Tag Archives: Philanthropy

My #Philanthropy Black History Month Assignment

This is a post from another blog I write “Philanthropic Windows”. I will be posting more posts from there, here, and changing Hillombo to be about some things other than the Hill District. Mainly because I’d like people to be able to find things I write more easily, but also because I want to do more dot connecting.

With the movie Selma out and research I’ve been doing for a few other projects, I’ve had a chance to learn, think and talk about the Civil Rights Movement and the business of philanthropy. In David Garrow’s  “Bearing the Cross” there is a brief mention of a foundation, The Field Foundation, withholding payment to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for failure to meet grant conditions at the end of ’62/beginning of ‘63, right before the the-good-citizen-8-638Birmingham, AL Project Confrontation campaign is to commence. This withheld payment required Dr. King to meet with the foundation personally and to acknowledge that the voter registration that they were to be doing in a number of localities in the South wasn’t really happening. Wait. What?? Dr. King was called to account by a Program Officer??

Coming across some parts of the backstory of that meeting in two other sources piqued my interest even further. According to Charity, Philanthropy and Civility in American History and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy’s report “Freedom Funders: Philanthropy and the Civil Rights Movement”, in 1961 President John F. Kennedy convened a few foundations Taconic, Field, Stern Family and New World and asked them to put money into a project called the Voter Education Project. (VEP) His idea was that Civil Rights organizations like the SCLC, SNCC, CORE and the NAACP would turn their attention to voter registration rather than the direct action strategies like sit-ins and freedom rides. His argument to the organizations was that voter registration was big change rather than the smaller local efforts of sit ins. The authors of both pieces cited above say Kennedy was more so motivated to take pressure off the Federal Government to provide protection for the activists and in doing so alienate Southern “white” voters.

There are a number of interesting angles here (1) The VEP as an example of philanthropic practice; (2) The VEP as “public/private partnership; (3) The VEP as structural racism; (4) The VEP as funding grass roots political activity; (5) The VEP as a way of unlearning the story of “South-racist, violent, bad” and “North, on the side of African Americans, supportive, good”. The assignment I will give myself as African American history month closes is to write on at least of two of these angles. Angle #4, “The VEP as an example of funding grass roots political activity has been taken in the NCRP report”, so that should leave only two undone. If anyone wants to help get extra credit for this assignment and take on one on their own or find a new angle and write that one up, that would be “sweet” (circa 1986).

To get going, I’ll start with “The VEP as an example of philanthropic practice”. This story brings philanthropy and Black liberation movements into focus in a way that gives me pause and reflects ideas that I find most problematic in our work. In this little anecdote, we see behavior pretty consistently criticized as a going against best practices and I point them out not to say I haven’t made these choices, or that The Heinz Endowments has made a commitment to invest in civil disobedience direct actions. I have made these same choices and we haven’t made those investments in direct actions in my time at the Endowments.   Still, this history deserves real attention and should be something I check myself against  everyday. This story shows philanthropy…

As we take a moment nationally to reflect on African American history and the Civil Rights Movement in particular, its interesting for me to contrast how the Civil Rights Movement has been lauded all throughout this month for the courage it showed in direct actions to dismantle Jim Crow. In this the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there will be celebrations throughout the year. I would guess that some of this attention has been and will be supported by philanthropy. Simultaneously, the  #BlackLivesMatter movement continues its fight against police brutality and killings. What will be said about philanthropy’s role in that movement in 50 years?

Decision Making, Democracy, Funding & Power. Feeling The Edge Fund.

Poster used to announce the launch of The Edge Fund

Poster used to announce the launch of The Edge Fund

Today, I am thankful for the model and extensive documentation of the England based Edge Fund. At the end of this post is a link to a post from this funding body titled, “How We Make Decisions” which is what motivated me to write this morning.

Inspiring.

The Edge Fund is an organization whose work I am very interested in for work I do at The Heinz Endowments, where I am a Senior Program Officer for the Arts & Culture Program. Part of my work is focused on increasing arts experiences for youth in African American/distressed neighborhoods in a program called the Transformative Arts Process. I’ve passed along The Edge Fund to the program’s Advisory Board as an example of the way it could make decisions on recommendations to the Endowments about how it should spend $ on a field building process we are now focused on. A process I have not documented on our website, another learning from The Edge Fund which has done a meticulous job documenting its process. Another fundamental difference is that the Edge Fund’s member decision-making process is the final decision-making process on the dollars where our process is an advisory one. For the purposes of Hillombo,  I am wondering how this example might apply to the Hill District. Specifically,  the Hill District Growth Fund and the Fund that will support development in the Hill District that was part of the deal  between the Penguins, the City, County and The Hill District Development Corporation. For of my comments on my work as a Program Officer, check out my blog “Philanthropic Windows” .

The link at the end of this post was written  by folks at The Edge Fund and describes how it makes its funding decisions. It gets me jazzed to think about how communities like the Hill could even model for Philanthropy how it could better involve those most impacted by the problems that it says it wants to solve and in doing so be more effective. In the case of The Edge Fund, this goes beyond “involvement in decision making” to actually “authority in decision making”,  a fundamental difference between the work I do at Heinz and how The Edge Fund functions. To date, my sense is that the Growth Fund has operated with very little understanding in this neighborhood as to how it works or how it can help people who live here, falling into a trap of so much of philanthropy. This is trap is why you see efforts like Glass Pockets, the Center for Effective Philanthropy and The Fund for Shared Insight. Efforts not above scrutiny either, but interested in helping/encouraging Foundations to be more open in their processes.

My experience in the Hill is while we have some ideas on power our understanding of how to build power is constrained by our belief in power in particular individuals and positions rather than broader efforts that help us build power as a neighborhood. This diminished power then shows up in what we are able to secure in battles like the one we most recently had for the Lower Hill District where we did not make our goals on the amount of affordable housing we wanted or in the earlier battle with the Penguins over the Community Benefits Agreement where the Penguins were able to get off with relatively small investments. For my ongoing commentary about how leadership in our neighborhood often actively resists engaging its residents to its own detriment,  see previous posts on transparency,  The Preliminary Land Development Plan Process and my first post on the The Hill District Growth Fund. I wasn’t blogging at the time of the One Hill battle, but while it had a larger community base/democratic process than the previously mentioned efforts,  the involvement of community members was lessened towards the end of  that process and it served to weaken us there as well.

An image from the website of the Edge Fund, I believe they are reviewing proposals

An image from the website of the Edge Fund, I believe they are reviewing proposals

The challenge of course with engaging more folks in the decision-making process is that it is extremely time-consuming and if it is not properly staffed, the process can get weighed down by the lack of capacity and speed can grind to a halt. This is the challenge I am facing now with my work as a steering committee member of the the Hill District Consensus Group’s  (HDCG) Arts Plan process (HDCG receives funding from The Heinz Endowments and my wife, Dr. Bonnie Young Laing is a co-director there), so….there’s that as well. I really want to learn more about the Edge Fund’s work as their structure seems to take these capacity issues into account and strike a good balance. To see for yourself, check out the link below “How We Make Decisions”.

How we make decisions.

Accountability, Gatekeeping & Racism

Through work this past year with Grantmakers in the Arts on racial equity, I had the opportunity to take a couple of two-day anti-racism workshops with The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB), specifically their workshop “Understanding and Undoing Racism/Community Organizing”.  This workshop breaks down the relationship between race, power and poverty and has me thinking about the Hill District differently and, hopefully, more clearly. PISAB’s training begins with the idea that “racism is the glue that holds class oppression together” and goes on to define “race” as a socially constructed concept designed to place “white people” at the top of the racial pyramid and racism as “race prejudice + power” and the process that keeps this racial pyramid standing so visibly. To be clear, I am not qualified to give a PISAB training, (one would need to go to them for that) but I wanted to share my sense of how they define these key terms before going on to talk about two other concepts: accountability and gatekeeping.

PISAB’s focus is on structural racism i.e. the way public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work together to build and maintain societal benefits for being white and penalties for not being white (this is not PISAB’s definition, but an amalgamation of a couple definitions). According to this analysis, critical to holding the structure of racism in place are the “gatekeepers” whose job it is to work for the institutions that get their resources at least in part because of the poverty of ALANA  (African, Latino, Asian and Native American) communities.  As I understand it, the issue is not simply that there are gatekeepers, this is part and parcel of the system, but that they are not accountable to the community members whose poverty makes the employment of the gatekeepers possible. Institutions regularly named include, schools, government, police, non profit industrial complex (social service, community development, funders, politicians, etc). PISAB asks gatekeepers to think hard about how they could make their work more accountable  to these communities. It’s ideas around accountability in the Hill District that I will dedicate the next couple of entries.