Photo: Foundation for Black Communities // Photo credit: Robert Okine
I was tired of traditional philanthropy. The boardrooms, conferences, and staff team listings on websites all looked the same. Little input from “outsiders” and I was clearly an outsider trying to make a change from the inside and I was getting nowhere. Overall, I could see that projects, causes, and communities that desperately needed support were left behind, completely unfunded. So in 2017, fed-up and exhausted, I left the philanthropic sector and headed into public policy with the hope that more could be done there. I never thought I’d go back into philanthropy and then … the pandemic hit.
The cracks of our social fabric widened each endless, COVID-filled day day and I knew that philanthropy had a major role to play. In summer 2020, I co-founded the Foundation for Black Communities (FFBC) with colleagues. Our goal was simple: self-determination. We started raising capital for Black communities to allocate based on their priorities and knowledge of what would be most effective. We have made historic progress on this mandate and with this progress, our community-led collaborative has changed the philanthropic landscape completely.
Here are three key shifts:
- From silos to systems: Community-led collaboratives have the opportunity to advance social change priorities beyond funding, through systems change. FFBC believes that it’s also important to advance public policy priorities that benefit Black communities and all equity seeking communities. An example of this can be found in our successful advocacy for changes to the disbursement quota. Our collective voice is powerful and achieves change at the systems level.
- From competition to collaboration: When we first started building FFBC, we were blown away by the support we received from other collaboratives like the Equality Fund and the Black Feminist Fund. It was amazing to see how much we could learn from each other and work together toward our shared goal of funding movements that we believe in. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing those movements actually win. Our strategy, resources, and approaches have all improved with shared insights.
- From unseen to seen (From unfunded to funded): FFBC has intentionally prioritized relationships, networks, and participatory approaches in all aspects of the foundation from grantmaking to board and leadership recruitment. This has included new voices, expertise, and leadership allowing us to fund groups and organizations that have never received grants before and promoting Black leadership too often overlooked. With this we have seen a shift toward equitable the demographics within the sector.
You may be thinking that FFBC is a great case study, but what about the rest of the sector? The good news is that FFBC is not the first, or only, to use these approaches. We’re part of an emergent movement of collaboratives, and we’re bringing the added lens of a community-led approach.
I’m excited to join Philanthropy Together’s foray into collaboratives! There’s so much philanthropic money just sitting in donor advised funds and foundations, waiting to be put to good use. That’s where collaboratives come in – especially community-led ones. They’re connecting diverse groups and communities with these funds, making a real difference. In the coming months, Philanthropy Together is going all-in on an initiative to get the word out about community-led collaboratives. We’ll be creating programs and resources for philanthropic advisors and donor-serving organizations to help make it happen.
And with this, my outlook on the sector has dramatically changed from where it was in 2017. I’m optimistic that community-led collaboratives and their ripple effects will continue to influence and shift the sector resulting in increased impact and better outcomes.
What do you think about community-led philanthropy? Have you been involved in any collaborative efforts to make a difference in your community? We’d love to hear from you in the comments! Let’s keep this conversation going and continue to build on the positive shifts we’re seeing in the philanthropic sector.
Rebecca is a social entrepreneur focused on creating new philanthropic models for a more collaborative, inclusive, and equitable world through community-led philanthropy. She is a co-Founder of the Foundation for Black Communities and serves on the Philanthropy Workshop Canada and Laidlaw Foundation boards.