Feb 28, 2018

By Eddie Torres, President and CEO, Grantmakers in the Arts

This was originally published on the Grantmakers in the Arts blog, as a part of an onging series of posts from Eddie Torres.

Grantmakers in the Arts has just returned from the Affinity Equity Summit and the Solidarity Defense & Action Funder Briefing, a two-day summit in mid-February, in Oakland, California in which over 20 philanthropy-serving affinity organizations and their members came together across issues and disciplines to build a collaborative path forward for the philanthropic community with equity as our shared guiding value.

GIA was a Summit co-sponsor and was invited to speak to our work in support of racial equity as a core mission and primary focus. Nadia Elokdah, Deputy Director and Director of Programs and Roberto Bedoya, board member and Cultural Affairs Manager for the City of Oakland, joined me in representing GIA.

Through our time at the Summit, we made the case that any philanthropic investment in social change should also include investment in arts and culture. This engagement with our peers is a natural extension of GIA’s Thought Leader Forums, which explore member supported case studies of the overlap between art and other content areas such as health, the environment, or emergency readiness. We approached the Affinity Equity Summit in a similar manner, aiming to inspire other parts of the philanthropic community to invest in arts and culture as part of their social change strategies.

We explained that GIA values equity as an investment in peoples, communities, and their cultural forms. With this position established, we discussed that the three often conflated strategies – diversity, equity, and inclusion – are in fact three separate strategies with three different points of intervention and three different outcomes. By increasing alignment of values across discipline and sector, equity, particularly racial equity, can be advanced across many facets concurrently. Therefore, investments in communities and peoples must include investments in their cultural forms and their ability to express themselves creatively. This is central to taking an asset-based approach to communities and their residents. Otherwise, we are treating people as nothing more than a collection of problems to be solved.

Throughout the Summit’s plenary and breakout sessions, we found that many different fields recognized the value of the arts. The strategy of investing in communities resonated with conference participants who similarly value asset-based investments in communities as a strategy toward environmental justice, civic engagement, and LGBTQI rights, among other focus areas.

A particular point that resonated for all of us was targeted support for rural regions. So often, we classify rural cultural forms as “folk” as though they are less important than forms within the Western European cannon. This classification as “folk” – and other like terms – too often serves as a means to diminish whole groups of people, just as we find with exclusionary terminology that refers to ALAANA communities’ forms and organizations as “culturally-specific.”

When we fail to affirm the best of any group of people, we risk losing them – losing their perspectives, losing their insights and solutions, and too often losing them to ideologues. Across all our disparate disciplines, we recognized that losing the perspectives of peoples by failing to value them on their own terms was a loss too great to accept. We agreed that arts philanthropy plays a central role in affirming and supporting the creativity and cultural forms of different people and their communities.

We found that many of our peers in philanthropy want to include art in their strategies. But they often don’t know how to work with artists and arts organizations or at what point to involve them. As part of our mission to advance racial equity through collective actions, GIA will continue to work across disciplines to show the value that the arts play in all social change efforts. We will continue to share case studies and facilitate dialogue across disciplines, sectors, and fields. And we commit to continued advocacy for the inclusion of arts and culture in the toolkit of supports utilized by the entire philanthropic community.

I am grateful that this effort was so well received by our followers on social media. GIA live-tweeted the summit and received some of our highest levels of participation, delighted with the appetite for collective action toward equity and justice among our network.

We consider it a privilege to serve as a valued colleague to our peers in the philanthropy community and, in such a role, take seriously our mission to establish the arts as an essential component of positive social change.

Affinity groups involved in co-sponsoring this effort to-date are:

  • Biodiversity Funders Group
  • Blue Sky Funders Forum
  • CHANGE Philanthropy
  • Confluence Philanthropy
  • EDGE Funders Alliance
  • Environmental Grantmakers Association
  • Funders' Committee for Civic Participation
  • Funders Concerned About AIDS
  • Funders for LGBTQ Issues
  • Funders for Reproductive Equity
  • Funders' Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities
  • Funders Together to End Homelessness
  • Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees
  • Grantmakers in Arts
  • Health and Environmental Funders Network
  • Hispanics in Philanthropy
  • Justice Funders: Powering Philanthropic Transformation
  • Human Rights Funders Network
  • Media Impact Funders
  • National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
  • Neighborhood Funders Group
  • Northern California Grantmakers
  • Peace and Security Funders Group
  • Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement
  • Smart Growth California
  • United Philanthropy Forum
Feb 23, 2018

By Lenore Hanisch, Senior Director of Engagement and Partnerships, Quixote Foundation

This was originally published on the National Center for Family Philanthropy Blog, as a part of the latest in a series of posts from the leadership of the Quixote Foundation.

One of the gifts of Quixote Foundation operating within a strategic lifespan? The opportunity for reflection about the field of philanthropy. The insights I have today about the complex and layered power dynamics of philanthropy are different than they were when I was a direct and active participant in those dynamics. In this piece, I explore how the assumptions we make about wealth, race, gender, and family can inhibit our ability to do the work we set out to do, including connecting with others who share our vision of resourcing positive change.

I’m working at home when I receive an email from the Membership Engagement Director of a nationally known philanthropic association. I’ll call them PHIL for short. It’s an invitation for myself and a second Quixote Foundation board member to join their community. At the end of the second sentence, I pause. Then reread it:

“PHIL is continuing to evolve and deepen our focus on racial equity and we’re looking forward to the new CEO bringing passion and focus in this work. There is much to do, and I’m enthusiastic about the direction we’re heading.”

This is great! This mostly white and highly privileged organization is stating explicitly their intent to do serious work around race and inclusion. Not only will this bring about new growth opportunities for their members, board, and staff, but because PHIL funds grant-seekers, hopefully, this renewed dedication to racial equity will also affect their philanthropy, which could potentially affect systemic change beyond them toward a racially just world.

But wait a second. I don’t see the third and final member of the Quixote board included in this invitation. I recheck the recipient email addresses, the salutation,

“Hi Lenore & Erik…”

I go back to the body of the email and read on. No, there’s no mention of June Wilson, Quixote’s African American Executive Director. She’s also our third and final board member in our management triad.

I finish reading the email to make sure PHIL doesn’t mention being in communication with June in some other way. Given she’d participated in a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training series they offered, it’s possible. Maybe they’ve already asked her to join them in shaping this next stage of their DEI work? Back to the email. No mention of June. I double-check with June to make sure there isn’t a separate invitation to join PHIL in her inbox or junk mail. Nope, there’s nothing.

I scramble for my phone to call the sender of the email—then stop. Calling one individual at one organization isn’t the answer. The problem is bigger than that. Likely, this Membership Engagement Director, in trying to be efficient in their job, missed the opportunity in front of them.

Putting down the phone, I pause again. This, I realized, isn’t only about one person’s assumptions. It also isn’t only about race. It’s about a field that ostensibly funds change in the world, yet often excludes people based on the problematic (and often prejudicial) assumptions of whether or not that person has money to give, controls the money to give, or plays a direct role in those decisions regarding said funders’ control, possession, and/or access to financial resources.

In addition to the racism at play when PHIL invited only the white board members of Quixote to join them, another reason June likely wasn’t included is because, like me, she’s also seen as non-family at Quixote. One of the reasons I’m likely included on the email is simply in hopes that I’ll have influence on the person who most consider to be actual family, the founder’s only child, Erik Hanisch, my husband. This is one of the many funder pecking order distinctions the philanthropic community makes, especially family philanthropy.

To be fair to PHIL’s Membership Engagement Director, these are efficient assumptions made in an attempt to meet their internal recruitment and development goals.

The problem with efficient assumptions, unconscious or conscious, is they often lead to inefficient results. In this instance, for example, PHIL is passing up an opportunity to racially diversify their membership.

For any mostly-white philanthropic organization such as PHIL, it will take deep work to re-imagine their strategies to becoming an entity operating by DEI principles. We did this work internally at Quixote under June’s leadership and we still have a ways to go even as we enter the final stretch of our strategic lifespan. For example, I learned through our DEI training that as a white woman, I often will not intervene in the face of a racial slight occurring at the expense of a person of color in order to avoid saying or doing anything because I might not say or do it well. My fear is that in speaking up I’ll only make it worse. How could I possibly re-imagine a potential DEI intervention that would make something better in the moment, or even in the future? Instead of working through those layers, I default to doing nothing. That’s easier. Efficient. My assumption assures me I can’t re-imagine a successful intervention. DEI work has taught me I must always try.

In PHIL’s example though, an obvious miss happened when it invited the two white people who’d barely ever interacted with their community and passed over inviting the African American who had. It takes slowing down, way down, to change how you go about making up invitation lists that are different than the ones you’ve made before, especially if you are working to train yourself and your organization to be racially equitable and inclusive. 

However, it’s difficult to be truly inclusive of all people in the field of organized philanthropy because it’s a system built on exclusivity. You have to be an entity giving money away to be considered a philanthropic organization or in philanthropy; writing checks is our main criteria of inclusion/exclusion. We don’t count volunteering, thought leadership, or goods; we count cash.

I’m guilty of this as well, and need to constantly watch myself so that I don’t fall back into exclusionary assumptions. For example, I’m a member of the Women Donors Network, a community of progressive women philanthropists. I know I could be better at letting potential members know about the chance to join WDN but I often don’t mention it in situations where I’m unsure of the individual’s financial situation. I can also forget to mention WDN and its work when I’m in non-philanthropy spaces where I feel even more unsure about the financial dynamics. I recently found out that I’d offended a nonprofit activist I know because I didn’t introduce her to WDN. When she learned about WDN elsewhere and that I’m a member, she decided I didn’t tell her about it because I didn’t want to include her. I’m glad she’s considering WDN, plus their work around Reflective Democracy is for everyone, but obviously I messed up. Even if it was unintentionally, I excluded someone.

That’s the wrong way to go about inclusion, and as a proud WDN member, it should be easy to work the opportunity to be a part of this community into the majority of my conversations, despite my lurking insecurities about navigating money conversations. I can and will be braver about sharing information and letting potential WDN members make their own decisions about joining. To be more inclusive means slowing down to check my own assumptions, where these assumptions are coming from and doing my own internal work to build up my emotional intelligence on this front.

The root words in philanthropy basically mean: love humans. How can family philanthropy or the larger field change the world for the better if we’re only loving and including the humans that are perceived as potentially able to write checks? We can’t.

The work of becoming inclusive means including staff, more people of color, all family, whether by blood, chosen, or adopted. Let’s put the “I” into DEI. Let’s work as much at the practice of inclusion as the work required for diversity and equity. We can’t assume if we do diversity and equity, inclusion will naturally follow. If we don’t thoughtfully set out to include, we’ll end up excluding, like PHIL and I. We can be an entity/campaign/network/person that invites belonging. The most capable partners don’t sit solely in positions of power. We examine who we haven’t included and make a choice to rectify that.

In order to hone our inclusion skills, let’s give up assumptions. If our objective is to bring resources to organizations (time, treasure, or talent), let’s practice identifying and breaking down places of assumption. Inference is not reality. Let’s apply this to race, gender, giving potential, etc. then experiment with finding more and more places of assumption; then break those assumptions apart. We share this work internally and externally. Rinse. Repeat.

We do the work on all parts of DEI, the work of philanthropy: Love all the humans. It’ll be different. Hard. Heck, extreme introvert that I am, I hardly like being around anyone at all, but if I can give it a whirl, so can you.

Jan 29, 2018

By Mariella Puerto, Co-Director of Climate, Barr Foundation

This post was originally published on the Barr Foundation blog.

At the Barr Foundation, many of our longest partnerships are with community-based organizations, some of which are led by people of color. Grounded in our belief that solutions reside with those we serve, we invest in leaders who drive change from the bottom up. This funding approach is inspired not only by an attentiveness to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but also by a conviction that diversity in our funding portfolio is an imperative for impact.

I recently had the opportunity to explore these ideas in a webinar titled "Diversifying Your Portfolio: Funding Through the Lens of Racial Equity and Social Justice." The webinar was sponsored by Biodiversity Funders Group and Environmental Grantmakers Association, and was part of InDEEP a professional development series for environmental philanthropy practitioners. I was joined by Community Labor United executive director, Darlene Lombos, who is a member of the newest class of Barr Fellows, and whose organization Barr has been supporting for over a decade. The following is adapted from my remarks, in conversation with Darlene.

Community Labor United brings together some of the strongest base-building community organizations and unions to build strategic campaigns to protect and promote the interests of low- and middle-income working families in the region. When Barr started funding the organization, we still had a very broad environmental sustainability program, with one line of funding directly targeted towards environmental justice.

In 2010, Barr made a shift to focus on climate change, and my piece of the portfolio became clean energy. While we no longer describe environmental justice as a standalone funding area, I continue to see an important role for organizations like Community Labor United. The transition to a clean energy economy requires broad public support, including diverse voices from across varied communities that work to ensure that all communities benefit from clean energy. Just as important is the consideration that groups like Community Labor United have the experience and credibility necessary to reach decision makers across the state.

Barr’s first grant to Community Labor United under its new climate strategy was for planning that ultimately helped catalyze the Green Justice Coalition, a network of community-based organizations that work together to build a broader base of support for a sustainable and equitable clean energy economy.

Through its effective campaign and constituency-building skills, the Green Justice Coalition was able to cultivate broader support for clean energy policies both at the state level and local levels. It successfully worked to expand access to energy efficiency programs, and improve wages and conditions for workers, earning the respect of the energy industry as well as policymakers. Green Justice Coalition members have led efforts to replace coal powered plants with clean energy, and organized local ordinances to fix gas leaks and implement community choice energy. The Green Justice Coalition has also been instrumental in engaging African American and Latino elected officials to support clean energy solutions.

In reflecting on this longstanding partnership, I offer four key takeaways:

  1. Broadening a grant portfolio to invest in community-based organizations allows you to access the talent, networks and leadership needed to achieve important wins. We have been able to achieve key policy outcomes because of the leadership–and engaged membership–of frontline organizations.
  2. Progress depends on taking a long-term view, investing for the long term, and being patient. Coalitions take time to organize, especially those that are committed to building power and leadership in the community and ensuring that community voices are authentically represented. All of this work–the education, the consensus building, the development of strategies–take time. Therefore, the funding cannot be episodic. We need to recognize the importance of investing over several years regardless of what the “campaign” is, in order to build a durable movement that can work on a range of issues.
  3. Know that circumstances and needs will change, and be responsive. There was a period when the coalition struggled to take advantage of opportunities to exercise its collective power. Because of the trust we had built, we were able to work together to pinpoint the challenges, and provided support to help the Green Justice Coalition refocus its strategy from the bottom up.
  4. Demonstrate that community-based leadership and engagement are critical to impact. Green Justice Coalition members are now leaders on clean energy and the climate field writ large, and have played a vital role advancing clean energy policies. Their presence in the debate has also spurred collaborations across the sector, resulting in other organizations recognizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion to their own agendas. While it is heartening to see these positive changes, the field–including funders–still has a long way to go in making diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority. In the years ahead, I will look for ways to help move this agenda forward.

The current national context of unrelenting policy rollbacks on environmental protections and climate action, along with attacks on immigrants and communities of color, presents a very challenging environment for many nonprofits. Now, more than ever, we must demonstrate and increase our commitment to the principles of inclusion, equity, and opportunity through our grantmaking, and in the other ways that we support all of our partners.

Dec 22, 2017

By Nancy Stoner, Water Program Director and Senior Fellow, Pisces Foundation

This was originally published on the Pisces Foundation blog.

As a young girl growing up on the banks of the South River in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I had easy access to swimming in clean water, boating, tubing, fishing, skipping rocks, and feeding the ducks—all pastimes that Americans have enjoyed for generations. As a child, I only knew water as fun, but it is so much more than that.

Water is essential to life and to the health and well-being of every plant and animal on the planet, including humans. It is difficult to overstate its importance, but nevertheless we tend to take it for granted—until it is depleted or contaminated. As Ben Franklin said, “When the well’s run dry, we know the worth of water.

South River in the Shenandoah Valley (1)

At the Pisces Foundation, we know well the worth of water and support efforts to unite people around our shared commitment to safe, clean, affordable water. We believe that new thinking, technologies, and ready-to-go solutions can provide us with safe water from every tap, farms that grow food without polluting waterways, cities strengthened by cleaner lakes and rivers, and enough water for both people and nature.

Our waterways are at risk and threaten clean, safe, and abundant water for all communities, today and into the future. However, there are promising efforts to turn the tide.

One of the efforts we support, the Clean Water for All Campaign, is hard at work building the coalition for water resource protection we want and need to provide clean and safe water for all communities. Created in 2017, the campaign seeks to build a broad, diverse, national movement to drive change around the shared causes of:

  • Defending and expanding clean water protections;
  • Expanding investment in sustainable, equitable water infrastructure; and
  • Reducing nutrient pollution for positive public health outcomes and stronger ecosystems.

This campaign is broad and inclusive. It includes not just environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts, but also people working on social justice, public and community health, sustainable businesses, labor, and faith-based issues. A broad coalition of all parties with a stake in this fight is critical to advocating for the key protections we want and need.

Over the course of the last 45 years, since the creation of the Clean Water Act in 1972, protections have been adopted with fair public involvement to ensure the safety of drinking water flowing out of taps in our homes and schools, protect the clean water sources used to keep commerce and industry productive in our communities, and recharge natural water resources for ecosystems and our collective enjoyment.

