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


  • March 17, 2017 8:30 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    When do you make building trust and authentic relationships a priority? Hopefully, the answer is always. When funders talk about building trust and engagement, it is often just in the context of relationships with grantees. However, that is not where trust building and authentic relationships should stop. Funders should incorporate these practices into building strategy, empowering donors, and creating an organizational infrastructure that can facilitate social change.

    To learn more about what a philanthropic organization rooted in ‘integrity & authenticity’ looks like in practice, we spoke with Masha Chernyak of the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), an advocate and funder of Latino-led nonprofits. As Masha says, “At the Latino Community Foundation, we are in the business of creating change and unleashing the power of the Latino community. For us, philanthropy is not about grantmaking or any one specific program – it’s about investing in people and doing it from a place of love and respect.”

    Through a dynamic Latino Giving Circle model, LCF has built what is now the largest network of Latino philanthropists in the country. LCF has grown this movement from 14 to almost 400 Latino Giving Circle members across the state. Members meet, share stories, listen to local community experts, drink wine, and define their priorities for the change they wish to see. LCF staff stand beside the donors through this process, encouraging them to consider how they give, rather than simply what they give.

    “This work is not about charity, it’s about change,” says Masha. “We encourage our philanthropists and community partners (grantees) to see each other as equal partners. For us, authentic relationships built on trust and respect are powerful tools for change. It’s through those relationships that donors are encouraged to give more than just a check. They join Boards, open doors and offer their talents. And when they do, grantees feel a sense of true partnership. It gives them that extra fuel to push forward, knowing that their community stands behind them.”

    At the Latino Community Foundation, they are not just talking the talk with their donors. They are walking it internally. LCF is intentionally building an organizational infrastructure centered on a justice framework – one that is fluid and less hierarchical. All staff members are encouraged to meet with community partners and to recruit Giving Circle members to be part of a philanthropic movement led by and for Latinos. Even the Finance Director has recruited several members of the Latino Giving Circles.

    LCF wants staff to be deeply rooted in the community, continuously informing, and shaping strategy. They recruit talented staff from all sectors, not just from grantmaking institutions. LCF recently hired two Program and Philanthropy Fellows who were chosen not only on academic merit, but also because of their lived experience.

    When grantees feel trust, they will share their true needs. Based on what staff has learned from partners, LCF is launching a new program, The Latino Nonprofit Accelerator. Community partners will get the communications and fundraising support they need to thrive. As part of the program, LCF is hosting a design-a-thon, where partner organizations are matched with branding and design experts – many of whom are Latino donors from the Giving Circles – to solve immediate marketing and branding needs for the nonprofits.

    As a justice-focused grantmaker, convener and advocate, LCF raises the collective voice of partners. “This work is about getting everyone to the table, making sure we all have a voice in how we move our community forward,” says Masha. Each year, donors and grantees join LCF in Sacramento for a Latino Policy Summit and an afternoon of Legislative visits. There is power when everyone works together.

    When there is an approach to grantmaking centered on values of justice and equity, it drives not only what you do in your grantmaking, but how and why it is done. By implementing such practices, funders can make long-term impact that can combat otherwise intractable problems in society. As Masha states, “If you want to have a relationship where grantees feel hounded to fill out forms and donors are treated as an ATM machine, then what you get are transactional relationships. If you want a transformational relationship, then your actions need to reflect that. That means caring about donors and grantees as people, with their own hopes and dreams. And it also means showing up for each other, not just during the grant award cycle, but whenever possible.”

    The work of LCF highlights what is possible when people – not money – are the focus of the grantmaking process. We want to hear other examples in the field. What values-aligned practices are working for you? How are you grounding the strategy development of grantmaking programs in justice and equity? How do you involve donors and other stakeholders in the process? Please send us an email and share what you are seeing and learning and how we might break bad philanthropic habits together.

  • March 03, 2017 9:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    What does racial justice look like in the outreach stage of grantmaking? That is the question Iris Garcia and her colleagues at the Akonadi Foundation, a racial justice funder based in Oakland, asked themselves. While they had a thoughtful grant application, there was a belief that just as much intentionality should be given to the outreach and dissemination of grant opportunities. They began a journey to incorporate outreach practices that both attracted well-suited applicants, but also drew hard-to-reach applicants into the process.

