Thoughts, questions, musings and discussion about social justice philanthropy.


<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   Next >  Last >> 
  • November 10, 2016 9:00 AM | Allistair Mallillin

    November 10, 2016

    Dear Justice Funders,

    As the nation comes to terms with the outcome of Tuesday’s election and what it means, we wanted to shift some of the mourning, fear and rage into ensuring that as Justice Funders, we are moving forward with Integrity & Authenticity by living and acting in accordance with our values.


    As stories from across the country pour in of increased physical and verbal violence, hate speech, and blatant racism on people of color following the outcome of Tuesday’s election, we need Justice Funders to activate their personal values of Courage & Responsibility to leverage our access, skills and power to mobilize additional philanthropic resources to support front-line organizations led by low-income communities of color and other marginalized communities to continue to organize a bigger, and more powerful grassroots base. These organizations: invest in the authentic leadership of these communities, broaden the social cohesion within these communities, and ultimately empower these communities to advance their own visions and policies for a world where hate, xenophobia, classism, and misogyny become the margins. Theirs is the vision that we, as Justice Funders, must cultivate.


    As we look at all of the “red states” on the national map and note the narrow margins of victory in the Presidential race, now is not the time to play the old philanthropic “shell game.” While we know that there will be a desire to shift resources from progressive bastions like the Bay Area and California, we also know that less than 3% of all foundation dollars go to support organizing overall.  We emphatically encourage folks to resist shifting resources from progressive strongholds to resource other geographies with less capacity and resist the allure of funding national, “top-down,” strategies.  Now more than ever, we need Justice Funders to exert our values of Solidarity & Collectivity in being allies and champions with and for grassroots movements. Support for geographies with less capacity must be paired with resourcing geographies and communities that serve as our beacons of hope.

    Indeed, progressive wins at the local level in the Bay Area speak to the power of having a mature set of frontline organizations with deep relationships in community who can advance  policies towards progressive structural change.  For example, with support from members of this network, our movements won 12 of the 18 measures that the alliance of Bay Rising took positions on. Given that some of these measures included rent control policies that have been in place for 30 years, and well-funded oppositions, these wins speak to what is possible when we fund organizing in marginalized communities.

    In this moment, we encourage those that are already supporting frontline organizations to: fund the full eco-system of organizations that use leadership development and political education to build power in marginalized communities; support grassroots organizing efforts to contest for power, and; connect grassroots organizing with civic engagement strategies with both c3 and c4 investments to win!


    A Presidential campaign won on the basis of fear, bigotry, and the alienation of communities must in turn be countered with movements based on love, self-determination, and radical inclusion. Alliances of frontline organizations bringing together varied constituencies and issues do just that.  As we chart a path in an uncertain future, Justice Funders must practice our values of Dignity & Equity to ensure equal rights and access for all people and their dignity of self-determination.

    If we can be of support, please do not hesitate to call on us.

    In Solidarity & Collectivity,

    Dana Kawaoka-Chen, Network Director                                                
    Alexander Saingchin

  • August 30, 2015 9:30 PM | Nat Chioke Williams

    This post first appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on August 27, 2015

    On Saturday, people from around the world will commemorate the 10 years since Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Although many people will tout the city’s recovery, few people in black working-class neighborhoods will be celebrating. After all, they have been mostly left behind.

    But that is hardly the only poignant and painful reminder of the inequities facing blacks in America and how far the nation still must go to end them.

    On August 4, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the crowning achievement of the civil-rights movement, which was recently gutted by the Supreme Court.

    Five days later, we recognized the one-year anniversary of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., an attack that launched what is commonly known as the Black Lives Matter movement — a movement to assert the sanctity of black life, even as it is fueled by a wave of black deaths at the hands of police.

    But the question for the country — and especially for all of us in philanthropy — is not, Do black lives matter?, but rather, How can we make black lives matter and provide the best opportunities for the black community to thrive? And can philanthropy help ensure we don’t squander the advances that the broader movement has made in the past year?

    The answer to this question is complex, but it ultimately boils down to power.

    To make black lives matter more, philanthropy needs to do all it can to ensure that the black community builds the social, institutional, and political power it needs to directly challenge and dismantle the policies and systems that enable structural racism.

    The success to date of the Black Lives Matter movement is most visible in the ways it has changed how the public thinks about race, racism, and policing.

    It has used social media, traditional media, strategic communications, street protests, and other activities to become part of the public conversation — and it has become a strong counter to those who deny that racism is embedded in the policies and structures of our society. There now exists a unique opportunity to win policy changes to help ensure greater police accountability and to examine and address racial discrimination across many aspects of black life.

    But this movement is at risk if it doesn’t get the money it needs to build institutions that can capitalize on this social power. For far too many decades, black-led social-change organizations have received too little in donations to grow into the strong influencers on the American way life that they must be.

    Research from the Greenlining Institute has found that minority-led organizations get less money from foundations than white-led organizations. And anecdotal evidence suggests that this pattern is as bad, if not worse, for social-change organizations led by blacks.

    Much of the work being done to propel Black Lives Matter forward has been carried out by newly created groups with limited funds and borrowed or volunteer staff, as well as older black-led social-justice groups that are already strapped for money. Philanthropy can help make the most of this moment by ensuring that black-led social-change groups are well supported.

    Some grant makers, like the North Star Fund, the Liberty Hill Fund, Resource Generation, and others, have explicitly dedicated resources to support black-led grass-roots groups organizing to push for greater police accountability and other changes that will reduce violence and improve safety. Similarly, the Hill-Snowdon Foundation recently launched the Making Black Lives Matter Initiative, a three-year project that seeks to build the kind of long-term institutional and political power that the black community needs to achieve real racial justice. 

    Our focus on black-led organizing groups is an essential piece of building the organizations, leaders, and activists who will not just do the work today, but will lead future efforts to push for changes that will allow all black Americans to thrive.

    We are dedicating $900,000 in new funds over the next three years for grants to support black-led organizing, as well as leadership development for black organizers and in-person meetings at which black social-change leaders can strategize on next steps.

    This investment is significant for our foundation and represents almost a one-percent increase in our payout for 2015 and a 20-percent increase in our grants budget over the next three years. Hill-Snowdon’s trustees believe this opportunity demonstrates exactly why foundations have endowments: so they can seize on historic moments like this.

    But it’s not enough for each foundation to demonstrate the courage to spend more. We must also join forces with other philanthropies to better coordinate and align our grant making for racial justice for the black community.

    That’s why we are working with the Association of Black Foundation Executives to create a network of grant makers to coordinate our grant-making efforts and maximize our impact on a range of racial justice issues affecting blacks. We invite our colleagues to join us.

    Philanthropy needs to do more to make black lives matter in this historic moment. This includes:

    • Understanding and acknowledging how structural racism limits the possibilities of those in the black community and defines many of the social, institutional, political, economic, and cultural norms of American society. This understanding will make it clear why it’s imperative to focus on changing structures — and especially to focus on ways of ensuring that blacks gain the power they need to push for substantive and lasting change. 
    • Making a commitment to make black lives matter by adopting a racial-equity lens for grant making in black communities. Grant makers should pay attention to race while analyzing programs, seeking solutions, and defining success.
    • Ending the funding inequities for black-led groups, especially black-led social-change and racial-justice organizations. Some of the imbalance in grant making may stem from unconscious bias. Imbalance also may result from a Catch-22 situation: Foundations want to support high-performing organizations, but that is a tough standard to meet when black-led nonprofits have received just crumbs from the grant-making table.

    The nation is at a pivotal crossroads in its centuries-long struggle to confront and eradicate structural racism. The shocking events and subsequent organizing in the past year have helped lift up the veil to expose the pernicious and persistent impact of structural racism. Philanthropy’s challenge is to not look away, but to look deeper, and to act with courage and conviction. We must cultivate a commitment to making black lives matter, so that the black community and, indeed, the entire nation can thrive.


    Nat Chioke Williams is executive director of the Hill-Snowdon Foundation.

  • July 21, 2015 8:30 AM | Pia Infante

    This post first appeared on the The Whitman Institute Blog on July 10, 2015.

    Year 1 of my co-executive directorship at TWI is a wrap.  At the start, a colleague warned me that the field of professionalized philanthropy could inflate my ego and warp my soul, and that I should set a timer for a philanthropic career of no more than seven years.  Conveniently, TWI is sunsetting in 2022.

    Many (more eloquent than I) have written about the potential spiritual pitfalls of professionalized philanthropy. Michael Lerner’s piece on the “light and shadow of organized philanthropy” is one that stays with me. Or, more recently, Erica Kohl-Arenas’ insightful query about Ford’s announcement to focus entirely on inequality: “Can philanthropy ever reduce inequality?”

    Both Michael and Erica speak to a core irony – philanthropy is set up to leverage a portion of the gains from an inequitable system to ameliorate the inequities that stem from said system. Both wonder if comprehensive structural change, economically and politically, (e.g. ‘the revolution’) is fundable within this paradigm. Both seem doubtful, but, like me, find hope in grassroots and community led efforts and solutions.

    As I close out my first year as a funder, I find myself caught in the shadow and the light of these questions.

    On the national scene, it’s been a year of continued horrors stemming from the U.S.’s “peculiar institution” (e.g. insidious, prevalent white supremacy and its lethal tolls), rapid ever-widening economic inequality, and the life threatening effects of global warming. It’s also been a year peppered with iconic moments of love, resilience, resistance, and hope.

    With this as backdrop, and TWI’s spend down and mission of spreading a gospel of trust-based investing rooted in multi-year unrestricted funding and equitable relationships, I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility.

    In this moment, though, I notice more light than dark within me. And, actually, I’ve generally been more inspired than disillusioned in the past year, though I didn’t avoid the moments when I needed to sit heavy with grief and fury.

    As usual, taking time to reflect has its antidotes to despair and overwhelm. It’s dawning on me that my spiritual survival as a funder is buoyed by a handful of practices that I’ve gleaned from many spiritually sustained mentors and leaders along the way.

    Here are a few to consider:


    Listen to learn. Listen to others. Listen to subtle inner guidance. The practice of listening is one we often blog about, and I loved this recent post on What is a Justice Funder? about the virtues of listening to non-profit partners, especially given our positions as funders.

    I think what has also helped me is to listen inwardly, intuitively. This has been particularly helpful when I needed to take a break from my habit (or affliction) of perfectionism. Listening inwardly led me to show up in settings that I wouldn’t have pre-selected and come out with widened understanding and vital new connections.

    Coat Check the Ego

    You know, ever since I took on this role, I’ve become incredibly smart and funny. Or at least it appears that I have. The truth is my proximity to an endowment has placed me squarely on the funder side of the nonprofit fundraising game. I have much compassion for the many who continue to bear the burden of fundraising for the revolution, and I certainly do not want to drink the kool-aid that I somehow am smarter and funnier than I used to be.

    Even though my natural sympathies will always be with the fund seekers, a year in, I have to admit that coat checking my ego is a practice I have to enforce the longer I’m in this role. There are many studies that demonstrate how wealth (and proximity to it) can become an obstacle to empathy, or worse, create an inflated sense of superiority.  I’ve heard privilege described as a learning disability.

    Hence the intentional ego check is a practice that (I am pained to acknowledge) is an on the job necessity for me.

    Fund and Participate in Systems Change 

    My co-pilot, John, often says it’s not only the “how” it is the “what” we fund.  Since TWI focuses so much on the practice of grant-making, we sometimes forget to name our lifetime commitment to supporting initiatives to bring about systemic change through many methods – some disruptive, many creative – all relational, dialogic, and equity based.

    Our core, multi-year grantees should provide a comprehensive picture of the ways we fund and support systemic change.  Our learning partnerships with them inform our own understanding of what it takes to fuel change and those leading it.

    I’ve also deeply benefited serving on the board of the Center for Media Justice, which is a central organization within the Media Action Grassroots Network.  Participating in these generative efforts to create culture shift in media representation to democratize the economy, government, and society helps me stay connected to real people, real struggles, and real wins.

    Claim, and Celebrate Wins.  Rinse.  Repeat.

    Speaking of wins, TWI core partner IDEX, recently announced a 2.65 million dollar, 7 year partnership with NoVo Foundation that lights up all of TWI’s trust-based investment buttons. This is a development of epic proportions. Over time, it’s also one I am confident we will be able to lift up and point to as a positive, pro-active, simple way to take philanthropy’s core ironies and turn them inside out.

    I’d love to hear from you, friends, how you survive spritually in your work, particularly as it relates to supporting systemic change. What buoys you? What are your antidotes to despair? What do you coat check at the door of your purpose?


    Pia Infante is Co-Executive Director of The Whitman Institute (TWI), having been a part of the TWI staff family for 10 years.  Pia was the Director of Organizational Partnerships at Rockwood Leadership Institute for 3.5 years prior to this new post – conducting capacity building initiatives for nationally recognized social justice movement leaders and organizations.

  • July 12, 2015 9:00 PM | Cathy Cha

    With people of color now firmly in the majority in California, the long-term outlook for progressive causes in the state is bright. But conservatives got a taste of a winning formula last year when they used wedge politics to divide communities of color during a dust-up over affirmative action in higher education. African Americans and Latinos were in the pro-affirmative action camp, but some Chinese and Indians in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community were vocal in their opposition, often using divisive and racist arguments to make their case.

    At the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, we were alarmed about the divisions that surfaced during that debate. We care deeply about the future of our home state, and we believe California will be stronger to the extent that people of color stand together. We work on issues like immigrant rights where building coalitions across lines of race and ethnicity is critical to success.

    As we surveyed the damage from the affirmative action debate, we began to ask ourselves some questions:

    • How could we support our grantees and their allies to take on issues of race and racism in the AAPI community head-on?
    • How could we help build stronger partnerships between the AAPI, African American and Latino communities for progressive fights in the years to come?
    • How could we inoculate these groups against the divisions of wedge politics as we look ahead to 2016 and beyond?

    With these questions in mind, the Haas, Jr. Fund and Chinese for Affirmative Action convened two meetings of a cross-section of AAPI leaders. During the discussions, the groups agreed on several important steps to reduce racism and promote interracial understanding and collaboration. One of these steps was to organize a joint meeting with African American and Latino allies to identify common ground policy issues. Another was to create a curriculum and “toolkit”* that groups could use to proactively address stereotypes and racism in Asian communities.

    The idea for the toolkit came from an AAPI organizer in one of the meetings who commented that racial tensions are an undercurrent in nearly all of her organization’s work — whether the issue is education, land use, jobs or crime. She said activists need support so they can have transformative conversations about race and racism, beat back stereotypes, educate Asian immigrants about U.S. civil rights history, and advance understanding among AAPI communities that we are all in this together.

    The toolkit is currently in production with the support of the California Endowment, California Wellness Foundation, Gerbode Foundation, Rosenberg Foundation, Unbound Philanthropy and the Haas, Jr. Fund. These funders are also supporting a companion series of train-the-trainer sessions to equip more than 500 AAPI organizers and community leaders to bring these racial justice conversations to communities across the state and country.

    Working with AAPI leaders and other foundations through this process has helped me see how justice funders have an important role to play in supporting grantees and others to address race issues head-on. Funders helped spur the tough conversations that AAPI groups needed to have to fight racism in their community. We created a neutral space where we could speak candidly and also work side-by-side in “co-designing” solutions.

    The racial justice toolkit won’t heal all of the tensions among people of color communities. But it’s a start — and it’s based on the understanding that an important first step is addressing racism in our own communities.

    Last year’s debate over affirmative action got pretty ugly at times. But in the end, it may have planted the seeds for real and lasting progress to strengthen relationships among AAPI, Black and Latino communities in California. It also planted the seeds for the Haas, Jr. Fund to expand our understanding of what philanthropy can do to advance civil rights.

    At a time when events in Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities and towns closer to home remind us that America’s civil rights struggles are far from finished, funders can’t shy away from issues of race. Rather, philanthropy needs to be a unifying voice and a leader in bridging the fault lines that divide us.


    *The AAPI Racial Justice Toolkit project is being spearheaded by the new statewide network, AAPIs for Civic Empowerment (Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Chinese Progressive Association, Filipino Advocates for Justice and Korean Resource Center).  


    Cathy Cha is the program director for Immigrant Rights and Integration at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. Cathy manages Haas, Jr.’s efforts to promote opportunities for immigrants to become fully engaged citizens.

  • June 01, 2015 8:30 AM | Edgar Villanueva

    This blog post first appeared on Linked-In on February 9, 2015.

    In the 10 years that I’ve been working in institutional philanthropy I have had the opportunity to have many private and public conversations with nonprofit leaders about what they really want out of their relationships with funders.   Just this past weekend, I was at a national conference in Denver with activists and nonprofit leaders. Again, I heard nonprofit leaders express their wish list for funders: general operating support, long-term commitment and reasonable evaluation requirements. No big surprises. To be realistic, some of these needs are challenging for some foundations, depending on how they were initially set up (and the lack of political will at the board level to make change). The truth is that very few foundations provide this kind of financial support, which, in my opinion, is the best grantmaking strategy a foundation can practice. I commit to influencing foundations to evolve to this more progressive type of investment until my dying day. (Wish me luck!).

