During Season 2 (Power) of the Equity and Justice in Collective Giving Webinar Series, Philanthropy Together’s Kelsey Barowich hosted an in-depth conversation with Melody Martinez and Teri Pierson of Acorde Consulting, hosts and facilitators working to shift perspectives in social justice policies, practices, and behaviors within giving organizations.
Founded by Martinez, Acorde Consulting offers workshops and trainings to help organizations around the world expand and affirm their commitments to racial equity. In this workshop, Martinez and Pierson take us through case studies, concrete examples, and interactive theory to address the role of power in giving, and ultimately shift that power equitably – by ceding power to those who truly know best what to do with it. Watch this webinar or continue reading for the transcript below.
- Giving circles around the world are primarily composed of people without ties to the specific communities they’re trying to support. Voices are missing from communities like people of color, Black and Indigenous communities, and LGBTQIA2S+ people. This perpetuates a tradition of those without those community ties making decisions without being in relationships with said communities. To that end, giving circles must develop relationships with the communities they’re looking to serve.
- Many giving circles and other grantmaking organizations make a commitment to amplifying those missing voices. However, these promises are made on paper – in reality, many giving organizations fall short of this promise in action.
- There are many “choice points” involved in a giving organization’s commitment to social justice. Members must ask questions of themselves such as, “What does power currently look like in our giving circle?” “Who is getting access to be part of the conversation?” “Where is power embedded in this process, or in this piece of the structure? And how might we upend that to ensure that we’re moving toward more liberated practice?”
- The best way to truly support communities with lived experience is to shift power to members of those communities. We can do this by ceding decision-making power in our giving organizations to members who come from these communities. Or, if our membership does not contain anyone from these communities, by acting as a “fundraiser-only” partner: collecting funds, then trusting partner grantees or compensated consultants to decide where those funds should go.
- There are multiple models to show the relationships between power and representation in giving circles. It’s a critical part of giving circle formation and continuation to identify where we fall in these models, then take steps to move closer to trust-based giving that puts power in the right hands.
Melody Martinez [Starting at 03:08]: We are so glad to be here today and just give you a little taste of the kind of frameworks, the kinds of visions, that we have for a more liberated future and definitely more liberated practice around philanthropy.
So a little bit of agenda, just to get us grounded. So welcome in today’s flow, that’s where we are now. We’re going to talk a little bit about power: structures of power and about choice points. And we’ll describe that word in a little bit. We use it a lot!
Really, we’re asking ourselves, “Who is at the center of your fundraising and grantmaking?” and, “How do giving circles currently exercise power?” Because we can’t address power if we don’t really think about how it is operating right now, in the spaces that we inhabit. Then we’ll work on a scenario that we’ve created for you all.
We’ll give you a taste of that. We’re not going to spend a lot of time there, but we’re going to bring some applied practice into the space, and we’ll go through some reflection questions. We’ll have that as a tool for you to take home. So, there is the scenario itself, and a set of reflection questions, and we encourage you to either do this on your own as someone who is a donor organizer, a person who’s a philanthropist, a person who’s giving, who’s making contributions, or take it to your giving circle. If you want to really open up some conversations about power and values in your space, the continuum of power and influence.
That’s yet another tool that we’ve developed for this workshop. It’s a power mapping tool, and we’ll introduce it along with some case studies so that you all can see how we use the tool and see it in practice. And again, this is something that you can take back to your giving circle and discuss: How might we shift power? What does power currently look like in our giving circle? And where are we on this continuum?
And then we have a little bit of a call to action at the end, and then we’ll say goodbye. So we’re with you for a good 90 minutes, and we hope to be able to fit it all in and have some really great discussion.
Like Kelsey said in the chat, we will have slides, tools, all of that will be shared in a follow up email after this session, so you’ll have access to all of that. Teri? Did I miss anything?
Teri Pierson: No, no, that’s awesome, thank you all, and thanks for being here. Melody and Kelsey, thanks for introducing us. I just wanted to add one other thing in the introduction, which is that we are also constant learners and practitioners of everything that we’re talking about.