Yet programs that protect water bodies, large and small across the nation, are now in danger of being eliminated and legal protections for those waters are being rolled back. Even the most iconic waters—the Great Lakes, Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, San Francisco Bay, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, and the Everglades—are not immune to these threats.

The Great Lakes, Puget Sound, and Chesapeake Bay (2)

Recognizing that resource priorities vary geographically, the Clean Water for All Campaign is flexible and adaptable, with clear regional and local benefits, in addition to its national policy goals. The campaign is working to:

  • Reduce the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest ever measured
  • Minimize toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie that destroy fisheries and threaten drinking water sources
  • Restore depleted groundwater supplies in the West and Midwest
  • Clean contaminated drinking water in our cities
  • Support strong protections at the federal level as well as the local level to address these threats to our nation’s health, livelihood, and security

Clean Water for All is built on the values and vision for the future that Americans share. Clean, safe, abundant water is essential to our economy, to our quality of life, and to the health of our communities and the natural world.

At the Pisces Foundation, we are proud to support Clean Water for All’s goal of ensuring everyone in the U.S. has access to safe, clean water. The Clean Water for All Campaign represents a major undertaking by a diverse group of stakeholders to begin the process of creating a national movement of the breath and magnitude needed to overcome the challenges of today and those to come.

To form the diverse coalition we need, we must be willing to coalesce, to learn about each other’s needs, and unite for a common end. As the oceanographer Sylvia Earle famously said, “Without blue, there is no green.” To live and grow requires safe, clean, and abundant water. We must act now to ensure future access to this most important resource, using the best talents, tools, and resources we have to protect our waters against all threats. This important work will help ensure that people and nature can indeed thrive together.

(1) Photo credits: Shenandoah River Tubing and NBC29
(2) Photo credits: Lake Superior (Bryan Hansel), Puget Sound (ECOconnect), and Chesapeake Bay (Washingtonian)

Dec 6, 2017

By Farhad Ebrahimi, Founder and Chair of the Chorus Foundation

This blog was originally posted on the National Center for Family Philanthropy Blog, as a part of the latest in a series of posts from the leadership of the Chorus Foundation.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece advocating an approach to philanthropy grounded in a place-based, social movement strategy for systemic change. For the Chorus Foundation, this approach began with a critique of business as usual in climate-driven funding, but it has since led us to a broader critique of philanthropy as a whole. Even when we aspire to fund the right things, the ways in which we provide that funding run the risk of undermining the transformative potential of such work. As funders, we desperately need to learn how to let go and get out of the way.

With all of this in mind, my original piece focused on making the case for long-term, general operating support as a concrete tool for letting go. It also made brief mention of the fact that the Chorus Foundation is spending down; our final year of grant making will take place in 2023. Now, I’d like to take a step back and talk about why we’re spending down – both in terms of our immediate approach to the work, as well as our long-term vision for philanthropy as a whole.

As always, my thinking has been informed by two underlying assumptions about the nature of transformational philanthropy: First, if philanthropy as a whole requires the presence of systemic inequity, then truly transformational philanthropy must directly challenge the root causes of that same inequity. Second, if progressive philanthropy aims to acknowledge and address the power imbalances inherent to our work, then truly transformational philanthropy must explore what it looks like to hand power over entirely.

Authentic transformation, of course, can be challenging stuff – downright uncomfortable, even. I should be transparent in saying that this piece has the explicit goal of pushing philanthropy out of our collective comfort zone.

The Chorus Foundation — Invitation to Collaborate from Chris Landry on Vimeo.

The Seeds of an Idea

As with so much of the Chorus Foundation’s work, our thinking on spending down has gone through over a decade of reflection and revision. Each phase of revision was inspired in some way by conversations with our peers in philanthropy. I’d like to acknowledge the Gill Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Quixote Foundation, and the Fund For Democratic Communities for their willingness to share their own insights on spending down.

Even at the beginning, when Chorus was just an idea, there was never any intention of creating an institution that would exist in perpetuity. As the primary donor, I’ve never had any interest in burdening others with the task of determining whether or not a given activity aligns with my founding intentions. Quite to the contrary, I’ve always believed that the process of personal wealth redistribution is something that I need to take responsibility for and see through within my own lifetime.