    It was another request made of funders that agitated me all the way home from the conference. That request was to listen – yes, to simply LISTEN!? Now, listening is something that EVERY funder can do regardless of charter, asset size, issue, etc. In fact, every human deserves the dignity of being heard. Program Officers may have little influence at impacting a board or CEO’s funding strategy, but they can LISTEN to grantees with an open heart. After 10 years, I can’t believe I’m still hearing this request from nonprofit leaders!

    As I returned home, I watched part of the Grammys in which Beyoncé performed. She, of course, lit up the stage and social media (for many reasons). As I was reconciling my day, my favorite Beyoncé song came to mind, “LISTEN”. "LISTEN" is a song recorded by Beyoncé for the 2006 musical film Dreamgirls, in which Knowles' character Deena Jones sings the song in an expression of independence from her controlling husband. I lay in bed imagining a choir of nonprofit leaders in a choir passionately singing these lyrics from “LISTEN” (as they beat their chest and tears streamed down their faces):

    Listen to the song here in my heart, a melody I start but can't complete

    Listen to the sound from deep within, it's only beginning to find release

    Oh, the time has come for my dreams to be heard

    They will not be pushed aside and turned into your own all 'cause you won't listen!

    Listen, I am alone at a crossroads, I'm not at home in my own home

    And I've tried and tried to say what's on my mind

    Oh, now I'm done believing you, you don't know what I'm feeling

    I'm more than what you made of me, I followed the voice you think you gave to me

    But now I've gotta find my own!

    Why is it so difficult for funders to listen?? Why are nonprofit leaders even in a position to have to request simply being heard over and over again? And why are funders so controlling? – that is really the question that nonprofits want to ask.

    I read this amazing article on moving from controlling to empowering leadership – here are a few adapted thoughts as it pertains to our role as funders. [citation below].

    Fact: foundations have power. This power should be used to influence, rather than control. Funders who listen before acting and use their power to influence demonstrate care about the needs and interests of their grantees as well as their own. Rather than imposing control, they create an environment that elicits motivation and commitment from partners. They seek mutually beneficial goals and inspire grantees to better levels of performance out of self-interest rather than force.

    Foundation leaders really operate at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control. The purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Controlling funders, who do not listen, restrict potential, limit initiative and inhibit talent and impact from their grantees. Foundations that ignore priceless input from their grantees stifle creativity and leadership.

    Great leaders and organizations need room to breathe, explore and take risks. When funders listen and support great nonprofit leaders, organizations will flourish and grow. Grantees with controlling funders inevitably describe that their funders dictate, demand, believe they know best, fail to listen, expect compliance and so on. The consequences are far reaching. Grantees almost universally describe the negative impact of this style of leadership causes them to feel frustrated, demoralized, and insignificant. People learn to put up with such funders by keeping their heads down and staying out of trouble (not being fully transparent with their funders). Their hearts aren’t in the relationship and they certainly don’t enjoy it. They are simply going through the motions to obtain the funding to do their “real work”.

    Perhaps the fatal flaw of controlling philanthropic leaders is ego. They believe that they know more than others. They’re not open to learning or being influenced. They make positive assumptions about their own abilities and negative assumptions about the ideas, motivation, or capability of people around them.

    How can we do better? Foundation leaders need to learn that no one is smarter than everyone. We need to understand that winning requires collaboration. We need to view grantees as partners who truly want to contribute. We need to change our leadership from being the “hero” to creating a context in which teams of people share accountability to make great things happen. This is what empowering leadership is all about.

    Let’s start listening (seek first to understand) to our grantees, before responding with answers and solutions.

    Let’s shift from solving problems to facilitating the solution of problems by asking questions such as “What are the outcomes you/we want from this situation?” “What options do you see?” “What can you do?” “What support do you need from me?” “How can you hold me, as the funder, accountable?”

    By using such tactics, philanthropic leaders don’t give up power. We actually increase our power by leveraging our most important asset—the people around them us whom we depend and who are essential to realizing our goals. In the long-run, “influence-with” leadership offers far-reaching advantages over “power-over” leadership. It is this leadership that builds trust and goodwill and taps into the collective genius of all of us in the nonprofit sector.

    Listen - and let nonprofits do what they do best.


    Edgar Villanueva is Vice President of Programs & Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education.  He began his grantmaking career in 2005 as a Senior Program Officer at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, a $600 million health equity-focused foundation in Winston-Salem, NC. Most recently, Edgar served as a Program Officer for the National and Midwest Portfolios at the Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle, managing a $30 million philanthropy portfolio focused on building capacity for progressive change through multi-issue movement building.


    Citation Credit: http://www.centerod.com/2014/07/controlling-leadership/

  • May 26, 2015 8:30 AM | Alissa Hauser

    You know the “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World” quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi? At the Pollination Project, we loved it so much, at one point we considered naming ourselves the “Be the Change” Foundation.  


    I come from a nonprofit background and have been fundraising for nearly two decades. I have had delightful experiences where a funder has stood by my organization’s work year in and year out without much question or concern. And then I’ve had funders who have flaked out on their pledges or decided to change their funding priorities seemingly out of nowhere, and suddenly defunded my organization without notice. I have received rejection form letters with my organization’s very simple name spelled wrong.


    When I had the opportunity to become a funder and create a foundation from scratch, I was fortunate to be working with founders who really wanted to “be the change,” not just “do the change.” We subscribed to the notion that all external change starts internally, and, from the start, created systems and priorities that reflected our view of a more just, compassionate, generous and sustainable world.  We make daily $1000 grants to individual social change visionaries all over the world and will make our 1000th grant in July 2015. We see the grants we make as a vehicle for creating the kind of world we want to live in.

    Here are a few of our core grant-making principles as we see them now.



    Most foundations see applicants as a problem to be managed instead of a resource.  In fact, the majority of foundations in the US don’t even accept unsolicited applications- 77% of family foundations are closed to unsolicited requests; essentially, you need to know someone to get in the door.  Those who do take applications frequently strive to get applicants through a grant making system as efficiently as possible, often by depersonalizing the process and automating communications.  There is very little room for humanity in the system.


    Our goal has always been to treat applicants as the hope for the future.  These are people who are trying to address impossible challenges, cast bold visions, and garner some financial support to do their good in the world.  We receive 3-4 times more applications than we can fund, so we are always aware that more than grant-makers, we are actually grant-rejecters.  We need to be ever mindful that every day we are rejecting good people with dreams, vision and commitment to making the world better. They deserve far more than a crappy form letter with their name spelled wrong.


    We keep our applications open, rolling, and available online 24/7. Anyone, anywhere can apply, and if someone does not get funding the first time, they can apply as many times as they want. Our doors are always open.


    About a year ago, we took a critical look at our application system to see how it was matching up against our core principle of “Respecting the Applicants.”  We made many changes and created this Applicant’s Bill of Rights as an operating manual for how we show up for our 2,000 applicants each year.


    Just the other day, we received this email, which underscores what is possible when you respect your applicants:


    “Back in March I submitted a grant to you for my Project.  I learned last week that I wasn't selected to receive the grant.  I'm writing to tell you that you made the right decision!  I actually don't need the grant! …. I just wanted to share all of this with you, and thank you for helping people to dream.  When I first thought of creating this project, I did so thinking I had a good shot at a grant from the Pollination Project.  With that belief in the front of my mind, I got to work.  So in a weird way, the Pollination Project helped me get started.”  




    The power in a foundation is anchored in the question:  Who decides where the money goes?  We wanted to disrupt the traditional philanthropic power structure where the person/people with the money make the decisions, or where a disconnected Board of Directors makes decisions.  

    If we wanted to push power to the edges of our network, and empower our community,  it quickly became obvious that grant decisions needed to be made by grantees.  Currently we have a team of 55 grant advisors all over the world, the majority of them are Pollination Project grantees.  Once a grant advisor completes 10 dockets, they receive a flow fund of $1000 that they can designate to a new project selected from their own network (as long as it fits our funding guidelines).


    We look to our grantees as the beacons who will shine light on other great people and projects in their communities.  With a referral from a grantee, a project is twice as likely to be funded than an application from another source.  We’ve seen many situations where a grantee has directed as many as 12 other local projects to apply, thus weaving together a really special, localized grantee community.  



    We fund people with no proven track record.  We are interested in supporting projects that are so early in their development cycle, they are unlikely to receive funding from any other source.  We have funded kids as young as 9 years old. We have funded rural subsistence farmers in east Africa and newly formed women’s cooperatives in South America that don’t even have enough track record for a Kiva Loan.  By taking these early risks on people, we know some will fail, some might even steal our money, but some will succeed beyond anything we can even imagine. We are proud early funders of someone who is now a Soros Justice Fellow, a Muhammed Ali Human Rights Award Winner, organizations that have secured large USAID grants, a group that just received a six figure Google grant,  our grantees have appeared in Time Magazine, NBC Nightly News, USA Today, the New York Times, and so much more.    

    We call ourselves “the Pollination Project” in part, because, we are planting seeds- a risky business if you get overly attached to the fruit.  But the future of our world depends on the seeds, so we take the risks.

    The way we do our grant-making is our real work.  The rest is gravy.


    Alissa is the founding Executive Director of the Pollination Project, a foundation that gives daily $1000 grants to up-and-coming changemakers around the world. She was co-Founder and co-Director of The Engage Network, and was Executive Director of Julia Butterfly Hill’s Circle of Life.  She sits on many nonprofit advisory boards and is a proud mom and advocate for her local foster system.

  • May 11, 2015 9:00 AM | Lindsay Ryder

    I’ve been working with the Proteus Fund’s Security & Rights Collaborative in some capacity for three and a half years now. In the midst of what is proving to be an especially intense time in this work – one loaded with both tension as well as opportunity – I’m grateful for this chance to reflect on what I’ve learned and what lies ahead in my path as a social justice funder.


    How does one “end up” becoming a social justice funder?

    Unlike many program officers, I did not spend years honing issue expertise as an “advocate” in the “field” before entering the foundation world. While I came to this work with strong passion, dedication and a solid skillset and background, much of my knowledge, relationships and the entirety of my understanding of grant making have been developed “on the job.” And while those of us working at foundations (myself included) use the terms advocate and field to refer to people and institutions distinct from funders and foundations – an important distinction no doubt – I want to acknowledge that I very much see myself as an advocate, despite my title and my context in the field. As a funder colleague of mine puts it, “we are all on the same bus, I’m just in a different seat on the bus.” While the majority of my advocacy occurs within philanthropy as opposed to before legislative bodies or within impacted communities, for example, I am advocating for these issues nonetheless.


    Like many of you, I imagine, I came to this work because of my background and interest in the issues, not because I wanted to be a grant maker. However, as I’ve learned, adapted and developed ownership in this role, I’ve come to realize that my role as a funder is one that makes great sense for me. Organizing and advocating within philanthropy and serving as a connector, supporter and agent to our grantees and their partners has been a place where I feel comfortable and where I feel my skills are put to good use. In many senses of the word, I come to this work as an ally; I am not a member of the impacted communities we support nor am I directly working within those communities. However, by operating in this role, I can contribute to this work in a way that makes sense for me personally and professionally.


    What are my contributions to the field as a social justice funder?

    I’ve been incredibly fortunate to develop my skills as a grant maker at an amazingly flexible, democratic and progressive foundation. Proteus Fund’s status as a public foundation, coupled with the SRC’s structure as a donor collaborative, allow for a nimbleness and accountability that have made my foray into philanthropy something I am able to feel proud of. Additionally, the mentorship I have received from my past and current colleagues at Proteus, most notably Dimple Abichandani, Shireen Zaman, Meg Gage and Andrew Grant-Thomas, has been invaluable. So what has all this taught me? How do I approach social justice funding? And why do I believe that what we’ve got going on at the Security & Rights Collaborative is a pretty good thing?