So we’re not here because we’ve got it all figured out, but we are definitely sharing examples throughout this workshop of places where we’ve struggled through these exact kinds of decision points and struggled against our own resistance to sharing power or or our own need to organize with others, to kind of reclaim that power in places where we’re impacted. So we’re right there with you, learning together as we go along.
For the next few minutes, Teri, Melody, and Kelsey create a JamBoard for the workshop’s participants to introduce themselves, their organizations, and their areas of impact. Things like food justice, youth development and systemic change, gender justice and women’s issues, and food justice are added to the collaborative JamBoard.
Teri Pierson: So, a lot of folks are currently impacted right now by the issues that you’re organizing for, or [have been] impacted in the past, right? Those are not obviously mutually exclusive, but they can be really different ways that we experience those issues. Also, when people close to you are directly impacted, that keeps it pretty close to the heart, and others of us may care for the issue [without being] directly impacted. Right?
Different kinds of lived experiences create really different sources of knowledge and care and closeness for that. Lots of folks are not naming where the money goes, which is a big piece of how giving circles exercise power.
This is a tangible and mission-centered piece, and there are so many more [steps to nominations] within your organizations. What grants are offered? What organizations are getting chosen? Whose voices are elevated?
The process of how this happens; that really, really matters. What are your criteria for funding guidelines? Who and what is centered? Are we championing Black-led nonprofits? These are definite decisions to make at some point in the process, and it goes all the way back to who is sitting at those tables. Who is getting access to be part of the conversation?
Melody Martinez: So I’m seeing on this JamBoard here, a lot of the things that we’re about to talk about. There’s a lot of wisdom in the room already about how giving circles exercise power.
We pulled the components of the giving circle off the Philanthropy Together website to talk a little bit about those points where power is exercised. So gathering in a group of friends, family, co-workers, or other community members, right?
We tend to congregate, if we’re doing a giving circle, in community or family, or with friends, or with coworkers, or we’re inviting people into those spaces that we know. What we know just on the sociological level is that we tend to commune with people who are very much like us. That is related to race and related to socioeconomic status or class status, right? And that’s by design.
That’s by design of how our laws, in this country in particular, have been shaped to keep communities segregated by race and class. It’s part of our history.
And so the people that we invite into the space, the people who might be interested in the space, the people who are in our communities, tend to be people who have pretty similar backgrounds to us. Those things start to take shape – in most people’s cases, not all – after we leave high school. Essentially, if you’ve gone to a public school, chances are you’re in a setting with people from a lot of different backgrounds, right? And then you start to close in on who your community is, unless, of course, you went to private school. So that question brings that choice point up: who’s at the table? Who’s allowed to be here? Who’s been invited to this space? Who do we welcome into this space? Who feels belonging in this space?
It also brings up this piece of discussion: the vision and values that motivate you to give and see commonality within your group. The values of a group will be shaped by who’s in that room.
So what conversations happen, and how do they happen? Whose ideas are in that space are largely related to who is allowed to be in that space. Who’s invited into that space? Who feels a sense of belonging and ability to speak up in that space?
What values are present are largely related to who’s in the space and what values get prioritized also, have to do a lot with who’s in that space, or how they got there, or what purpose or function they serve.
I’m thinking about boards that I’ve been on where they want a DEI voice, a diversity equity and inclusion voice. And it’s like, we’re prioritizing you being in this space because we want to hear you on this topic. So again, the values that get brought into that space are largely dependent on the people in the space.
And then, of course, you’re all familiar with this. It’s why we’re all here today. How you decide, how you pull your funds and decide where to give, based on your values. But do you have an application process? What does that look like? How accessible is that, how expansive is that? If you don’t have an application process, how do the organizations that get brought up in the space get brought up in this? Who gets to decide who gets funded, and what the size of the grants are? What issues or what work is “worth funding”?
Even just thinking about how decisions are made, we often talk about decision-making, but we don’t talk about how we decide how to decide. So really thinking about the process. And then, what is considered “enough”? And then, once you give, how do you measure that success?
How do you measure the impact of what you’ve done as a giving circle, if you’re measuring that at all? Do you have a metric for that? And then how do you engage beyond your gift? Again, this comes down to who’s in the space. What are the values in that space? Who are the groups being funded? Who gets to decide and how we decide.
So we can see how power infiltrates every part of a giving circle. So whether it’s the structure itself, or any part of the processes throughout, power is embedded everywhere in the circle, so we can’t just talk about power in the sense of well, how do we decide how much to give and who to give it to. We’ve also got to talk about it at every single point [of the giving process], right?
Where is power embedded in this process, or in this piece of the structure? And how might we upend that to ensure that we’re moving toward more liberated practice?
So we’re moving toward racial equity in particular, right? So when we name equity, we name what kind of equity we’re talking about. Racial equity? Gender equity? Are we talking about disability justice and disability equity? Are we talking about an intersectional approach to that, [in a way] that centers race and considers all those other factors?
So, it’s really important to think about how power is embedded throughout the process, not just in our decisions at the end of the giving circle, at the end of a cycle. Even though we know that that is where a lot of that power is concentrated, if we don’t look at who’s there and how they got there, right, and what we value and what we’re discussing, then we can’t really, truly understand how much power is embedded in that decision-making process.
We’re asking you all, just for today, let’s assume that the best decisions are going to be made by the people who are closest to the impact. So what that means is, whoever is closest to that impact, if it’s food insecurity for example, those people experiencing food insecurity are going to be the best deciders for how to work towards food security or food justice.
Teri Pierson: And keeping that equity analysis in there, like Melody said, nice and explicit. Our assumption also is that the most impacted folks are the folks that are impacted at the intersection of that particular issue, and the impacts of systemic racism, anti-Blackness, those intersectional impressions that you’re really honing in on.
So we’re really getting explicit about not just anybody who’s experiencing food security, but among that group who is most impacted, right? It’s going to be Black folks, it’s going to be trans folks, folks with disabilities, and it’s going to be Black trans folks with disabilities. And the closer we get into who’s most impacted, the more likely we are to get to solutions that are actually going to work, not only for that specific group but also for the whole community
Melody Martinez: Thank you, Teri.
And so again, just for today, what if you were to let go of your decision-making power and offer it to the people who are closest to the impact? What would it actually look like to practice that, to say, “Hey, this is not my place”? What would it look like to cede that decision-making power to somebody else? How do we identify who those people are?
There’s a lot we won’t get into here on the relational dynamics of being in community with people like Teri just named, who may not be part of your giving circle. But we’re going to try and think about the different ways where we might cede power at different levels to understand what it looks like to give power to someone closer to that impact.
Because we want to see the different levels: for someone experiencing food insecurity right now, it’s a very different experience than someone who just cares about the issue or or has been impacted in the past but is okay now. We might get very different decisions, very different responses, very different values and needs for priorities from people who are impacted in different ways.
Melody Martinez: So let’s work through the scenario. This is a gender justice giving circle so I’ll read this out loud: “Your giving circle is primarily white women most, but not all of whom are straight and none of whom are Black. You have decided to fund 3 groups at $100,000 each. So you’ve raised a lot of money! A member recently pointed out that without conscious intent, the organizations you funded in the past were primarily led by non-Black cisgender women and causes typically relevant to this group.”
So we’re seeing a little bit of some of those past decisions where power was concentrated.
“You’ve got some applicants for these funds, including an organization supporting LGBTQ+ youth transitioning out of foster care; a fiscally sponsored activist group, led by Black single parents with housing insecurity; a nonprofit supporting abortion access; a collective of sex workers organizing for decriminalization of sex work; and then you’ve also got an individual community activist who has applied for a grant to support their gender-affirming health care.”
So a note here is that your organization, your giving circle, has never given to an individual rather than an organization, but your group agreements would allow for it. So there’s no barrier to giving to an individual, even though you’ve never done it.
So our first question for you all is: What are the “safe” choices, and what are the “controversial” choices?
And we use that word again intentionally, in quotes, because what’s considered controversial has a lot to do with censoring white comfort typically and centering comfort in general, right?
Where there’s privilege being held by the group, we don’t want to make somebody uncomfortable, we don’t want to make cisgender people uncomfortable. We don’t want to make straight people uncomfortable; we don’t want to make white people uncomfortable.
So what are the “safe” choices among those applicants, and which are “controversial”, and why? What is at stake for your giving circle?
