Shift from Crisis Approaches to Resourcing Long Term Organizing
Since the Ferguson uprising, funding has become more accessible to some organizations that have historically been unable to secure long term substantial funding. However, it is not always the case that local organizations are able to attract national funding to support the work. If and when they are able to successfully attract resources, those resources are not long-term and are narrowly focused on programmatic work instead of understanding the direct relationship with the infrastructure of an organization and their ability to build capacity (including staffing) and win campaigns.
Additionally, the influx of funding was inadequate to the depth and scale of the problems that surfaced, and some grassroots leaders felt that locally, foundations invested millions into programmatic and direct service solutions led by organizations that had no history of addressing systemic racism and systems change with the excuse that they “couldn’t find Black organizers” because they did not make the time to have conversations with community. Philanthropy has a prescriptive view of what the work looks like and who should get funding that gets in the way of the movement ecosystem being healthy and strong. A focus on funding long-term organizing with principles, goals, and actions defined by the organizations that lead them will interrupt crisis-based funding that does not fully resource organizations or address problems.
Increased coordinated funding, collaboration, and communication amongst funders locally, regionally and nationally would strengthen the philanthropic landscape in St. Louis. A regional agenda with co-investment would result in more comprehensive and deeper resourcing, rather than funders aspiring to independently present the solution that solves everything. Relationship building amongst funder peers grows the ability to partner and obtain commitments to funder tables and pooled resources, especially across issue areas. Coordination among funders who are prioritizing POC-led community organizing and those who are open to and learning more about it, is especially important given the legacy and current undue impact of corporate interest in governance.
There has been growing investment from local foundations in Black organizations, as well as collaboration between national foundations and local foundations. An example of this is the working relationship between the Amplify Fund, Missouri Foundation for Health and the Deaconess Foundation. This collaboration has led to deeper investment in Black-led organizations that are building the power necessary to shift conditions. Increased coordination in these ways would prove to further bolster the organizing ecosystem of St. Louis.
Throughout the philanthropic space, funders are looking at better ways to do things. We often talk about shifting practices toward ceding power and less cumbersome and unnecessary labor for community organizations, but what does this actually look like? Examples include taking the time to build relationships and actual trust with community organizations, especially those that are Black-led. Be invested not just in their success, but in the organization’s well being. Funders truncating and simplifying application and renewal processes, as well as creating space for conversational reporting, has also been helpful. Taking the time to meet and build with initial stakeholder groups and actually following the advice that is heard. Avoid creating hurdles where they don’t need to exist like forensic budgeting requests and longform proposals. An example of trust-based relationships between funders and grantee partners can be found in this SSIR article co-written by the Amplify Fund and one of their grantee partners, ArchCity Defenders.
Shifting the local landscape takes time and deep investment, and organizations struggle to identify national philanthropic partners that are willing to make that level of investment. Funders must provide long-term general operating support and utilize funding practices that create space for organizations to experiment and pivot without hindrance to demonstrate their trust in the vision of organizers.