    >   Even with relatively limited resources, you can practice flexibility and continuity. With an annual grant making budget of just over $1 million, the SRC’s resources are far from enormous. However, by structuring our funding to provide reliable and sustained support to a group of core grantees, paired with rapid response/opportunity funding and field-wide communications capacity and resources, our relatively modest support is both creative and responsive as well as consistent and reliable.

    >   Build relationships and establish a rapport with grantees (and, in the case of a donor collaborative, with funding partners). While this is obvious, it’s so critical to be worth mentioning. As a program officer for a donor collaborative, a significant portion of my work involves fundraising and donor relations. I’ve stood before the very opaque and mystifying doors of foundations and individual donors, and been perplexed by the lack of transparency – or consistency – in their decision making. So, in my role with the SRC, I strive for openness to the point of frankness, and clarity to the point of over explaining, in my relationships with grantees and funding partners. With limited resources yet lofty goals of impact, we must be fully clear and transparent about what we can and cannot fund – and why. In doing so, we are able to support organizations in seeking out funding sources that are more aligned with their work, and help fill gaps that we simply cannot fill ourselves.


    >   Fully leverage the donor collaborative model. The issues (torture accountability, profiling, discrimination, targeted and mass surveillance, immigration enforcement, police reform and more) as well as the communities (Muslim, Arab and South Asian) that are the focus of the SRC’s work often lie outside of or at the intersection of traditional areas of philanthropy. The donor collaborative model, and the SRC in specific, provide a unique opportunity for institutional and individual donors to support cutting edge, critical yet under-resourced work. With a single grant, our funding partners are able to support a coordinated and collaborative strategy of grassroots and national engagement, policy advocacy, organizing, communications and rapid response – all of which is being supported by and leveraging the funding of other donors at the table.


    Funding social justice issues is a large and complicated task, and I’m grateful to be operating in a model and working with colleagues that support and encourage creativity, flexibility, consistency and collaboration. It is these characteristics that are, I believe, fundamental to being a funder ally.



    Lindsay Ryder is a Program Officer for the Proteus Fund’s Security & Rights Collaborative. Prior to her work with Proteus, Lindsay served as a Legal Associate with the Alliance for Justice, where she developed resources and materials to support nonprofits and foundations engaged in policy advocacy. While earning her J.D. from Brooklyn Law School, Lindsay worked with a number of civil and human rights organizations including the ACLU, ARTICLE 19, the Innocence Project and South Brooklyn Legal Services.

  • May 07, 2015 8:30 AM | Leah Hunt Hendrix

    This article first appeared in the The Blog of the Huffington Post on May 4, 2015.

    "You have $8 billion," a recent article by Dylan Matthews of Vox supposes. "You want to do as much good as possible. What do you do?" Matthews recommends the approach taken by Open Philanthropy, a project of the charitable organization GiveWell, and Good Ventures, the foundation belonging to Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna. Open Phil seeks to "figure out how, exactly, they should spend their billions to do the most good as possible." Using a "radical" and "heavily empirical approach," they measure the importance of each issue and the impact of each dollar on the key problems identified.

    This method, which they call "effective altruism," is inspired by Peter Singer, a professor who teaches at Princeton University, where I went to graduate school. Singer is a utilitarian who believes that one should seek to create the greatest good for the greatest number. As long as there are children dying in Africa, he says, doing anything other than dedicating one's life to saving those lives is unjustifiable. So, among other research and policy initiatives aimed reducing the maximum volume of suffering for the minimum philanthropic investment, GiveWell is sending mosquito nets to Africa, hoping to save children from malaria.

    I appreciate very much this sense of moral urgency. We live in a time of deep crisis and devastation and we need to take action. And Singer rightly criticizes such common charitable practices as giving to support opera companies and art museums as frivolous and self-centered.

    But Singer's model of giving has problems of its own. As practiced by GiveWell, Singer-style philanthropy is palliative, an attempt to reduce suffering that leaves untouched the question of what generated the suffering in the first place, and what long-term solutions there might be to end its continual reproduction. It offers nets to help individual Africans avoid malaria while ignoring the structural, political, and economic reasons malaria is rampant. It prunes around the edges of a poison tree, rather than grasping at its roots.

    Matthews curiously describes GiveWell and Open Phil's approach as "radical" -- from radix, or "root" -- citing "their commitment to do substantial empirical research before deciding on causes." But for all its qualitative and quantitative analysis, the model remains superficial, missing some of the most important data that reveal how and why poverty, sickness and suffering are perpetuated. According to the non-profit The Rules, though rich countries give aid to poorer countries on the order of around $130 billion per year, they are simultaneously taking about $900 billion dollars out of poor countries each year in through trade mispricing, $600 billion in debt services, and about $500 billion through trade rules that give them access to cheap labor and raw materials. Altogether, that is $2 trillion dollars that are extracted from some of the poorest countries and exported to some of the richest. Global systemic exploitation is the root problem of which malaria is just one expression, and while mosquito nets are certainly needed, they do not constitute radical philanthropy.

    We can see a similar phenomenon at the Clinton Global Foundation. Though it boasts of enormous success in its efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, it notes on its own website that "Two-thirds of people who need treatment in the developing world are still not receiving it." The chief impediment to making life-saving antiretroviral therapies available is a patent regime that allows pharmaceutical companies to hold prices far above what is affordable among the most afflicted populations. These intellectual property were written into trade laws that have been upheld by the Clintons themselves. This lays bare the circular way in which we create problems and mass suffering through the political choices we make that uphold corporate power, and then use philanthropy to seek a solution to the mess we have made, wiping our consciences clean while distracting attention from root causes.

