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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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.

September 3, 2019

Capitalism and Racism: Conjoined Twins

By Marjona Jones, Co-Chair of Funders for a Just Economy and Senior Program Officer at Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock

Marjona Jones speaking at a podium.

A few weeks ago, Democracy Now! aired a segment with Ibram X. Kendi, author and founding director of the Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center at American University, where he discussed white supremacy, anti-racism, and the increase in mass shootings. What struck me about the segment was his illuminating statement about the origins of capitalism. Kendi views capitalism and racism as "conjoined twins" and that “…the origins of racism cannot be separated from the origins of capitalism… the life of capitalism cannot be separated from the life of racism.”

Kendi continued by discussing how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade allowed for the massive accumulation of wealth in Europe and the Americas. Centuries of wage theft, trading in human bondage, insurance claims on "lost" cargo, and reparations for slave owners after emancipation entrenched this capitalist system with inequities based on race built into it. Slave owners protected their concentrated wealth by shaping our socio-economic and legal systems to benefit themselves and the industry of slavery, as well as limit democracy.

As I celebrate the worker movement’s victories on Labor Day this year, this segment and past conversations with grantees has triggered an important question for me: What does the notion that capitalism and racism are inextricably linked mean for our work as funders of racial and economic justice? Our grantee partners tell us how workers are implicated in the entangled web of these “conjoined twins” of racism and capitalism. Many worker-based organizations state that the best vehicle this country has in pursuit of economic justice is through organizing workers, but traditional labor hasn’t always been the best vehicle for racial justice. As Bill Fletcher Jr. and Fernando Gapasin discuss in Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, while many unions integrated in the 1920s, some unionists decided to resist integration to ensure wins and job quality for white workers. These traditionalists understood the idea of “conjoined twins.”

Racial and economic justice movements have exposed exploitative and extractive practices within capitalism, making it less secure to accumulate wealth through those means. However, as Michelle Alexander points out in her book, The New Jim Crow, exposing capitalism for what it is forces it to transform and evolve. For example, following the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, agriculture was still the main economic engine, and free exploited labor was needed for this industry to survive. Capitalism evolved while maintaining its racist and exploitative roots through policymakers passing the Black Codes of 1865 and 1866, making it easier to imprison recently freed slaves to continue that supply of free labor.

We are catching up to the fact that capitalism was never meant to work for everyone. What will the next evolution in capitalism bring as our movements fight even harder for racial and economic justice in the face of harm to workers and marginalized communities?

Funders for a Just Economy (FJE) has created an intentional space to begin discussing what these questions mean for our work and the grantees we support. Capitalism’s origin story is a critical part of analyzing how this system operates. By acknowledging the “conjoined twins,” we acknowledge the role of race and the legacy of slavery. FJE believes that there is a renewed opportunity to support a working-class movement that builds the power of all workers, especially Black, Trans and LGBQ workers, women, and immigrants—and lift their role as the main strategists to change the system. If we believe another world is possible, then so is another system that bakes in justice, equity, and respect.


  

Join FJE for these conversations and more at the upcoming Racial Capitalism, Power and Resistance event on October 17 & 18 in Brooklyn, NY. More information and registration link here.

Stay tuned for an upcoming Power Building Study Group for Neighborhood Funders Group members, and the Disrupt the System: How Labor and Philanthropy can Build Worker Power in a New Era event co-convened by the AFL-CIO, the LIFT Fund, and FJE on December 11 in Washington, DC. More information coming soon!