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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February 28, 2020

NFG Newsletter - February 2020

February is Black History Month and, in this newsletter, NFG honors Black resistance. Given the persistence of structural racism and the legacies of segregation, NFG has mobilized philanthropy to support POC-led organizing for equitable development since our start 40 years ago. Through our member-led and local advisor-led programming, we are lifting up how Black communities are reclaiming land ownership and addressing the racial wealth gap through grassroots power building.

At the beginning of the month, NFG’s Amplify Fund staff and steering committee spent a day with local organizers, non-profit leaders, and organizations in Charleston and Edisto Island, South Carolina — one of Amplify’s eight sites. Both national and local grantmakers learned alongside some of Amplify’s grantees, including the Center for Heirs’ Property PreservationLow Country Alliance for Model CommunitiesCarolina Youth Action Project, and South Carolina Association for Community and Economic Development, which are bringing together Black, Latinx communities and youth in the region to fight for community power, land rights, and environmental justice in the face of corporate power, criminalization of communities of color due to gentrification, and land theft.

This week, NFG’s Democratizing Development Program (DDP) hosted a two-day Health, Housing, Race, Equity and Power Funders Convening in Oakland, California. Over 100 participants grappled with how anti-Blackness and xenophobia fuel the complex housing & health crisis and community trauma, and heard examples of concrete organizing wins led by Black women from Moms 4 Housing and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. Organizers from around the country urged grantmakers to significantly invest in long-term general operating support, community ownership models, POC leadership, and 501(c)4 funding for Black, Indigenous, and POC communities engaging in policy and systems change around housing affordability and justice. 

From Amplify’s funder collaborative to the DDP convening’s planning committee, funders organizing other funders has been a key part of our work. Funder members: how are you stepping up as an organizer and moving more resources for power building in Black, Indigenous, and POC communities? We invite you to connect with NFG staffprograms, and upcoming events — including our National Convening — and be part of our community where we bring funders together to learn, connect, and mobilize resources with an intersectional and place-based focus. 

The NFG team

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January 23, 2020

NFG Newsletter - January 2020

Animated fireworks with the text "40 Years Strong"

This year marks NFG's 40th anniversary. During our early years, NFG was one of the few spaces in philanthropy specifically focused on people of color-led, grassroots organizing, and power building as the key to effective social change strategies. Today, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important: communities of color are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis, growing wealth and income inequality, and climate change; white nationalist backlash is rising; and our democracy is profoundly threatened. NFG is a space to draw support, deepen relationships, and find co-conspirators as we propel philanthropy to shift power and money towards justice and equity.

In 2020, the NFG network is continuing to explore structural racism in health and housing, racial capitalism, migrant worker justice in rural areas, reimagining community safety and justice, and more. We will also return ‘home’ to NFG’s founding city — Washington, D.C. — for our 2020 National Convening.

As we celebrate 40 years, our dynamic community of grantmakers and grassroots leaders is what makes us strong. This newsletter spotlights The Libra Foundation, an NFG member that shares our commitment to organizing funders in moving more resources to frontline communities and movements.

Keep reading below for more opportunities to engage with NFG. Whether you are new to NFG or a long-time member, we look forward to collaborating with you to accelerate racial, gender, economic, and climate justice.
The NFG team

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