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.

June 2, 2020

Black Lives Matter: We Say Their Names

We at NFG say their names. George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY. Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA. Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL. Dion Johnson in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day. NFG stands in solidarity with Black communities as we again find ourselves anguished, angered, and compelled to action in response to the murders of George Floyd and Black people across the U.S. by police.

We urge our network to continue challenging white supremacy. We call on philanthropy to divest from criminalization and invest in communities. We encourage you to fund communities directly, support protestors and essential workers — like Breonna Taylor — who continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, and donate to bail funds around the country. Read more about how grantmakers can take action to fund transformative justice in this blog post from NFG’s Funders for Justice.
 


 

NFG cares about you, and your communities. We are here to work beside you and support each other as we share, inspire, grieve, and act together. And we are committed to organizing philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities thrive.
 

RESOURCES & CALLS TO ACTION

OPPORTUNITIES TO CONNECT

  • We will be holding Member Connection Calls on June 9 and June 11. These calls are open spaces for you to drop in and be in community with new or familiar NFG friends and colleagues. We invite you to join us at any point throughout the hour to say hi, share anything that’s on your mind, take a breath, and strategize with the NFG community.
  • Drop us a line! NFG staff are ready to help connect you with others in our network, or provide some 1:1 listening and strategizing with you about whom to connect with or specific ways you can take action in your institution. We invite you to get in touch with anyone on our staff.
  • Join the NFG network for our 40 Years Strong virtual convening series, starting later this month with discussions with philanthropic and movement leaders on what is needed in this political moment and beyond, as well as how philanthropy must be accountable to communities of color and low-income communities. Registration is now open.
May 29, 2020

Say Their Names: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson

This piece was written by NFG's Funders for Justice program leadership.

We say their names: Breonna Taylor in Louisville, KY, George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, GA, Tony McDade in Tallahassee, FL, Dion Johnso in Phoenix, AZ.

Black Lives Matter, today and every day.

Fund Black lives, Black futures, Black organizing. 

We Stand in Solidarity: Funders for Justice stands in solidarity with protestors in Minneapolis, Louisville, Phoenix, New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities across the country, fighting for the lives and freedom for all Black people. We know that communities are powerful, and will dream and fight for the transformative justice in which together we create the new world we all need. As funders, our mandate is to fund communities rising up against state violence, and to continue to fund as communities build the power and momentum for long-term change.

We Must Continue to Challenge White Supremacy: While police killed unarmed Black people over and over again, we witnessed no police response to armed white nationalist posted in front of state capital buildings and yelling in the faces of security guards, demanding an end to shelter in place because they wanted to get a haircut and go out in public without a mask.

Stand with Black Women Essential Workers: Breonna Taylor was a young Black woman who was an EMT — an essential worker already risking her life during a pandemic. Yet we repeatedly witness evidence that the state does not protect or respect the people, especially Black women, risking their lives to save others. Essential workers are already facing dangerous conditions, with extremely limited protection equipment, low pay, often dangerous commutes to work, and then in turn endangering their families. That Breonna was one of the latest casualties of state violence is profoundly painful.

How to Support Protestors: We encourage you to fund communities directly, including at times when groups are not able to fill out even a short proposal or form because they are leading protests in the streets. We encourage you to give now however your foundation is able — including getting creative in mobilizing resources — perhaps to use your foundation’s expense account to send money for needed supplies like water and food. And, we encourage everyone reading this blog to make a personal donation, because we all come to the work we do as the full people that we are: part of communities fighting in resistance, part of communities fighting for survival, part of communities taking action in solidarity. You can donate now to bail funds in many cities. 

Invest/Divest Now: While millions of local dollars are cut from city budgets — in youth programs, health services, and education, among others — due to shortfalls, the police unions/associations continue to push for more money and more police. Yet police are not saving people in this pandemic — they are policing, fining, and sending people to jail - mostly Black people. The federal administration has refused to send more supplies and funding to medical workers and other frontline workers, while increasing funding to police-related spending and private security guards.

We All Have A Mandate: Philanthropy’s mandate to support communities in living healthy and free lives means funding both the public infrastructure that keeps communities safe — like health care, housing, and education — and funding the people, organizations, and the movements rising up against police violence and building power to defund the police, prisons, ICE, and detention centers. Philanthropy must support divest/invest campaigns and other abolitionist strategies, because nothing the police do is meant to ever keep communities of color safe. Now is the time to divest from the police, when cities are cutting budgets and need the funding for community wellness more than any other time. (Check out FFJ’s divest/invest resource for funders and consider how you want to support community safety and justice.) 

Bail funds and legal support in cities around the country are linked in this google doc hosted by the Movement 4 Black Lives

Where to donate to support protestors and Black folks organizing for Black Lives in Minneapolis: