November 2, 2016

Changing Foundation Culture to Support Place-Based Change

In September 2016, the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group convened 100 local, regional, and national funders for Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy. Here, Raquel Gutierrez of Vitalyst Health Foundation reflects on where the culture in foundations needs to evolve to match developments in the field. 

By Raquel Gutierrez, Vitalyst Health Foundation

The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and Neighborhood Funders Group chose an inspiring setting for their convening, Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy, earlier this fall. The shimmering leaves on tall aspens graced the mountains that surrounded us, enveloping us in a blanket of gold and a myriad of green pines. There was a quiet there that settled my restless mind. The altitude reminded me to breathe deep. There is a calming simplicity in the art, architecture and landscaping that define the Aspen Institute.

In many ways, the conference matched our surroundings. Outside of logistics and agenda building, the approach was simple, tried and true: Bring people together from across the country who are passionate about justice and social transformation, and provide opportunities to share, listen, reflect, and share some more. The opportunity to listen and learn about strategies from other funders and nonprofit leaders was a gift; it will inform how I approach my portfolio and will influence Vitalyst Health Foundation’s journey specific to equity and approaches grounded in democratizing development.

Reflecting Our Values Through Action

The opening plenary, Community Power Building as Community Resiliency, has stuck with me even weeks later. The opportunity to hear emerging leaders in philanthropy share their experience—frustrations and all—illustrated how they are changing the practices and world-views that have historically dictated philanthropy. Their forthrightness about cultivating relationships with folks in the community while navigating the transformation of implicit biases that exist within their foundations’ practices resonated with my experiences. While the presenters remarked, "I hope I still have a job after this panel,” I thought, “If we can't have these conversations here, where can we?” As someone who has only worked in philanthropy for four years, it was refreshing to have colleagues speak truthfully about their struggle to work with the norms that make up the culture of their respective foundations, while simultaneously trying to change these internal practices and use approaches that can better reflect their values in action.

The Community Changing the Rules: The Role of Residents to Influence Policy session reaffirmed Vitalyst Health Foundation’s move to support community organizing and capacity building of social justice oriented organizations. For example, it was significant to hear folks make the connection between Freddie Gray’s life and the conditions which lead to his death. I was able to bring back questions such as, “Where can someone fall through the cracks? How do we cultivate and support residents to formulate and drive their own health policy agendas? What data do residents need to create their agendas, and are we willing to fund that work?” I left with a deep desire to better understand democratic development and with a higher level of commitment to my role in Neighborhood Funders Group’s Democratizing Development Program.

Growing Edges of the Place-Based Community Change Movement

There is a tide of change in philanthropy that felt very present at the convening, particularly as it relates to passing the torch to an emerging set of leaders. Some of it was typical generational shift anxiety, but there was an extra ingredient of overall openness to risk taking that felt palpable, particularly among the emerging philanthropists. Some seasoned funders were in a reflective mood about how much more is possible. They asked, “Shouldn’t our efforts have had more impact?” and “What could we have done differently?”, without solely blaming nonprofits or community leaders for the lack of impact. The idea that grantmakers are thinking about what role they played in the lack of impact could develop into something significant. I was also encouraged by people’s commitment to resident engagement that puts the philanthropist in a supporter and learner role, rather than sole designer and driver of initiatives.

Finally, another indicator of how philanthropic culture is changing comes from the many comments of gratitude for inviting convening participants from communities directly involved with a foundation’s work. I was honored to have Joseph Larios, a resident in one of the communities Vitalyst Health Foundation works in and a member of our Board of Trustees, represent the innovative work of his community in such a dignified way, sharing the meaningful and important work happening in Arizona. The Towards a More Resilient Place convening showed me how a growing cadre of leaders is embracing this growing edge that will be critical for strengthening communities in the future.   

Find More By:

News type: 
June 26, 2020

Strike Watch: Workers refuse to relent for Black lives, as COVID-19 workplace dangers expand

If there is an image that encapsulates the continued expansion of worker-led direct action in the last few weeks, it is Angela Davis on Juneteenth. With her fist raised high and face mask tight, Dr. Davis stood strong out of a roof of a car moving through a massive strike linking dockworkers and community to shutter the Port of Oakland for 8-plus hours. Led by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shipping and transport workers, 29 ports were shut down as tens of thousands came together, and drew connections by featuring speakers such as fired Amazon warehouse worker Chris Smalls between the racial violence of police and that of powerful corporations.

Payday Report tracked more than 500 strikes from the first protest for George Floyd at the end of May to a nationwide day of action on Juneteenth. In Minneapolis in the days after the murder of George Floyd, workers showed solidarity in ways ranging from unionized bus drivers refusing to transport police to direct action by teachers to remove police from schools. Journalists also have confronted racism in their institutions, such as the 300-plus sickout at the New York Times to challenge Arkansas Tom Cotton’s op-ed calling for military action against protestors. Workers, small businesses and community collaborated on a Washington State-wide day of action where dozens of businesses shut down and employees skipped work to support of Black Lives Matter and confront white supremacy. 

Unions are also taking strong stances on the efforts to divest and defund from police (see our NFG resource for funders here) and invest in real community need and safety, including a wide ranging set of locals in the Bay Area supporting this call directly. Locals like UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles have confronted recent police killings such as the murder of 18-year old Andres Guardado (whose father is a union member) by the LA Sherriff Department (LASD) in Compton. The local joined street protests and signing on to BLM and abolitionist-led calls for a #PeoplesBudgetLA and a Care First budget defunding the LASD.