    Love of people -- philanthropy -- demands more of us.

    I never would have chosen to work in the world of philanthropy, but my family circumstances have landed me here, surrounded by a do-gooders diligently paving roads with good intentions. And while I don't have $8 billion to distribute, I do face the challenge of determining the best use for the money I'm due to inherit--a version of the same dilemma faced by everyone with some resources to donate. I've chosen to be part of a community of individual donors called Solidaire, which is advancing a different model of philanthropy--one that grasps at the root causes of suffering.

    At the heart of Solidaire's model is a completely different understanding of the word radical. The most pressing crises of our time are products of our political-economic system. They are deeply historical, rooted in capitalism and imperialism, compounded by racism and sexism. We must be attuned to the complexity and gravity of these dynamics, and understand the systemic nature of the problems we face. Philanthropic giving is necessary in this time of vast wealth inequality, but we cannot do philanthropy with our left hand, while we perpetuate inequality with our right.

    To achieve GiveWell co-founder Holden Karnofsky's goal to "give people more power to live the life they want to live," we cannot simply temper suffering on an individual level. What is required is the political strength to achieve systemic change. We need to unravel our compulsion towards maximizing return on investments, our economic system based on exploitation and extraction, and a corporate culture that is unhinged from any ethical bearings. We need a political system that is actually responsive to and reflective of the people, rather than one which is controlled by the wealthiest few.

    In our pursuit of economic and political change, Solidaire's fundamental commitment is to social movements, which seek to contest, disrupt and transform these systems. We believe in investing in movements generated and led by individuals who are most affected by the problems for which they are seeking solutions. To this end, we have funded groups like Idle No More, a First Nations movement in Canada that aims to defend the land from corporate takeover, the Dream Defenders and the Movement for Black Lives who continue to fight for racial justice and Black liberation in this country, and the Debt Collective, which supports people entrapped by predatory student loans and offers a vision of debt-free higher education. We are also supporting the bail fund of Baltimore United for Change, driven by our belief that the protestors are reacting to the violence of the police, racism, and poverty, and need to be heard.

    Economic and political inequality is the root of our most pressing social problems, allowing the wealthy few to determine the agenda of our country and the world. But if we are true to the ideals of our American heritage, we should stand by the commitment that it is for a democracy, not donors, to decide what issues are most important to solve and how to solve them. Funding social movements empowers communities to fight for their own needs, growing our society's democratic forces.

    The best philanthropy is the type that seeks to end the system that perpetually generates the need for philanthropy.


    Leah Hunt-Hendrix has her doctorate from Princeton University in Religion, Ethics and Politics. Born and raised in New York City, she has spent the past decade at the intersection of theory and practice, combining a study of moral philosophy and democratic theory with research around the world in grassroots organizing and social movements. She has lived and worked in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine, where she focused her research on the effects of international aid and development, and the history of popular protest. She is the co-founder of Solidaire, an organization that provides support for social movements.

  • January 10, 2015 12:00 PM | Beth Rosales

    As we enter 2015, we at The Lia Fund would like to extend our best wishes and want to take this opportunity to bid farewell to our colleagues at the Bay Area Justice Funders Network and Northern California Grantmakers.  Our foundation awarded its last grants and officially closed our offices at the end of 2014.  We commissioned a Legacy Report that chronicled our process of giving away $5M in grants to social justice organizations working on climate solutions, community arts, and holistic health & healing. 


    Below are excerpts from our Legacy Report authored by Karen Payne.  In sharing, we hope to both share what we learned from Lia’s legacy, as well as impart our notion of what constitutes a social justice funder.


    Randy Lia Weil made two highly unusual decisions about the $5 million she left to be donated after her death. The first was that she appointed 14 people she knew and trusted to select the organizations and individuals who would receive funding. Most of them were lifelong activists with decades of passionate dedication to environmental, cultural and social justice issues.  The second unusual thing was that she left no instructions for how or to whom they should give her bequest. She trusted them to decide.


    This would prove to be an adventure and a discovery, and not without its challenges for the participants. Everyone sincerely wanted to be a responsible grantmaker and do what Randy would have wanted. But it was a complex journey to turn a group of passionate individuals into a group of effective funders. Before they could make any grants, they had to agree on their mission, vision, and values. They also had to decide how they would operate and make decisions in a way that honored Randy and the values that led her to choose them. It was a tall order.


    After spending a year planning to establish the Foundation, The Lia Fund awarded grants to 107 organizations from 2007 to 2014. Most of the grants ranged from $5,000 to $25,000. In total the Foundation gave away $5 million.


    Social justice was a criterion that the board and community advisors applied within every issue area. In making decisions, we asked, “Who benefits from this grant?”  “How is it challenging the structures of privilege and inequality?” Funding in each category focused on supporting the leadership, creativity, and well-being of under-served and underrepresented groups including people of diverse races, ethnicities, and cultures, people living in economic hardship, indigenous peoples, veterans, prisoners and ex-offenders, immigrants, women, and youth.


    The Foundation’s trustees and community advisers agreed on these underlying grantmaking principles:


    Take risks, prepare for setbacks

    Offer both general support and multi-year grants

    Be nimble

    Apply a social justice lensacross all issue areas

    Emphasize systemic change, sustainability, and ripple-out effects

    Holistic approach: give priority to organizations and projects that

    incorporate multiple funding areas.


    Below are some of The Lia Fund’s core values, principles, and practices that distill lessons for social justice funders:

    1. Democratize philanthropy.

    Involve trusted community activists in the process of decision-making about how wealth is distributed.


    2. Recognize interconnectedness.

    This includes the way the Foundation’s team functions, as well as a holistic approach to the issues that will be funded. Creating a community and building trust among the decision-makers takes time. But it can lead to discovering your team’s common purpose and finding strength in diversity,rather than conflict.