If you consider funding a controversial applicant, and in this case, maybe the individual is the controversial applicant, funding an individual rather than a group, what are some of the decisions that must be made in order to allocate those funds?
Where is this next step in this conversation, as we’re talking about what it would mean to cede power, what it would mean to make these decisions around who to fund?
For the next few minutes, Teri and Melody pitched these discussion questions to the group at large. People chimed in from the chat with concrete examples from their own giving circles and organizations.
Melody Martinez: We’re hoping that, you know, despite a frame of abortion access, whether or not that feels centered around justice enough, none of these are bad choices and that’s why we chose them. We can see the merits of funding this work under the scope and values of gender justice. It’s a question of who gets to make those decisions.
We spoke to a few of the choice points:
- Who is at the table?
- Who sets criteria for each decision (including how we decide)?
- Who holds formal decision-making power?
- Who holds influence?
- Who evaluates your impact?
Are we using traditional Roberts rules, or are we using some other form of consensus based decision-making, or some other form of decision-making altogether? Who holds formal decision-making power?
And then who holds influence, right? We ask those two questions side by side, because sometimes we can have formal decision-making power, and sometimes what’s written down on paper isn’t what’s actually happening in the room.
We know that there’s people who may carry more influence in a conversation, and then who evaluates your impact or the impact of your decision or the outcome. We’re always going to work on the assumption that if we’re going to cede power, if we’re going to shift power, if we’re going to share power, the best decisions are made and the best outcomes are generated when those who are most impacted are closest to that power. Closest to that decision-making power, being guided by the people who are closest to the issues. This will surface the best solutions to an issue, and so we’re going to keep working on that assumption because we hold that central to what it means to shift power, circumstances, and outcomes, which is what equity is all about.
Teri Pierson: Yes, yes. Thank you. You’ll also hear us continuing to use that phrase, “choice points.” You might pick it up from context, but just to give a little attribution, as far as I know, that term comes from Teri Keller at Race Forward and it’s a way of thinking about those many moments in the work of your giving circle, in your everyday practice, in your everyday life where you can go one way, towards racial justice, or you could go another way, away from racial justice towards racial harm. It’s a specific way of noticing where we hold power in small and large ways.
Let’s introduce this next tool, a simple power mapping tool.
We’re calling this a continuum of power and influence, and the idea is just to think about the power held by grantmakers. So if you’re a member of a giving circle, if you’re involved in some of those decisions about who’s getting money or where money is going, there might be levels of power that are held by folks in that role. And then on the bottom, you see another continuum asking, “Where is the power for the impacted community?”
That might be at an individual level, an organization that’s made up of impacted individuals. Or you might be thinking about it at the full community level. What’s the impact? Who are the impacted community members?
For any model of decision-making in a giving circle, there’s going to be some level of power from 0 to full that’s held by the grantmakers and some that may be held by the community.
Let’s show you a couple of types of models, and then we’re going to get into some specifics that can hopefully help this feel really recognizable. In some pure forms, the way we’re thinking is that most grant-making, traditionally, typically, has been in kinds of models where all of the power, all of the decision-making and influence, is held by the members of the giving circle, the folks who are giving out the grants. If we’re in those positions, we are making decisions for impacted communities, whether or not we are ourselves are individually impacted.
There’s kind of a “both-and” model, at least in theory, that power and decision-making may be shared in effective ways by grant makers and impacted communities. We’re thinking about what conditions need to be in place in this group, and how they do business in who’s at the table, and who really has influence in order for power to really be fully shared by grantmakers and folks from impacted communities. So we’ll talk a little bit later about ways that sometimes this is the model in name, but in practice, in the impacts that are generated, power is really much more held by the grantmakers and much less by the community. So it’s something to look out for.
And then another kind of a pure form that’s rarely seen in real life, is “power to” or “power within”. These are models where impacted communities or individuals hold all the decision-making power. We’ll talk a little bit later about why that’s difficult to fully realize in some of our practices.
Melody Martinez: I do want to also add that there are some historical examples. There are probably some present day examples as well of what this looks like.
Teri Pierson: There’s lots and lots of space in here, because there are lots and lots of ways that this might show up.