Beyond my own personal beliefs, we were also wary of what can happen when our insatiable appetite for institution-building risks conflating form with function. We’ve all seen examples where “existing in perpetuity” has become a mission in and of itself, and we wanted to do everything we could to inoculate against that particular scenario.

As we deepened our work, the urgency of the climate crisis provoked us to refine our thinking around spending down. We are approaching a dangerous ecological tipping point – in fact, we may have passed it already – and there’s simply no excuse for withholding resources until it’s too late. With this in mind, our vague intentions to eventually “sunset” became a concrete plan to spend down the entirety of our corpus within a ten-year time frame.

At the risk of being too much of a downer, I'd argue that something similar could be said of our current political and economic crises as well. They too have their own tipping points beyond which we risk spiraling out of control. The climate crisis may be a poster child of the failings of our current economic system, but it is certainly not the only one, and it behooves us to trace the connections between them. 

Putting Ourselves Out of Business

Throughout all of our work, the Chorus Foundation has been guided by the transformative vision of our grantees, especially those working under the banners of just transition, new economy, and an overall call for systemic change. This vision has led us to revisit our thinking around spending down once again. When our most inspiring social movements proclaim that another world is possible, we must ask ourselves: what does this mean for philanthropy?

It is our deeply-held belief that philanthropy – at least as it's conventionally defined – requires the extraction and consolidation of wealth. Which is basically just a long, fancy way of saying that philanthropy requires systemic wealth inequality. This feels like it should be a totally uncontroversial statement, and yet it remains uncomfortable for many of us in philanthropy to say out loud.

And so, when we speak of “another world,” it's clear to me that we’re referring to a world in which this extraction and consolidation of wealth no longer takes place. In a truly just and equitable world, the pressure release valve of philanthropy would not only find itself with fewer demands, it would also find itself with little to no pressure to release in the first place. Philanthropy is needed to compensate for the inherent flaws and injustices built into our current economic system. Our goal, and that of our grantees, is to create a system in which we can safely put philanthropy out of business.

If we’re going to have any hope of bringing such a world into being, then we’re going to need to start learning how to return consolidated wealth to the communities from which it was initially extracted. And, by spending out, we believe that we have the opportunity to model what this might look like. In that sense, we see our work as a form of reparations. We may not see mainstream philanthropy joining us any time soon, but we believe deeply in the power of demonstrating what's possible.

There is an Alternative

We’re not under the illusion that any number of foundations spending down will somehow erase the need for financial resources at the community level. Instead, we want to challenge our collective assumptions about what the mechanisms for resource allocation ought to look like. And, as usual, it is our grantees who are leading the way.

Not surprisingly, this quickly becomes a conversation about investment capital just as much as grants. For example, many of our grantees are actively building their own democratic, politicized, and networked financial institutions. Some, such as The Working World, are international in scope and have been active for over a decade. Others, such as Cooperation Richmond, Cooperation Buffalo, or the Boston Ujima Project, are place-based and are just getting started. Some, such as those listed above, are based on a financial cooperative model (essentially a cooperatively controlled revolving loan fund). Others, such as Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, have pushed the community development financial institution model in promising directions.

Instead of casting ourselves as smart investors who can “do good and still make money at the same time,” we're supporting our grantees to build their own financial institutions so that capital can be handed over to them permanently. That way they get to be the smart investors, and the return on investment stays in their own communities for guaranteed future use. For us, this is the ultimate expression of what aligning investments to mission can look like: let your capital become the community’s investment.

In the meantime, as we work collectively to bring this new world into being, we’ve been exploring ways of democratizing our grant making processes in our current world. We seek guidance from our grantees on any major decisions, we make new funding commitments based on their direct recommendations, and we support the creation of community-controlled re-granting mechanisms that allow the resources to be handed over directly. We’ve even gone as far as to re-write our mission statement based on candid grantee feedback. While we still hold the power, it’s important that we learn to share it as much as possible. 

But What Do We Really Hope to See After Ten Years?

If the community-controlled financial institutions described above had already existed when we were first considering what to do with the resources that I'd been given, then it may not have made much sense for us to start our own foundation. Why build a new organization – with new structures of decision-making, new processes for resource allocation, and new challenges around accountability – if such structures already exist on the ground? Given the Chorus Foundation’s mission, it would have made much more sense to simply hand the resources over to direct community control.

Our hope is that, by the time Chorus makes our last grant, our grantees will have been able to bring a number of these community-controlled financial institutions into the world. Together, we will have been able to shift the conversation around how consolidated resources should be (re)deployed for community benefit.

