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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June 12, 2019

NFG Announces Transition of President Dennis Quirin

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2019

OAKLAND, CA — On July 19, Dennis Quirin will step down as President of Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) to accept a new position as Executive Director of the Raikes Foundation in September. NFG’s Vice President of Programs, Adriana Rocha, and Vice President of Operations, Sarita Ahuja, will serve as Interim Co-Directors to shepherd the organization through the executive transition. A search for NFG’s next President will begin in late 2019.

“The courageous and bold leadership that Dennis exhibits is exactly what this moment requires. Today, NFG stands strong and in solidarity with the movements we are all in service of advancing. It has been an honor to work with someone who aligns their values with their actions as consistently as Dennis does. On behalf of the board, I am excited to welcome the next leader who will carry on NFG’s mission supporting grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive,” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

In his six-year tenure as President, Dennis has overseen tremendous expansion in NFG’s membership, operations, and programming. NFG's institutional membership has more than doubled, with now over 115 foundations around the country participating as members in programs focused on shifting power and money in philanthropy towards justice. NFG’s team has also grown to 15 staff members located in six states across the US. Dennis has launched the Amplify Fund, a multimillion-dollar collaborative fund for equitable development, and Philanthropy Forward, a foundation CEO fellowship. He has also fostered new directions in programming addressing issues such as gentrification and displacement, racial justice and police accountability, just transition to a new economy, rural organizing, and the changing landscape of workers’ rights.

“It has been a great privilege to lead this organization as it activates philanthropy to support social justice and power building,” said Dennis. “Nearing its 40th year, NFG is now in the strongest position it has ever been, and will no doubt continue to grow and build upon what we have accomplished together during my time here. I am excited to take what I’ve learned and apply these lessons in my new role at the Raikes Foundation.” 

“Dennis’s visionary leadership over the past six years has strengthened NFG as a community where funders gain relationships and tools to move more resources to organizing and powerbuilding,” said Sarita. “We are grateful to Dennis for building NFG into the thriving organization it is today,” added Adriana, “and look forward to welcoming a new leader in 2020.”

NFG’s executive search will be announced later in 2019 and will be open nationally to candidates. More immediate questions about the search can be sent to Shannon Lin, Communications Manager, at shannon@nfg.org

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Read more: "A New Chapter — for Me and for NFG"

 

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May 9, 2019

Building Power in the Sunshine State: Lessons from FJE’s Florida Learning Tour

In April 2019, NFG's Funders for a Just Economy and Florida Philanthropic Network brought together funders from across the country and community organizing leaders in Florida to explore how diverse communities in the state are building power and political infrastructure for workers’ rights, migrant justice, women’s rights, and more.

Sienna BaskinSienna Baskin, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Fund at NEO Philanthropy, shares her experience from the learning tour. You can follow Sienna at @SiennaBaskin and NEO at@NEOPhilanthropy

Would you be able to come from the frozen Northeast to a resort in Ft. Myers without relishing the feeling of your toes in sandals or the warm bay breezes? I know these were my first impressions as I landed for the Funders for a Just Economy Florida Funder Tour. But as we left the sunshine to enter a darkened conference room, our eyes adjusted to read the first slide: “Racial Capitalism and Resistance in the Sunshine State.” As funders, many of us tourists and outsiders, we were invited in to learn the real story of Florida.

During this introduction to the tour, we learned that the inequities Floridians are suffering were sown in the earliest days of European colonization, and the roots of revolt stretch just as far back. By the 1800’s, Native Seminole communities were a haven for escaped slaves, and some of the largest anti-slavery uprisings were launched from these enclaves. Post-reconstruction, this blossoming of freedom was repressed with an especially brutal reign of the KKK – Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of any southern state. Florida also passed the first “Right to Work” law in the nation, disenfranchising African American communities to maintain the status quo, and built the tourism sector with leased convict labor. Considering these challenges, Cuban, Spanish and Italian workers built strong unions and mounted many strikes at cigar-rolling factories. In 1968 it was out of a failed sanitation strike in St. Petersburg that one of the fastest growing multiracial unions in the south — SEIU Florida Public Service Union – was born. And just this week, Florida passed one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in the country, banning sanctuary cities and requiring local government agencies to cooperate with ICE.

Learning tour participants sit at tables to listen to local community organizers in a colorful room surrounded by posters.