Let’s talk about a couple of specific examples. So on this high power for grant makers, low power for impacted community model [are] a lot of our typical designs: giving circle designs that you might have inherited or that you might be practicing if you haven’t thought about it. I know this has been true for organizations that I’ve been part of, and this is where the giving circle decides who or what to fund, and makes all the decisions, even though there may or may not be any impacted people in the group.
So, maybe not even having a mindful practice like Melody talked about earlier, about how you’re selecting members and who’s invited to join, who comes to the table. You can also have the same space on this map occupied by an organization that is, in name, a consensus process, but in reality all the influence is held by non-impacted members. We’re also going to talk about a case study that was kind of trending in this direction, and some of the shifts that they made to get closer to their actual intent.
Something a little closer to the middle, so some amount of shared power by both impacted community and grantmakers, is where the grant maker might set some criteria or parameters, and then prospective grantees are invited to participate. Folks who are actually impacted community members or organizations make decisions within that container. So this might exist in different places on the map, depending on how much control the grantmaker exerted over what those parameters are going to be.
The more space there is inside that container, the more power there is for impacted communities to actually exercise power and authority. This could move, depending on that choice point.
Here’s the ideal collaborative method, if you’re really trying to share power. This is where you have consensus decision-making by giving circle members, including some who are impacted and some trusted collaborators who are not impacted.
So this isn’t just anybody. This is where folks who are impacted figure out who you can be in an effective, collaborative, co-conspiratorial relationship with. Who can you have actual shared influence and power with? That’s when you can have a true consensus process, if you work those dynamics with the group and really share power
Another model, high power for the impacted community, is when a giving circle cedes the decision-making authority to those of its members who actually are impacted. So you might have a giving circle that has folks who aren’t impacted, and the folks who aren’t impacted let go of some of that power and invite and acknowledge that the folks with lived experience are going to make the best decisions. They’re going to make those decisions, and the rest of the group will support that.
And then finally, this is a pure form where the giving circle might take the role of fundraiser only. Imagine that and let yourself think about that: what comes up if you’re a giving circle member imagining taking the role of fundraiser only?
So in this case, all decisions about how to use the funds remain with the impacted person or organization or community, so that might require that you actually have relationships; some way of making this connection with that organization.
If you’ve ever been part of essentially “friend-raising” or mutual aid processes, where maybe there’s somebody in your known circle who has a need for support, and you know that that person is trusted. You’re going to raise the money. That person is going to share, “Here’s what I need the money for, and here’s the amount of money that I need.” Then, the friend circle goes to work trying to get those funds to that person or that group of people. The friend Circle doesn’t have to exercise any authority whatsoever over how that money is spent.
Melody Martinez: I think a really great historical and present day example of this one is thinking outside of what we formally call a “giving circle.” Lots of civil rights organizing actually happened in this way, like a highly impacted community raising funds for the bus boycott, raising funds for marches, raising funds to get people to take time off of work or get child care, or providing other resources like food in order to allow for that organizing or fundraising to happen.
That is a concrete example of high power for the impacted community, meaning everyone who’s part of that circle of giving is an impacted party. Even if they’re not close friends, they’re an impacted party. We see that today in a lot of Black-led organizing spaces where fundraising is happening, where everyone in the room is closely impacted in some way, either previously or in the moment, and all members work together to provide mutual aid.
We’re raising money for our community – this is so very, very common, particularly in Black giving circles and Black communities and other communities of color as well. That’s where we see a lot of this power within: What is the power that we wield as a group of people who are all impacted by this issue?
Teri Pierson: As an example, the Chúush Fund is a fundraiser sponsored by Seeding Justice here in the Northwest, where they have partnered with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, who have identified where they need funds allocated. Basically, they have structured their memorandum of understanding, their MOU, for this fund in full partnership with the tribe, as trust-based funding.
Teri then reads a quote from the Chúush Fund’s website: “Because CTWS is a sovereign nation–and not a typical non-profit grantee–we do not require reporting. Instead, we put our trust in the elected and appointed leadership of the Tribe to do what they need to do to care for the health and welfare of their community with the investments from the Chuúsh Fund. While either party may end the agreement, we’re committed to it remaining in place until the Tribe tells us they don’t want or need it any longer.”