    Iris is part of the current cohort of the Harmony Initiative, a leadership development program of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network. She reflected that a key takeaway during the program has been being intentional about learning, and critically examining current practices: “As an organization, we have to keep challenging ourselves to be more accountable in asking questions and conducting outreach in the right way. We are a learning organization, and the Harmony program reiterates the importance of self-reflection. We want the application process to be empowering for applicants, and it is important to get the right organizations to apply.

    The team at Akonadi wanted to push themselves beyond the standard practices of application outreach, which included publishing opportunities on their website and sharing information with existing grantees and other funders. They believe that the outreach stage is ground zero for establishing equitable philanthropic processes. As Iris states, “For Akonadi Foundation, we are all about reducing the barriers to entry for our grant partners. We know that it may be hard for artists and organizations to proactively find funding opportunities. At Akonadi Foundation, we actively reach out to communities on the margins, because we should be the ones finding people that could benefit from our support. For one of our grant programs, we hold regular information sessions out in the community to share about the grant program and be accessible to the community.

    Iris described one example of an intentional outreach effort, but she also explained that it must be part of a shift towards accountability and transparency with grant partners. Akonadi uses key criteria to assess incoming applications, and the foundation made those assessment topics publicly visible in an application guide on their website. Iris states, “We want applicants to know what to expect in the application and what they are being assessed on so that they can put together the strongest proposals possible.”

    Towards more racially just outreach practices, Akonadi Foundation implemented a new set of practices. This required a lot of internal communication to ensure that all staff could effectively answer questions from potential applicants. It also required strong communication with applicants to ensure they felt adequately supported. In particular, Akonadi’s practices included:

    • Conducting information sessions both at the foundation office as well as within community-based organizations to reach out to new applicants
    • Developing an accessible rapid response grant application of three questions, which could be submitted in writing online or communicated verbally during a phone call with a staff member
    • Offering technical assistance phone calls to potential grantees to discuss how best to frame and tell the story within a grant application.

    Akonadi Foundation uses their grant outreach process as a way to build authentic and supportive relationships with grant partners. This represents an organizational value that drives the outreach process. Describing their outreach framework, Iris notes, “Our focus is on reaching marginalized communities, and we need an outreach process that supports that. We need to be accessible to applicants who may not speak fluent English, or elders who cannot easily navigate a website. Our outreach process helps us encourage grant applicants to include information they may not think is important, but that we as a racial justice funder want to see.”

    As a field, funders are seeing the value of an outreach process centered on justice and equity. With a values-based grantmaking process, funders are likely to get a diverse applicant pool. Funders can uncover groups doing important work that may not have surfaced in a typical outreach process. An inclusive outreach process may take more effort on the part of funders, but the rewards are well worth the extra work.

    Now we want to hear from you. What are some practices that your organization has used to create an effective outreach process? How does this affect your organization and your grantee partners? What other values-aligned practices are working for you? Please send us an email and share what you are seeing and learning and how we might break bad philanthropic habits together.

  • February 17, 2017 9:39 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Funders struggle at least as much as community organizations to be truly representative of the communities they serve. Michael Roberts, of the 11th Hour Project, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation and itself an environmental grantmaker, used his participation in the Harmony Initiative to address this tension. The Harmony Initiative is a leadership development program of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network, and the program helped Michael think about how to incorporate policies and practices around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into the core of the 11th Hour Project.

    By doing so, the foundation was joining in a field-level pursuit. The D5 Coalition, established a few years ago with the express purpose of advancing DEI in philanthropy, notes that the constituencies that foundations serve are becoming more diverse. To create the greatest impact, funders themselves need to reflect those varied and rich perspectives. Many funders are interested in incorporating DEI practices into their organization, seeing the inherent value of having an organization that reflects the breadth of experiences in the community. Yet fostering a sustained culture of diversity, equity and inclusion is often more complex than good intentions and explicit statements in hiring policies.

    The Harmony Initiative provided a number of supports, including: rich discussions on values; trainings on approaches and processes that align with and support DEI; and, individual coaching on implementation. As a result, Michael deepened his understanding of the importance of DEI within a philanthropic organization, and gained the skills to paint an inspirational picture to his colleagues. Building the base for a supportive organizational culture, the 11th Hour Project reflected on the seemingly small decisions, procedures, and habits that could both support and benefit from an organizational commitment to DEI.

    Michael described some initial successes: “We were an early supporter of Environmental Grantmakers Association’s Environmental Fellowship Program, now in its second year. The program places graduate students from historically marginalized backgrounds into positions within environmental philanthropies. In the last year, we were able to fill two program positions with graduates of the program. We recognize this opportunity not as an end goal, but a first step towards shifting our culture and practices as an organization and field.”  This long-term perspective is helpful because engaging in a DEI process often uncovers areas of work that are not “quick fixes.” Michael stated that the Fellowship Program “forced organizations to reflect that issues with institutional culture may prevent funders from providing meaningful careers to these future leaders.”

    On organizational culture, Michael noted, “A major issue had been the lack of explicit systems. Without some written code or designated space to articulate norms, everyone operates from a space of implicit assumptions and values. It becomes particularly hard for individuals whose personal experiences do not align with the systems under which our organization operates. In pursuing this work, we have been pushed to be more authentic and more intentional with our staff and grantee partners.” Michael is pointing to some profound individual and organizational habits that are hard to see, and often even harder to change.

    Engaging in a comprehensive and thoughtful DEI process is iterative and needs organizational commitment. Thanks to Michael’s personal passion and the foundation’s support, including bringing in external consultants, the 11th Hour Project built on its initial successes and lessons learned. It identified three specific focus areas to further support the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion:

    • Developing performance metrics and evaluations to track DEI progress, both for grantmaking and the organization’s strategic approach
    • Providing interpersonal skills training and nurturing a culture of inquiry for staff around DEI
    • Creating a matching fund, where executive leadership would match half of all new programmatic grant dollars directed to organizations led and governed by people of color

    Though the 11th Hour Project is already seeing benefits of their DEI process, the full story will not be known for some time. It is clear that when funders have teams that are reflective of the communities they serve, it leads to greater impact and effectiveness. Funders with direct, personal understanding of the issues affecting their community are more knowledgeable about solutions that might offer the best impact. Likewise, grantees develop a different level of trust with funders who authentically represent the communities they support. A philanthropic organization that utilizes DEI practices embodies the guiding values of a grantmaker that strives to increase impact and effectiveness.

    Now we want to hear from you. Have you seen a DEI process unfold particularly well, or not so well? What individual and organizational habits may have contributed to that success or failure? Please send us an email and share what you are seeing and learning and how we might break bad philanthropic habits together.

  • February 03, 2017 12:30 PM | Administrator (Administrator)

    Leadership transitions are tough, but as Shalini Iyer, Director of Programs at Metta Fund, a health funder based in San Francisco learned, they can also be opportunities for deeper organizational reflection. Shalini had been with the organization for a couple years when they experienced a leadership transition. During this time, Shalini was a member of the first cohort of the Bay Area Justice Funders Network’s Harmony Initiative. “Harmony expanded my understanding as a grantmaker, challenging my current practices and giving me a new language to describe my work,” reflects Shalini.

    Through her participation in the Harmony Initiative, Shalini had time to think about the values driving the organization’s grantmaking processes. Through the incorporation of thought leadership from across the field, Shalini found resonance in a concept espoused by the Grant Managers Network  - the grantmaking process may be the only expression of your organizational values that nonprofits experience. Thus, Metta Fund’s executive transition was an opportunity to intentionally align the grantmaking practice with the values of the organization. Rather than continuing to rush through a massive amount of work in a short amount of time, this period of reflective practice created an opening to evaluate the grantmaking process and its underlying habits.

    “The current practice of grantmaking is largely learned by being thrown in and doing the work,” states Shalini. By using The Choir Book as a framework for how to do equity-based grantmaking, Shalini was able to support the Metta Fund to be more conscious of the burden placed on organizations while applying for funds and reporting on activities. “The evaluation of our grantmaking processes allowed me to challenge my assumptions as a grantmaker and be more strategic in figuring out what was the best grantmaking approach for our foundation,” Shalini said.