Photos by Arista Collective

This sense of a violent swing from liberation to repression and back again permeated our time in Florida. We met many of the brilliant leaders riding these waves. They had much to teach us. Like the country at large, Florida is almost perfectly balanced between progressive possibility and conservative ideology. Every election is won or lost by 1%, but a Republican stronghold has held onto power. This means organizers must find ways to engage conservatives around shared values, build an alternate narrative powerful enough to contest for governing power and move the apolitical (30% of voters are unaffiliated), or create new systems of accountability and power outside of government.

We heard examples of all of these strategies. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition recently won a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to people with criminal records by connecting with returning citizens, their families, and the wider community around a sense of justice, not by arguing politics. Alliance for Safety and Justice organizes crime victims around criminal justice reform by talking about failures in public safety. The Statewide Alignment Group, an alliance of 7 organizations including Florida Immigration Coalition, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, and Faith in Florida, are building a new electorate through leadership development, community-based popular education, and ballot initiatives, with Medicaid expansion, automatic voter registration and $15 minimum wage in their sights. The Miami Workers Center organizes victims of domestic violence and domestic workers to fight the feminization of poverty with a shared agenda. All aspire to a new definition of civic engagement, where working people are authors of the laws that affect them, an audacious goal in a state that has long repressed workers. This requires not being “prisoners of the moment” as Alphonso Mayfield of the SEIU called it, but seeing where even failure leads to future change, if there is deep collaboration and engagement over years.

Nelly Rodriguez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers speaks to learning tour participants sitting at a table with her.We also visited Immokalee, a town of migrant workers, small bodegas and vast tomato and citrus farms. Around bright oilcloth-covered tables we heard about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' famous human rights program, built to change the slavery-like conditions on industrial farms. By holding the brands at the top of the supply chain accountable for enforcing worker protections and threatening the loss of sales for farm owners if they did not sign up, workers were able to institute higher pay and standards than even the law requires. Surrounded by hand-painted signs from their marches against Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other corporate giants, we saw the potential of this program, born of necessity in one of the most oppressive regions and industries in the country for low-wage workers.

Unfortunately, philanthropy is not always walking with these activists. While Florida is perceived as a wealthy state, we learned that there are almost no social justice funders in Florida, especially for workers or immigrant rights. Many holders of wealth hail from outside of Florida, and think of the state as their vacation or retirement spot, not where they should be giving back. And national funders aren’t always investing in the most impactful ways. Money pours into Florida for disaster response or to swing the state during election years, focused on numbers, not depth or long-term engagement. These kinds of resources may lead to the problem of “burnt turf,” when voters don’t trust that organizers are really working in their best interest. For long term grassroots investment, Florida often falls through the cracks.

Two people on the learning tour sit in a bus looking out onto farm fields.

Photos by Arista Collective

The Contigo Fund showed us one example of how to do things differently. After the massacre of 49 LGBTQ Latinx young people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a combined effort through crowdfunding and traditional philanthropy raised 30 million for the families and survivors, and 3 million more was raised for longer term efforts. The Contigo Fund carried out an assessment to learn how the community identified the conditions they were facing, the gaps in resources, and their hopes and dreams for change. The resulting grants promoted 37 new LGBTQ leaders of color into positions of power, launched new programs for LGBTQ communities in existing organizations, and helped found 11 new organizations led by LGBTQ people of color in central Florida.

Tarell McCraney, writer of the Academy Award-winning “Moonlight,” called Miami “a beautiful nightmare.”  My sense, after soaking in Florida sunsets and hearing from these activists, is that this moniker could apply to the entire state. Florida has suffered many traumas: historical, environmental, collective and individual. It is top in the nation for poverty-wage jobs, has the highest rate of ICE arrests in the country, and was home to half of all US murders of trans people in 2018. But it also has enormous potential, potential Florida activists and organizers can feel. Some of the most brilliant organizing strategies in the country are emerging from this state, out of the urgency of the moment and the creativity of activists overcoming high barriers. These are the strategies we need to turn this whole country around. Marcia Olivo of the Miami Workers Center shared her belief that out of healing can come collective action, and without this action, healing is incomplete. Philanthropy has an opportunity to help move this, and all the other exciting ideas in Florida, to a place of flourishing.

More about the tour: Tour Agenda | Speaker Bios | Attendees List

We are so grateful to the organizations that worked with us on this tour: Alliance for Safety and Justice, Alianza for Progress, Central Florida Jobs with Justice, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Community Justice ProjectContigo Fund, Dream Defenders, Faith in Florida, Fair Food Standards Council, Family Action Network Movement, Farmworkers Association of Florida, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Florida New Majority, Florida Philanthropic Network, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, Miami Workers Center, Organize Florida, QLatinx, SEIU Public Services Union of Florida, VIDA Legal Assistance, WeCount!