So that’s a place you can go and check that out as an example, and drop them some money if you’d like. That’s one of those [models] that would be mapped on that far edge of trusting and entrusting the decision, making authority to the impacted group.
The group then takes a “screen break” and time to think about these reflection questions:
- Where would you place your giving circle on this continuum?
- What could you do differently that would increase the power and influences of impacted communities / individuals?
- What comes up when you consider ceding power? How might you respond to those (yourself and others) who advocate for non-impacted giving circles or their members to retain power?
Teri Pierson: Sometimes these messages come up first in our own brains, welcome or unwelcome, and so, we need to be able to notice those messages and figure out how we’re going to interact with them. Sometimes we might need to look at our own thinking, and give it a little hug, and then invite ourselves to move away from it, and see what more liberatory practices are available to us.
Melody Martinez: All right, Teri, let’s go into some case studies!
So, Collective Power Fund! Case study number one. This is an organization, a small community foundation, that funds organizations using collective power building methods to drive social change.
That’s kind of the bread and butter we use. If you’re using collective power building methods, organizations get to decide what that means to them to drive social change. Then you could be funded by this community foundation. They facilitate giving circles throughout the year, focused on relevant issue areas where members are recruited just from the community.
Anyone can join, and engage in political education led by the fund staff, and they learn how to become grassroots fundraisers. They’re fundraising from their networks and becoming grant makers in the process.
Giving circles are typically mixed by race, gender, and other social identities. They typically engage in consensus-based decision-making processes to make grants to organizations that apply for funding.
Now, in this particular case, we have the gender justice giving circle, which received 20 applications. However, they raised just enough money to make 14 grants to organizations that were working on LGBTQ+ and women’s issues.
The group was made up of 6 people of color, 3 Black folks, and 12 white people, and the majority of the group was cisgender women, as is actually the case in a lot of giving circles. The difference [for this circle] was that the majority of the Black people and people of color were non-binary, trans, or identified as LGBTQ, all of whom came from poor working class backgrounds. There were [also] some white people in that group that were also LGBTQ or or coming from working class backgrounds, but those experiences were mainly held with the Black people and people of color.
So in this particular incidence, the issue came up that the circle hadn’t raised enough money to fund everyone they’d like to fund. They said, “We’ve only got 14 grants, and the queer, trans, Black, and people of color in the giving circle were really concerned that their consensus-based decision-making process was going to result in their voices being outnumbered or overshadowed by the rest of the group in particular, because some of the groups that were up for funding had controversial work, or what would be considered controversial.
In the way that I spoke about it before, they were really excited about those groups, because they believed these groups will get us closer to liberation. These groups will get us closer to justice. And they knew well the kind of work that they’re doing.
They’re going to be disadvantaged. They’re not going to be funded by the main funders that fund some of the other groups that were part of the applicant process.
And so they were really thinking about, “Wow! Our concern is the lack of awareness and lived experience of our giving circle, of our community, of giving circle members here who are not people of color [or] who are not queer, trans, non-binary. They’re not going to realize how important it is to fund these groups and our voices and concerns may be overshadowed in the consensus process.”
So on paper, you know, this group had a consensus-based decision-making process that included some impacted parties, and some trusted collaborators who are not impacted.
They were all part of this process: they learned together, they raised money together. They were moving money together, right? And the concern of the people of color, of the queer and trans folks was, “We’re not going to get heard where we know that our voices, based on just previous dynamics, are going to get overshadowed in reality. We know that those non-impacted members are going to wield more influence over who gets funded.”
There were more of them in the room, voices that might be more comfortable sharing why they believe some groups should be funded and not others. And so it really resulted in consensus in name only, right? And that was the main concern.
What the group ended up doing was that the impacted people, the people who were closer to the impacts, to what the giving circle was funding, they actually went up to the staff at CPF and said, “Hey, we’d like a more equitable process for decision-making. What would it look like if the group decided to cede power to those giving circle members who were more impacted by the issues that we’re addressing? Here’s what we’re looking to grant. What would it look like for that small subset of people to actually decide on allocating certain funds without the influence of other members of the giving circle?”