The full vision of philanthropy putting itself out of business may not come to fruition anytime soon – perhaps not even in my lifetime – but we believe that it remains an absolutely critical point of reference nonetheless. Without a long-term vision of what's necessary, we will never be able to make the most of the short-term opportunity of what's possible. Our goal is to have effectively demonstrated that handing resources over to direct community control is possible, equitable, and strategic.

Where Are You in Your Journey?

While the concepts above may be crystal clear to us, forging the path forward will always be a process of reflection and revision. And, knowing that ours is but one approach, we're always curious to hear where it resonates with others (as well as where it doesn't).

With that in mind, I’d like to end this piece with an invitation to my peers in philanthropy to think about how far along in my recounting of our story you were still with me. If I took a step outside your comfort zone at any point, please bear with me; that doesn't mean that the earlier assertions no longer hold!

Can you find that point? Where are you in relation to that point now? What would one step further look like for you? How would that feel, and what would it take to get there?

I’d absolutely love to talk about any of these questions. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Farhad Ebrahimi is the founder and chair of the Chorus Foundation, which works for a just transition to a regenerative economy in the United States.Farhad also serves on the boards of the Democracy Alliance and the Wildfire Project.

Nov 17, 2017

By Julia Woods, Development Assistant, Global Greengrants Fund

This was originally published on the Global Greengrants Fund blog.

Across the United States, a group of powerful, determined citizens are standing up and actively holding the government accountable for the future of our shared planet. They are fighting for their most basic constitutional rights to a healthy environment, and they aren’t backing down. The best part? Most of them are in middle school.

From Alaska to Florida, from the Marshall Islands to Boulder, Colorado, a powerful groundswell of youth climate action is gaining speed. Meet Our Children’s Trust, a driving force behind the U.S. Federal Climate Lawsuit.

Using a $10,000 grant from Global Greengrants Fund, the group filed the lawsuit Juliana v. U.S. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015, together with organizational plaintiff, Earth Guardians. Their complaint states that through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.

The lawsuit has endured its fair share of hurdles; the U.S. government under former President Obama along with representatives from the fossil fuel industry filed to have the lawsuit dismissed.

But in a groundbreaking decision in November 2016, Federal Judge Ann Aiken advanced the case to trial. This victory has garnered nationwide attention from the likes of The Washington Post, National Geographic, and well-known climate scientist James Hansen. The case could give the Trump Administration a run for its money in what many are calling the biggest trial of the century.

One particularly notable voice in this fight is 17-year-old indigenous environmental activist, hip-hop artist, and Youth Director of Earth Guardians: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. On the power of youth in addressing climate change Xiuhtzecatl says,

“When it comes to climate change, youth are the future. We are the ones who will be experiencing the consequences from generations who came before us. We have the potential to think outside-the-box when it comes to effective solutions. Hearing youth voices in the conversation on climate change is essential to finding and implementing solutions, demanding actionable solutions from those in office, and leading grassroots efforts from the ground up.”

We are inspired by the wisdom of Xiuhtezcatl and the other faces behind the Juliana vs. U.S. climate case, and continue to stand in solidarity with their efforts.

What next?

The youth plaintiffs in this case, currently aged 10-21, and their attorneys are now gearing up for the trial scheduled to take place on February 5, 2018.

Young people can create the future we all want. Our children and grandchildren will inherit our mistakes. Investing in their solutions today is the most powerful way to create a sustainable world tomorrow.

Here at Global Greengrants Fund, we believe in and empower the next generation of youth leaders with a vision for change. Aside from Xiuhtezcatl and Our Children’s Trust, we’ve also supported youth-led climate projects in Kenya, the Philippines, and Ecuador.

Our future is in their hands, and because of them, our future looks bright. Global Greengrants Fund is honored to support these young leaders on the front lines of the global environmental movement.

Photo: Our Children’s Trust

Julia Woods

Julia’s passion for environmental sustainability, human rights, and mission-driven organizations led her to Global Greengrants Fund in October 2016. Prior to joining the Greengrants team, Julia worked for a renewable energy cooperative and an education-focused nonprofit in Los Angeles. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University.

Oct 31, 2017

By Mariella Puerto, Co-director of Climate, Barr Foundation

This was originally published on the GrantCraft blog.

How can funders be both strategy-focused and flexible? How can we be clear and consistent about our goals and priorities, but not risk missing big ideas that may not align perfectly with our assumptions of what the levers are?

