October 3, 2017

Roses Along A Journey: My Transformative Experience in NFG’s Project Phoenix

Tyler Nickerson, NFG Member and Director of Investments and State Strategy at The Solutions Project, was one of 33 funders selected to participate in NFG’s Project Phoenix. He shares his reflections on the year-long collective learning program developed for funders to explore philanthropy’s role in supporting a “just transition to a new economy” that promotes good jobs, local economic prosperity, ecological sustainability, and re-prioritization of capital in society.

Pausing and appreciating the important moments around me is something I’m intentionally trying to get better at doing. With a childhood-ingrained Puritan work ethic and first-child tendencies, I am close to the last person stopping to smell the roses. I understand now more than ever the fault lines here. In a world full of emails, travel, and competing priorities, spaces of solace, silence, and deep creativity are rare and fleeting. I was fortunate to have NFG’s Project Phoenix provide such an opportunity for me to take that pause and soak up those special, irreplaceable moments. 

Project Phoenix was analogous to the gate of a  beautiful French garden, full of rose bushes for me to stop and smell. Over the course of twelve months, the 33 members of the Project Phoenix cohort visited New York City, Eastern Kentucky, Boston, and San Diego and its adjacent border region to understand the rich local work happening to build a new, regenerative economy. We had the opportunity to sit in conversations with local leaders working to improve the health, economic security, and quality of life of their families and community.

The Solutions Project is a member of NFG because of the important work they do to organize funders, build relationships with a field of movement leaders, and mobilize philanthropy to move resources that address the systemic barriers to justice and liberation of marginalized communities.

This is precisely what Project Phoenix accomplished. We dove deep, stayed focused on the big picture, and invested a bit of ourselves in each place. 

What Worked? 

As funders, many of us have access to seemingly countless opportunities and vehicles for professional development and collective learning - some more impactful than others. So what was it about Project Phoenix that actually gave it traction? As I see it, Project Phoenix benefitted from a unique combination of the dedicated people, right process, focus on place and people, and adherence to NFG’s underlying assertions  that made the experience so impactful to my own growth and the work of The Solutions Project. 

We had the opportunity to sit in conversations with local leaders working to improve the health, economic security, and quality of life of their families and community. 

The cohort bonded in a unique way that allowed us to have real conversations, soak up wisdom, and support each other as we ventured down our own personal paths. Deep relationships resulted in vulnerability and openness in a way that invested in our collective success and support for our individual journeys. We were allowed us to slow down and suspend our funder cat-like tendencies. Project Phoenix delivered a rare career moment for me in that I paused to smell the fragrance of each place’s strength and absorb the surrounding beauty through relationships and wisdom.

How Has It Transformed My Work?

The Solutions Project’s work has been deeply impacted by our partnership with NFG and my participation in Project Phoenix. As a new funder charged with values of boldness, having the opportunity to be in community with other great minds to think about the intersections of climate change, financial capital, and our democracy has shaped how we engage in grantmaking.

The time in Project Phoenix added both fundamental pillars in our work and important nuances to ensure that we were in the best possible relationships with our grantees. These relationships went beyond talking. For instance, Solutions Project collaborated with a few other NFG members—Surdna Foundation, Chorus Foundation, and Mary Babcock Reynolds Foundation—to move money together to support work in the American South. The Solutions Project named the American South as a region of focus, in part due to the relationships and knowledge developed through the Project Phoenix site visit in Appalachia, and codified “just transitions to a new economy” as a priority area for our grantmaking. 

The process allowed The Solutions Project to more clearly understand the purpose of our philanthropy and how we support grantee partners as political and economic systems continue to inadequately meet most American’s needs.

We are a better funder because of this experience. Without participating in Project Phoenix, I am not sure we’d be as strong and clear, or have the necessary relationships and information, to have the biggest impact possible.

I believe that Project Phoenix was a critical platform to develop the next generation of philanthropic leaders. Because of NFG’s network, Project Phoenix was connected to a tapestry of funders to build stronger relationship with a field of movement leaders and mobilize resources to support “just transitions” work. The process allowed The Solutions Project to more clearly understand the purpose of our philanthropy and how we support grantee partners as political and economic systems continue to inadequately meet most American’s needs.

Whether it be the feeling of militarization as we stood on the Mexican border with helicopters circling or the moonshine-influenced dancing at Eastern Kentucky Social Club, these types of moments are rare in one’s career. I was honored to have the chance to pause, absorb, and bond with allies ready to harness the power of philanthropy to support the change we all wish to see. These spaces are important and we need more of them if our work to be successful. Project Phoenix opened up the gates to a rare and serene space to stop and smell the roses.

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.