People Powered Philanthropy

By Justice FundersPosted under Breaking Bad Philanthropic Habits

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.