Beginning in 2012, I invested some time on an idea that, at first, looked like a clear “no.” Since then, however, it has become an integral piece of how we and our partners spur our region towards a clean energy future.

In 2010, Barr developed a strategic plan for our climate change program that focused on the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings and transportation. Two years into working on this strategy, I received an invitation to hear a presentation about environmental research by Boston University (BU) professors. None of the topics seemed particularly on point to Barr’s new strategy. So, I passed. But as I looked into the presenters and their work, something caught my eye. One of the faculty members, Nathan Phillips, described his work as being focused on “urban metabolism.” It was a new term to me. Nathan defined it as the ebb and flow of greenhouse gas emissions in a city’s atmosphere. It struck me as a novel way to view the system (i.e., climate) we were trying to affect. I sent Nathan a note and asked for a meeting.

A few weeks later, at Nathan’s lab at BU, he graciously shared his research. One project really made me stop and think. Nathan is a tree physiologist and was concerned about street trees dying off in and around Boston. He wondered if leaking methane might be the cause – as methane starves trees of oxygen. In addition to the risk of explosion, methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that drives climate change at a much faster rate than carbon dioxide. So, Nathan and a former utility gas inspector, Bob Ackley, rigged sensors to a car and did some initial ad hoc exploratory drives in the Boston area testing the air for methane from the underground natural gas pipes where they came across dozens of leaks.

Addressing methane wasn’t explicitly articulated in our strategy at Barr. But, depending on the scale, I thought, this could be a big deal...

Fast forward two years. What started as an off-hand, possibly off-strategy conversation became a major shift of strategy for Barr, and for many of our partners. Most significantly, it also resulted in state-level policy changes with enormous implications for our energy use and emissions.

How did this happen? In hindsight, five steps helped me follow my intuition, and invest in a big opportunity despite its first appearance in unexpected packaging:

First, ask a set of basic questions. Was it in our plan? In the case of methane, no. Was the government already doing something about it? Again, no. Had thought leaders identified it as a priority? Not yet. In fact, the conventional wisdom at the time was promoting natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that, while still a fossil fuel, would help us limit our coal and oil consumption. Was it a big problem? Maybe. Did the foundation have a role to play? Perhaps.

Second, check your gut. My gut said yes, this could be a game-changing issue worthy of our attention – or at least serious exploration. Our president, Jim Canales, often speaks of the importance of philanthropy balancing focus and flexibility, and of being “tight on goals but loose on how to achieve them.” Holding tightly to our goal of addressing climate change, it felt important to be loose about this potential new pathway.

Third, tap key networks. I asked my grantees and other partners for their input and advice. There was a general sense that methane leaks might be a big contributor to climate change, but not enough data existed to make it a priority.

Fourth, invest in research. One of Barr’s grantees, the Conservation Law Foundation, agreed to work with Nathan to research the extent of the problem and develop a menu of policy solutions. How did it compare to other actions already being taken in the fight against climate change?

Finally, release the findings to those who can use the results. The resulting publication, Into Thin Air, revealed that there were 3,300 leaks in Boston alone. It also estimated that the state lost more gas through leaks than it saved through its nation-leading energy efficiency programs. The Boston Globe and several other newspapers and radio stations covered the story. Soon, a network of organizations launched a grassroots organizing campaign. Some were Barr grantees. Others weren’t. A year later, the State Legislature unanimously passed a law requiring utilities to classify and repair leaks in a timely fashion. And addressing gas infrastructure is now a top priority for climate advocates across the region.

Our collective efforts in daylighting the leaks in the distribution system catalyzed a great deal of grassroots activism that was later channeled toward calling to question the large gas pipeline proposals that would bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania into New York and New England. Advocates were concerned that the region would become even more dependent on natural gas and jeopardize the region’s ability to reduce GHG emissions – while wasting significant amounts of gas that accelerate climate change.

At their best, strategies are a set of hypotheses, based on a moment in time, about what will bring about change. But times change. New ideas and partners emerge all the time, and often in unexpected ways. So, it is important to remain humble and open about what the right answers may be. Otherwise, we may miss some of the most powerful opportunities to achieve our goals.

Mariella Puerto is Co-director of Climate at the Barr Foundation, managing grantmaking and other initiatives that catalyze the transition to a clean-energy economy. This includes promoting policies and practices that accelerate the adoption of energy efficiency and renewable power sources in the New England region and connecting to similar efforts nationally.