    3. Adhere to bold principles.

    The Lia Fund’s principles of systemic change, sustainability, general support, multi-year funding, nimbleness, risk-taking a holistic approach, and applying a social justice lens all led to highly effective grantmaking.


    4. Be aware of who benefits.

    Consider how grantmaking can support the leadership, creativity, and well-being of constituencies of underserved and under-resourced organizations.


    5. Develop a trusting relationship with grantees.

    Be mindful of the volume of information collected from  grantees and burdensome bureaucratic processes that grantees often have to undertake to receive a grant.


    6. Stay committed to core grantees.

    Philanthropy has a habit of supporting grantees for a limited time only. Bringing about social change is difficult and does not arrive within the average grant-span of three years.


    7. Establish an appropriate infrastructure.

    Create an infrastructure that satisfies legal requirements and thorough due diligence, while facilitating the participation of diverse decision-makers and reflecting your values, vision, and mission.



    Beth Rosales was the senior philanthropic adviser who guided The Lia Fund for eight years. Beth has worked in philanthropy for more than 35 years in various capacities at progressive foundations including Vanguard Public Foundation, Funding Exchange, Tides, Women’s Foundation of California and Marguerite Casey Foundation. Over the years, Beth has made a priority to “move money” toward strengthening social justice movements across the nation.  She is now retired, but can still be reached at beth@theliafund.org as she ties up loose ends for the foundation.

  • December 01, 2014 8:00 PM | Pia Infante

    December Mo(u)rning


    It’s December 1st and I remain shaken to the core that yet another officer and yet another police department are not being held institutionally accountable for the murder of yet another unarmed black youth – this time in #Ferguson, Missouri.  Simultaneously, I am heartened and fired up at the profound galvanization of the #blacklivesmatter efforts – some of whom are meeting with the White House today.   I guess that is where my definition of justice stems from this morning.  It may also be that I attended the closing night of Party People, and am awash in the voices and images of Black Panthers and Young Lords who fought and died for justice in the 60’s and 70’s – and how that legacy continues to be lived, because the same inequities persist, today.


    For me, justice is about action – actions towards creating equity that can be demonstrated and named.  It is in our actions that equity can be created in a philanthropic system that exists inherently because inequity persists.


    Equity in Practice

    At The Whitman Institute, we believe that investing in equity requires that our giving practices demonstrate equity.

    Based on a decade of practice and feedback, we have learned that the following approaches create deep trust and authentic partnership with grantees.  Our grantee partners, in third party and self-conducted evaluation, have expressed that our investment in deep, mutual, authentic partnership in and of itself engenders an experience of equity. 

    While we are still honing this characterization of our approach, we have come up with the following set of practices that form the foundation of our approach to funding towards equity, and justice.  The order reflects the priorities of our core grantees we recently polled.

    Nine Key Practices of Trust-Based Investment  


    Provide Unrestricted, Multi-Year Funding – There clearest way to demonstrate trust is to rely on the grantee to determine the best use of its resources. Unrestricted funding also kindles the freedom to learn, adapt and take risks. It is critical in supporting an organization’s sustainability and effectiveness.

    Partner in a Spirit of Service – We enter collaborations with humility by listening first and responding directly to the needs of our partners.  Universally, they have much more knowledge of their work, fields and challenges than we do.  We place ourselves shoulder to shoulder, not ahead of, our grantee partners as we iterate and learn, together.

    Support Beyond the Check – We are committed to offering support beyond money if our grantees see it as helpful, and there is not expectation or provision requiring grantees to receive support beyond the check.  Some of the ways we do this include opening doors; highlighting their leadership and work; being a sounding board and source of advice; providing spaces for reflection; connecting and convening; and generally, being of service where needed to bolster leadership and organizational capacity.

    Offer Open and Responsive Communication – Our two Co-Executive Directors, who are also Trustees, operate with an open door policy.  We acknowledge and send requests in timely ways so as not to surprise or overburden our partners, who are busy changing the world. 

    We Do the Homework – The burden of proof in determining whether a leader and organization is a good fit for our portfolio is on us.  We do the footwork and conduct the due diligence before inviting leaders to invest their time and attention.

    Solicit and Act on Feedback – We actively partner with leaders and organizations whose work models relationship, dialogue, and equity in ways that inspire and inform our own. We also regularly solicit, reflect on, and take action on feedback from our grantees. 

    Encourage Transparency – We have empathy for the messy and complex inner workings of teams and organizations; we don’t want our grantees to have to pretend that change strategies are perfect or team dynamics are seamless. Consequently, we strive to model transparency in ways that minimize power dynamics and move the work forward.

    Simplify and Streamline Paperwork – We seek to minimize our digital and paper footprint with grantees, and are generally quite satisfied with proposals and reports crafted for other funders.  We also look for opportunities to consolidate our respective due diligence efforts.

    Host Restorative Retreats – Of the number of ways we offer support beyond the check, our grantees have lifted up the value of our retreats.  We convene current (and some previous) grantees along with like-hearted funders and capacity builders to harness inspiration and renewal; encourage cross-sector connection; build and strengthen relationships; support peer learning; and encourage self-organized collaboration of all kinds.

    These practices reflect for me the notion that in order to get closer to justice, our daily actions must connect our values and vision for a just society.  Justice is both a state of being and visible action – it is a noun and, as the #Ferguson organizing that has erupted nationwide tells us, indomitably a verb.



    Pia Infante is the Co-Executive Director of The Whitman Institute (TWI), having been a part of the TWI staff family for 10 years.  Pia was the Director of Organizational Partnerships at Rockwood Leadership Institute for 3.5 years prior to this new post – conducting capacity building initiatives for nationally recognized social justice movement leaders and organizations.

<< First  < Prev   1   2   3   Next >  Last >> 

436 - 14th Street, Suite 700; Oakland, CA 94612 |  T: 510.545.3638 | E: justicefunders@gmail.com

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software