Using one’s workplace power to support anti-racism has also morphed among professional class workers “at home.” Dozens of scientific institutions, from journals to university departments, also #ShutDownSTEM to force reflection on entrenched racism in the US and support for Black lives.  #Sharethemic days where white women-identified influencers ceded space to Black women anti-racist leaders like #metoo founder Tarana Burke also offered new ways to consider not only walking out, but handing over resources, space and power.

Like the ongoing strikes responding to COVID-19, workers are exposing the hypocrisy of the endless barrage of corporate statements professing #BLM while taking actions that are quite literally killing their Black and brown workers. Under the cover of slick marketing, trillion-dollar companies like Amazon and Whole Foods are cutting back low-wage worker hazard pay and other protections (won by protests), even as COVID-19 cases spike in their worksites, and even seeing BLM masks banned on the job.

Global Essential Organizing in the Age of COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases (and unemployment claims) continue their ascent in the US, and other regions of the world see dangerous resurgences, mostly Black-, Latinx- and API- (including and especially migrant)-led worker organizing for basic protections has not let up either. The latest waves of strikes organized by Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ) among dozens of apple picking and packing sites in Washington state’s Yakima Valley saw a significant victory with a signed collective agreement for safety and hazard pay among dozens of different apple picking workers earlier this month.

Mosty-migrant meatpacking workers globally – from Germany’s hinterlands to Hyrum, Utah – continue to demonstrate n the face of outbreaks in plants. Unionized nurses represented by National Nurses United and different SEIU affiliates are striking nationwide against the large US corporate hospital chain HCA Healthcare for still failing to provide Personal Protective Equipment (while cutting staff) starting Friday, June 26. Disney workers, meanwhile, attempt to stave off a disaster at their multi-billion dollar company seeks to re-open its theme parks in July.

Months of essential worker strikes are becoming entwined in an even broader sea of actions for Black lives and calling, in many cases, for police and prison abolition. Angela Davis reflected in an interview on the same day as the Juneteenth strike: “Activists who are truly committed to changing the world should recognize that the work that we often do that receives no public recognition can eventually matter.” The power reflected in ongoing strikes has been built at the grassroots through base building and other work for numerous years. Dr. Davis’ words are in many ways a call to action for philanthropy: how will funders fully recognize and support the immediate and long-term building necessary for worker-led organizing and power? And as major institutions like universities look inward, will foundations reflect on their own perpetuation of racism and corporate power - from external investments to internal practices?

FJE’s Strike Watch is a regular blog and media series dedicated to providing insight on the ways in which grassroots movements build worker power through direct action. Our ultimate goal: inform philanthropic action to support worker-led power building and organizing and help bridge conversations among funders, community and research partners. We are grateful and acknowledge the many journalists and organizations that produce the content we link to regularly, and to all our participants in first-hand interviews. Questions on the content or ideas for future content? Reach out to robert@nfg.org

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Photo Credit: Yalonda M. James / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

June 25, 2020

$50million for M4BL - See You There

Dear Donors, Funders, and Resource Mobilizers: 

The Movement for Black Lives mounted a significant SixNineteen Juneteenth weekend of actions in a matter of weeks. Virtually, over 185,000 people viewed M4BL-TV to celebrate, mourn, and learn. Over 650 in person and online actions took place in cities and communities across the nation, and globally. For context on the strategy behind this weekend of action we recommend the first episode of the People's Action Podcast The Next MoveMaking Meaning with Maurice Mitchell

We are deeply moved by Black Leadership and now we are getting closer to a world where defunding police and building new visions of community safety, infrastructure, and recovery are not just possible, but are inevitable.  This month alone, we’ve seen:

·  A veto-proof majority in the Minneapolis City Council pledged to take steps to eliminate the Minneapolis Police Department and replace it with a community alternative.

·  The mayor of Los Angeles announced that the city’s police budget would be cut by $100-150 million to reinvest it in programs to create better conditions for Black residents,

·  The public perception of policing and racism has shifted dramatically, with 54 percent of Americans supporting the uprisings.

·  And dozens more victories listed here.

We asked you to meet the courage of M4BL’s Juneteenth action by moving resources with integrity and speed. We asked you all to resource our movements working to Defend Black Lives by breaking the rules: give more than 5% from your endowments, trust Black leadership, and remove habitual philanthropic red tape. We responded to M4BL’s call to philanthropy and stated that $50M is the floor, and it is more than possible if we are prepared to fund the Movement for Black Lives like we want them to win. Your commitments so far is the proof point - you were listening! We are grateful for the ways you have shown your solidarity so far. 

Our first goal was to raise half of it by the end of June - $25M. We need your support and solidarity over these next seven days and beyond.  

In 14 days we have raised $18M in commitments, pledges and cash on hand. We have $7M to raise in 7 days and a week to make our first goal.  Solidaire Network and Resource Generation have both pledged to organize their members, and we’ve had contributions come in from the $10,000 to $5M range. Some of you have even pledged for 10 years, demonstrating your commitment not just to the moment but to the long term movement that’s needed to win. 

As a reminder, here are the four ways we need you to show up for Black lives: 

  1. FIRST: COMMIT. If you haven’t done so yet, complete this survey with your own pledge today.
  2. SECOND: ORGANIZE. We need you to organize your institutions, boards, friends, family, funder affinity groups -- the communities you can and have organized to move resources.
  3. THIRD: GIVE. We ask that you make a generous one-time donation and a sustainable recurring donation to M4BL and its ecosystem here.
  4. FOURTH: FOLLOW THROUGH. Get ready to share with us what you are prepared to do, and what philanthropic “rules” you are prepared to break to Defend Black Lives today.

In struggle, 

Funders for Justice and our donor-organizing partners for the Movement for Black Lives 

Find More By:

News type: