable outcomes. Many of us are constantly deflecting and, thereby protecting, the way things are.

I challenge white people to become not just non-racist, but anti-racist — and to call out racists and racism when we see it. We need to hold those who are perpetuating systems, institutions, and practices rooted in racism accountable. And we need to recognize what we are seeing for what it is; not something from our ancient past that we can absolve ourselves from, but something that is deep in the DNA of this country. We must actively name and refuse to accept racism any longer if we want to move forward and reflect the standards of freedom and democracy we believe we stand for.

In the words of author, historian, and professor Ibram Kendi: “The only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it — and then dismantle it.”

Let’s keep going.

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August 15, 2019

Beyond Outrage: A Clarity of Purpose

Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of the General Service Foundation, urges grantmakers and the philanthropic sector to take concrete actions to defend democracy and speak out against racist attacks on people of color. This post was originally published here on the foundation's website.

Dimple 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. General Service Foundation, which partners with grassroots organizations to bring about a more just and sustainable world, is a member of NFG.


  

Dimple AbichandaniWe live in dangerous times, and every passing news cycle contains another outrage, another violation of norms, another threat to our democracy, another threat to our planet.  

In the face of escalating racial attacks, (be it imprisonment of kids on the border or the racist rhetoric being tweeted from the white house) many have noted, rightly, that philanthropy as a sector has been too cautious and too quiet.  The Communications Network, in it’s recent piece, Silence Speaks Volumes, calls on foundations to use their voices in this moment.

Yes, it’s meaningful for people from all sectors of our society to condemn the Administration’s attacks on people of color.  And, for those of us working in the philanthropic sector, these times call on us to use all of our tools in defense of our inclusive, multi-racial democracy.  We are more than commentators or observers– as funders, our role is to resource a more just and equitable future. What we do in this moment will be far more important than what we say.  

As painful as this moment is, it is also a time in which the work to be done has become more clear. The vulnerability of our democracy has become more clear.  Racial anxiety and social divisions are being stoked in order to prop up a reckless system that benefits only the wealthiest. As we condemn the most recent of a long list of outrages, can we also use this moment to deepen our own clarity of purpose, and ensure that our funding will bring about a more just future? 

As funders, we can not only speak out but also take action to bolster our inclusive democracy.

  1. Support those most directly impacted by injustice. Instead of wielding of our own voice and power as a foundation, we can support those most directly impacted by injustice to build their voice, power, and leadership. They must lead the way to a more just world; it is our job to uplift and resource their visions and voices. National organizations such as Color of Change, New American Leaders, and National Domestic Workers Alliance, regional and state-based organizations such as Western States Center, Black Voters Matter and Workers Defense Project and so many others are seeding a future in which racial, gender and economic justice will be the norm.
  2. Invest in the creation and dissemination of narratives that reshape cultural attitudes around belonging in our country.  The recent escalation in the use of racist and sexist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum– rather it builds on broader public narratives shaped by white supremacy and male dominance.  We need to normalize new narratives that humanize all of us, that value all of us. Organizations such as the Pop Culture CollaborativeReFrame, and the Culture Change Fund, for example, build capacity for narrative equity and culture shift.
  3. Question the default funding habits and practices that limit us from making a bigger impact in this moment. As funders, we sometimes have a blind spot for how our internal practices create unnecessary burdens and barriers for organizations that do the important work we support. This moment calls on us to question our practices, shift to ways of working that account for the gravity of the problems we face, and center the people who are leading the social change efforts we support. Could your foundation increase its payout, provide more general operating support, increase the length of grants, and minimize busywork for grantees? Could you shift your grant strategy to more boldly meet the moment or more directly address the imbalances of power in our society? The Trust Based Philanthropy Network has tools and stories of inspiration from foundations who have increased their impact by changing their practices.

So many of us in philanthropy are eager to do something meaningful in this tumultuous time.  Let’s challenge ourselves to use this moment to put our institutional values into practice. Let’s walk the walk as boldly as we talk the talk.