    The transition created a space to incorporate equity-based practices. Metta Fund’s new grantmaking process centered on only asking for materials and answers from grantees that would directly be used throughout the grantmaking process. These were some of the practices that Shalini incorporated:

    • Reduced the number of application questions by 30%
    • Explained philanthropic jargon used in the application form (e.g. for a question about systems change, a definition of systems change was included so grantees do not spend valuable time interpreting questions)
    • Increased the amount of unrestricted funding available to grantees (over 50% of Metta Fund dollars are now general operating)

      The most important difference may be developing intentional relationships with grant partners. “When you have an intentional relationship with grantees, you get a better sense of the impact your foundation is having. Thoughtful grantmaking takes the burden off grantees. Grantmakers can better understand where grantees are at, and grantees will want to honestly share where barriers and hardship exist,” she said.

      By being reflective and intentional about each step in the grantmaking process, we can create mutually beneficial relationships between funders and grantees that promote the values of a justice funder. By building in time between her dockets, Shalini was able to develop thoughtful processes that reduce the burden on grantees. When nonprofits can spend less time on funder requirements, they can spend more time creating impact in the world. And by freeing up grantee partners, funders can facilitate more impact with their finite financial resources.

      Now we want to hear from you. Have you seen examples of the practices and habits we have described? What other bad habits do you see in philanthropy? What values-aligned practices are working for you? Please send us an email and share what you are seeing and learning and how we might break bad philanthropic habits together.

    • January 20, 2017 8:15 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

      “Your beliefs become your thoughts
       Your thoughts become your words,
       Your words become your actions,
       Your habits become your values,
       Your values become your destiny.”
      -Mahatma Gandhi

      In the field of philanthropy, we often seek systems change, without asking: "What beliefs and thoughts lead us to the actions we take?" And, "what are the collective practices that reflect our values?" In their publication, The Source Codes of Foundation Culture, our colleagues at Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) note that “the assumptions, values and practices of foundations often reflect the cultural “source code” derived from banks, universities, and for-profits.” Resulting from these source codes, we believe that unconscious mindsets and corresponding habits from the for-profit sector and academia limit the impact philanthropy can have, especially when addressing issues of equity.

      Last year, the Bay Area Justice Funders Network (BAJFN) launched a new leadership development program for grantmakers called The Harmony Initiative. This ten-month action-learning program is based upon the supposition that funders have acquired grantmaking habits that are reinforcing inequities. By replacing those habits with intentional practices based on social justice values, philanthropy can better achieve systemic and sustainable change.

      So what are some of the specific habits that get in our way? And what are the intentional practices that could advance equity?

      1) Habit: Believing “we can solve the problem alone!” One philanthropic organization generally can’t solve a chosen problem on its own. Yet many foundations have a habit of developing individualistic strategies that may not align with where there are expressed needs from the community.

      Towards eradicating social injustice, solutions can be informed by the impacted community and allies, rather than being internally developed. The resultant philanthropic theory of change would acknowledge the larger landscape and where the foundation’s work aligns with other funders and the broader field.

      To shift towards this, a funder could develop practices like:

      • Engaging with the larger ecosystem of communities, organizations, and funders to identify issues and the solutions at a systems level; and
      • Working with grantmakers addressing the same issues to understand the landscape and where their support could be additive rather than “unique.”

      2) Habit: Believing that “solutions need to go to scale.” A related habit is looking for a “silver bullet” solution that can be scaled, or a single approach that can be accelerated to reach more people. Yet the scale of any one organization or solution will never be sufficient to address the failures of multiple systems in any community. Too often, philanthropic leaders come to the false conclusion that Organization X or Strategy Y was not scalable, instead of realizing that a different mindset is needed.

      It may not even need to be a completely new mindset, but rather a more nuanced approach. Instead of scaling a single solution or organization, scale the number of folks involved in the systems change. Complex social problems need complex solutions.

      Practices to replace such habits might include:

      • Injecting resources to address and issue at multiple leverage points;
      • Trying unproven approaches that build on the existing assets and infrastructure; and,
      • Committing to long-term partnerships with shared responsibility for success.

      3) Habit: Believing that “we need to maximize financial profits”. In for-profit companies, the imperative is to maximize profits in the short-term while providing the most opportunity for growth in the long-term. Translated into a philanthropic context, that means creating as much impact with the 5% required payout, while also creating the highest financial returns with the 95% of a foundation’s endowment investments.

      Instead, what if our philanthropic practice was to focus on creating social impact with all 100% of financial assets? Investments could be used in a values-aligned way that prioritizes creating meaningful social impact while also creating positive financial returns.

      Practices to replace such habits might include:

      • Creating screens for investments that take into account the social impact of businesses
      • Divesting from fossil fuels which perpetuate a number of inequities; and,
      • Investing endowment funds in community-owned enterprises that involved affected communities in driving the solutions forward.

      Why does this matter?

      Philanthropy as a field will not get to equity - let alone justice – without creating intentional practices that reflect the values we’re trying to espouse. As funders, unconscious philanthropic habits can exacerbate the very conditions our foundations want to impact.

      Developing intentional philanthropic practices can increase our impact, disrupt the status quo, and allow us to conduct our work with values that will create the positive conditions for change. We have seen this firsthand through the 25 leaders who are currently in or graduates of the Harmony Initiative. By breaking unconscious philanthropic habits, participants have lifted up these values-aligned practices already:

      • Developed more organizational capacity around Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI);
      • Decreased the burden of applying for grants from community-based organizations;
      • Connected public and philanthropic efforts state-wide; and,
      • Increased the impact of grantmaking, by including investment dollars.

      Have you seen examples of the practices and habits we’ve described? What other bad habits do you see in philanthropy? What values-aligned practices are working for you? We would love to hear what you are seeing and learning and how we might break bad philanthropic habits together.

    • January 06, 2017 9:00 AM | Administrator (Administrator)

      After the 2016 elections in the US, we are facing more volatility and immense challenges to safety, civility and freedoms.  Regardless of what issue you fund, the consolidation of conservative power and the related cultural "white-lash" may have you reeling. How can we be strategic and adaptive in the face of these challenges? What’s a justice funder to do?

      Both reflection and action are essential. At the Bay Area Justice Funders Network, we are firm believers in starting where you are to make moves that advance toward justice. One way to start is by looking at our habits and practices. Norma Wong, who has inspired BAJFN through our participation in Movement Strategy Center’s Transitions Labs, defines habits as “unconscious repetitive acts that are done without intention or mindfulness” and practices as “repetitive acts that are consciously done for an explicit benefit.” When we become aware of our habits, we can choose to replace them with intentional practices.

      On the ground in communities, in organizations, and within ourselves, we witness countless unconscious, conditioned habit patterns that we reinforce without even knowing it. For example, Nancy Chan and Pamela Fischer’s comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Checklist, highlighted in a recent SSIR article, identifies daily grantmaking practices to combat grantmaking habits that inadvertently limit funds from going to smaller organizations and under-resourced communities. These are field-wide habits that have major impact: NCRP’s recent report, Pennies for Progress, shows that between 2003 and 2013, 90% of foundations gave less than half of their grant dollars to benefit underserved communities. NCRP asks the important question: “Whose public good do those dollars serve if not communities than need them most?”

      We are starting a new blog series on breaking bad philanthropic habits and practices, as a way to reflect and identify actions any – or at least many – of us can take. We begin with a focus on individual change because anyone can incorporate values-aligned practices, no matter their positional power. Moreover, we begin by looking at individuals because changes at the organizational and field level happen only through the shifts individuals can make.

      Becoming more aware of unintentional philanthropic habits of all kinds – from processes that are “the way we’ve always done it” to beliefs and mindsets that shape our work – we can identify obstacles to achieving our philanthropic aims, and cultivate practices that are more supportive of our goals and in alignment with our values. In so doing, we can set a stronger foundation for finding ways to pursue justice and equity in these uncertain times. We have a chance now to set new practices that will better serve the movements we hope to support.

      In the next blog post, BAJFN’s staff will start by sharing some of the habits we’ve observed. We invite you to join in by contributing your ideas, resources, and actions big and small that move toward justice.

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