Members of the group advocated for 5 of the 14 grants to be groups chosen by the impacted community members in the group. Not just which 5 organizations would receive funding, but how much money they would get out of the collective pot.
This was pivotal for this group, because it had never been done before, and had never been brought up.
And of course the people to bring it up weren’t CPF staff, but the participants in the giving circle saying, “Hey, this is what would look more equitable if we’re really about racial justice, if we’re really about collective power building, this is how we do it.” What was interesting, though, is that, of course, people of color impacted by an issue are not a monolith. Right?
So they got into their circle, and they started to talk about who they should fund. There were 5 groups that they wanted to fund, and they could only agree on 2 of them, 2 of those really highly controversial or groups that were considered controversial. So what was interesting is that when they couldn’t decide on the remaining few groups, they actually went back to the consensus of the full group.
So the white folks, the cisgender and straight folks, they said, “How about these 3 groups and the remaining groups? We all decide together.”
In that scenario they actually pushed the power back into a shared space, and the difference with this group was that a conversation had been had by the giving circle [when someone said], “Hey, we’re afraid that our voices are not going to get heard. We would like to make some decisions.”
What actually happened in practice was that this group was now the white folks, the cisgender folks, the straight folks in the group were so much more aware of the space that they were taking when it came to decision-making and grant-making. They were so much more aware of where they were on that scale, on this matrix of where power could be shared, or where it’s wielded or kept.
It’s a very interesting moment where that ceding of power actually [led] to a more equitable process, not just in those first initial decisions, but with the rest of the decisions that the giving circle was making.
Teri Pierson: Some people are questioning the difference between ceding power and shifting power. For me, to cede power means I let go of claim to that power. I let go of the idea that I have the right to make this decision, that I’m needed to make this decision. I can still be a consultant – if somebody wants or needs that, they can come and find that from me, but we are trusting the decision-makers to make that decision and not holding ourselves in the way.
We have a second example of a different way in which power was seated, a completely hypothetical example. It comes to us from a Martial Arts Dojo. It’s not a typical giving circle. It’s actually a nonprofit organization that teaches martial arts. The board of the organization decided to take the donations that they received and redistribute 30% of those donations to an organization that supports racial justice.
This decision was going to be made by 7 board members, all of whom, at this point in time, were white. There was a real recognition that the leadership was not in a position to hold lived experience of systemic racism and anti-Blackness, nor were most of the members – maybe any of the members at that time – holding lived experience around the issues that the group was looking to fund in the community.
So folks shared a set of racial justice values, but also, with a few exceptions, folks didn’t really have a very advanced analysis of how to think about racial justice and giving circles. That capacity didn’t live in this group as a whole, either. So what we did, what this hypothetical group did, was to create a committee, a board and membership committee, and decided to have that group be chaired by a leader who had a strong background in racial equity and facilitation. They got good participation from board members, from other students. The committee chair put together a set of proposed criteria for thinking about how funding might happen – to begin to get really, really explicit about how the group was going to think about racial equity and racial justice and transformation.
And as needed, there ended up being some coaching, some training along the way to raise the capacity of the group to have those kinds of conversations. There was a criterion about whether the organization should be Black or indigenous led. That was a choice point for the group that was proposed. But the group ended up having some uncertainty, some questions, some different analysis around what that meant.
So it was looking at community of color organizations, organizations that were led by Latina folks and people of color, that might or might not have been Black and/or indigenous, helping folks tease out and understand that.
The specific criteria that this group used are in there: They were Black or indigenous led, centering Black and or indigenous people in communities, and a few other things. There were some criteria that the group proposed that got rejected early on because of the ways that paternalism was showing up in what was implied by those criteria.
So, for example, somebody’s talked about proven outcomes – proven, to whom?
The group began to talk about that, and was able to set that criterion aside. The next thing is that the group engaged a consultant who has lived experience and community relationships and the group used this consultant to ask, here’s the criteria that they’re thinking about using, are they on track, or is there something missing? Where? What could this group do differently to really center racial justice?
Here are the organizations that have come up so far – are there any that are missing? Who’s really out there doing this work? Who’s trusted in community? Who really needs the funds? Who’s using them? Who are the leaders? How can Martial Arts Dojo remove themselves as much as possible from those decisions about what and who is worthy of trust? What knowledge is there in the community already? How do you not put too much labor on an overtapped community to do these things?
