November 2, 2016

What Have We Learned about Place-Based Investments?

Last month, 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, Simran Noor of the Center for Social Inclusion shares the three lessons that funders should build on to support sustainable community change.

Simran NoorBy Simran Noor, Center for Social Inclusion

Eight years ago, I worked for a foundation that heavily invests in my hometown, which allowed me to see firsthand the impacts of place-based investments. I was reminded of that work when I recently had the opportunity to attend the Towards a More Resilient Place: Promising Practices in Place-Based Philanthropy convening organized by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. It was heartening to see the collective hope and call to integrate decades of hard-learned lessons into today’s practice of philanthropy, with the intent to address the reality of privilege and arms-length distance embedded in the institution of philanthropy. But my time in Aspen also left me reliving lessons I learned in my past work and seeing glaring examples that continue to surface from brilliant, thoughtful social justice-oriented funders across the country. Conversations in Aspen left me thinking, “Is learning real if not applied?” 

While these learnings depend on a number of factors including level, size, and scale of investment; relationships in place; and the reality of constantly changing social, political, and economic trends; they can be distilled into key considerations that could change the relationship philanthropy has with place-based investing. Among these lessons:

Listen first and allow communities to determine their own needs. Privilege comes in many forms. For philanthropy, in particular, privilege can come in the form of knowledge and ways of knowing. Believing or creating processes that implicitly position the academic knowledge held by foundation staff as superior to the lived experience of grantees, partners, and residents is one way place-based investing can miss the mark. Shifting power and creating methods for sustainable investment does not only mean engaging those who are most impacted to share their stories in participatory processes; it means resourcing them to co-design every element of process creation. This requires a different intentionality around listening, a potential shift in the ways initial investments are made, and a clear redefining of foundation funding priorities to match local, self-determined needs.

Develop strategies responsive to what you’ve learned. While listening is a first step, it is often not enough. Truly changing outcomes requires focused strategy. Many neighborhoods ripe for place-based investments have experienced decades of disinvestment and dismantling by every public and private institution. That does not only impact the infrastructure of those communities—it impacts the very souls of the people residing in the place. When funders enter communities that have experienced such disinvestment and lead with dollars, they often create a competitive dynamic that strains relationships between nonprofits and ultimately benefits no one. Place-based funders have a responsibility to understand local needs and support development of strategic approaches that take into account the current ecosystem of nonprofits, intermediaries, and public and private institutions, as well as the current power dynamics and inequitable resource distribution at play. Place-based strategies must use new and innovative ways to disrupt these (often racialized) power dynamics in order to foster an environment for intersectional, multi-issue approaches that address the root causes of deeply embedded challenges, including poverty and lack of access to opportunity for communities of color.

Reimagine what “success” looks like. Fundamentally, these shifts require philanthropy to reimagine success in place-based work. Could success potentially mean a self-sustaining future state without philanthropy’s presence? What are the mechanisms to create philanthropic accountability to the most impacted communities and potential grantees before investments are made? Answering these questions requires reimagining asset-based human and social investment in the residents who will be in a place long after philanthropic investments end. Capacity building and popular education approaches, for example, allow residents to develop the same technical and academic acumen held by decision makers and power brokers in the local context. Foundations would then also need to become comfortable and confident in residents’ future decisions, particularly stances that may differ with their own institutional preferences.  This process of authentic decision-making and shifting power could be a true success metric.

While by no means comprehensive in nature, if the lessons noted above and the many others that surfaced during the Towards a More Resilient Place convening are adopted, they have the ability to shift the nature of place-based philanthropy. Social justice-oriented funders who shared their experiences showed us how important and effective these lessons are, and they should continue to advocate for these lessons in future place-based philanthropic investments.

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October 24, 2019

Reflections from Philanthropy Forward's First Cohort

Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change is a CEO fellowship program created by Neighborhood Funders Group and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The program's first cohort started in October 2018 in furtherance of building and advancing a shared vision for the future of philanthropy.

Hear perspectives from members of the first cohort as they reflect in this video on their work together as strategic thought partners, addressing philanthropy's most challenging issues and aligning to build a financial engine for social change.

2018 - 2019 Philanthropy Forward Cohort

A grid with individual photos of each of the 20 members of Philanthropy Forward's 2018-2918 cohort..

Click here for participant bios

  • Dimple Abichandani, General Service Foundation
  • Sharon Alpert, Nathan Cummings Foundation
  • Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, Solidago Foundation
  • Ned Calonge, The Colorado Trust
  • Irene Cooper-Basch, Victoria Foundation
  • Farhad A. Ebrahimi, The Chorus Foundation
  • Nicky Goren, Meyer Foundation
  • Justin Maxson, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Joan Minieri, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock
  • Maria Mottola, New York Foundation
  • Mike Pratt, Scherman Foundation
  • Jocelyn Sargent, Hyams Foundation
  • Pamela Shifman, NoVo Foundation
  • Starsky D. Wilson, Deaconess Foundation
  • Steve Patrick, Aspen Institute Forum for Community solutions
  • Dennis Quirin, Raikes Foundation
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.