So this is a model in which this all-white group ended up engaging a consultant, doing a bunch of the labor ahead of that, and then engaging the consultant and putting minimal labor on them, but then also trusting what they have to offer. The consultant could take that place [of lived experience].
You can also see it’s mapped kind of in the middle of power to the community, not at the far edge, right? So this is not one of the pure models that’s really going to cede full power and decision-making.
Melody Martinez: I just want to throw out that when Teri uses the word consultant, that is not just someone as an advisor, but someone that was offered payment for that advising as well.
Teri Pierson: Yeah, very important, very important. And another piece that sometimes happens with consultants is they get consulted, and then their advice gets ignored. And so what’s really important in this case study, and in all of our work, is that if we’re going to go to somebody and trust them to share their lived experience, their expertise, their analysis, we need to be applying that advice, right?
So there’s another opportunity for us to gatekeep by saying, “Oh, this advice that you gave me from your lived experience and expertise – this isn’t enough. This isn’t good enough. I know better.” So we’ve got to watch out for that instinct.
This committee was able to take that advice and work with that advice. The committee also took another step, by reaching out to each organization under consideration, to see if that organization had any interest in a deeper relationship with the Martial Arts Dojo. That didn’t really show up as alive, probably in large part because there was no existing relationship between Martial Arts Dojo and the organizations. That’s a piece that the group ended up putting aside as a criterion.
In the end, the group invited some input from all the students, applied the advice of the consultant, and then took a recommendation of the committee to the Board, and they ended up deciding to donate their funds to Black and Beyond the Binary Collective. There’s a link to that in the case study if you’re interested in checking them out. It’s a group in the Portland area that builds the leadership, healing, and safety of Black, African transgender, queer, non-binary, two spirit and intersex Oregonians
So again, what we’re looking at is, where are we now? How can we move ourselves as far as possible towards centering the power in those most impacted, but also being really honest about what we can and can’t do, what we are and aren’t willing to do, press ourselves as far as we can but not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good either. This group was able to move 30% of its donations in that way.
Alright! We have just a couple of minutes, and want to invite you to use this time in a way that’s useful to you.
We encourage you to be thinking about what you want to take away from any of this. We always say that training is as useful as what you do with it. So, if you can think of some ways – small, medium, large ways that you could put something into action, that you think can move you or your group toward more liberatory practice, towards outcomes that are more representative of racial justice and intersectional racial justice, we encourage you to think about that.
Melody Martinez: How do we not overburden impacted communities? How close to the impact are we looking for? If we’re funding issues around ending the experience of homelessness, for example. Maybe the solution there isn’t to go to the person living outside on the street, outside of where your giving circle is meeting. Maybe that person is not who you want to tap for that labor, even if it’s compensated, because it might be asking a lot.
So how might you engage either, like Teri said, a consultant or a group of people, or an organization that supports that community, or works within that community?
We have an organization in Portland, called Street Routes. It’s a community newspaper that’s run by people experiencing homelessness or who have experienced homelessness and sold by people experiencing homelessness or who are housing insecure. So what does it look like to build relationships with people in those spaces and say, “How do we work with you to support people making these decisions? What does that look like? Do we allocate some of our funds to providing stipends or compensation for grant-making decisions?” Just thinking about how close to the impact is reasonable.
Teri Pierson: You can also think about going where people are. So listen for where folks in the community are already saying what they need funds for, and go ahead and go with that.
That seems like about our time for today. And some folks are already needing to jump off so go ahead and go when you need to go.
Thank you for being here and again, we really encourage you to look for something that you could apply. What’s something that you can take away?
Kelsey Barowich: Thank you. Melody and Teri. Thank you, all who joined us today. I loved this conversation, loved this session. Y’all clearly did, too. Thank you all for your deep thoughts. I want to invite you all to continue to join us throughout the next few months.
Our next session will be with the Grantmakers for Girls of Color and Black Girl Freedom Fund. Specifically, we will be exploring building power with Black girls, femmes, and gender expansive youth for just and liberated futures. I hope to see all of you there, and with that we’re going to start to close out our session.