Innovative philanthropy focus of IDEALAB: People Power

On Dec. 8, leaders from three national foundations that are revolutionizing philanthropy through innovative initiatives are coming to Cincinnati to participate in Issue Media Group/Soapbox’s IDEALAB, presented by the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation and People's Liberty.

Michigan-based Kresge Foundation, the Headwaters Foundation for Justice in Minneapolis and the New Belgium Family Foundation that operates in Colorado and California have been exploring new ways to leverage their financial and community resources, including impact investing, providing alternative funding and community-led grantmaking.
“I think people are hungry for civility and want to come together as a society to figure out how to get beyond the surface divisions and make this work." David Nicholson, The Giving Project.

IDEALAB presents a unique opportunity for grantmakers and nonprofits from around the region and the country to come together and hear about transformative philanthropy from the foundations leading the way, and how it impacts the projects and organizations they support.

Social Investment for Community Development
George C. Jacobsen, senior program officer with The Kresge Foundation, will share how one of the oldest and largest national foundations recently shifted their giving focus.

“We added a values lens to our giving,” Jacobsen said. “We adopted a perspective around how these organizations and projects considered low-income populations, the environment and other social issues. The Detroit program doesn’t focus on just one issue; it’s what community development should look like, working holistically and across the city.”

The Kresge Foundation provides social investment to nonprofit organizations working in Detroit neighborhoods where residents are full participants in the development process. Social investments may include loans, equity investments and guarantees. Unlike traditional grants, these funds will be repaid and can come from the corpus of the Foundation’s endowment instead of the limited funds allocated to non-repayable grants.

Kresge is also investing in collaborative efforts, including the New Economy Initiative — a $100 million project to restore Detroit’s position as a leader in the global economy — which is how they first encountered Ponyride, a subsidized co-working space for artists, creative entrepreneurs and makers in Detroit.

Earlier this year, when the Foundation announced the second round of their Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grants, Ponyride was one of the recipients. Their project “will bring together students from Detroit Western International High School and Lawrence Technological University to transform shipping containers into retail space for entrepreneurs connecting Southwest Detroit to downtown and the riverfront.”

“We’re excited to participate in IDEALAB and build the network of these shared values around place and what it means to invest in a city’s important places,” Jacobsen said.

Community-led Grantmaking for Social Justice
The Headwaters Foundation for Justice in Minneapolis has a giving model that seems revolutionary but has been in place for over 30 years. Members of the community, trained and supported by foundation staff, review and award all of the Foundation’s grants.
“Structural racism exists in foundations where the money comes from historic privilege and is given to help poor people of color. We want to give people of color a place at the table in their community and a role in decision-making.” David Nicholson, The Giving Project.

“As a foundation focused on social justice, we looked at the power and privilege that exists in philanthropy,” said David Nicholson, executive director of Headwaters. “We need to model what we were asking our grantees to do: to be community-led and equitable.”

Last year, Headwaters decided to take this model one step further by launching The Giving Project, which is inspired by Seattle’s Social Justice Fund Northwest. The intensive six-month program brought together a diverse cohort of 25 individuals, at least half representing communities and people of color, with equal representation of lower-, working- and upper-class incomes, and balanced gender and LGBTQ representation.

“The Giving Project advances values toward democratizing philanthropy,” Nicholson said. “Structural racism exists in foundations where the money comes from historic privilege and is given to help poor people of color. We want to give people of color a place at the table in their community and a role in decision-making.”

Part of the training for the cohort includes frank discussions about race, class and privilege in order to better understand the experience of others and social justice movements. Participants are also coached on fundraising with the intention that they will personally contribute to the project as well as invite their friends, family and networks to provide financial support for the project. The first two cohorts each raised $100,000 in the first three months of the program, which they then distributed to social justice organizations.

“It is not easy for a group of strangers to come together like this, but it is really powerful,” Nicholson said.

The Giving Project experience is transformative for its participants, but it has also invigorated Headwaters. All members of the two cohorts have stayed involved with the Foundation and they attracted over 250 new donors.

“We are committed to these values and this work and we learn as we go,” Nicholson said. “I think people are hungry for civility and want to come together as a society to figure out how to get beyond the surface divisions and make this work. We need to have the right voices at the table with enough power to make the right decisions.”

Impact Investing and Advocacy
The New Belgium Family Foundation is only three years old, but its innovative funding model is already drawing national attention.

The Foundation is focused on addressing sustainable agriculture, alternative transportation, renewable energy and youth engagement. In addition to traditional grants, they also invest in for-profit companies aligned with those issues, and place an emphasis on advocacy.
 "We are trying to fundamentally change the nature of economic relationships between people...It’s different from traditional funders that are very set in how they do things.” Eric Kornacki, executive director of RE:Vision, supporting backyard gardens, urban farms in a food desert.

“There are intractable issues we’re working on and it takes involvement from all directions to make it stick,” said Lucy Cantwell, executive director of the New Belgium Family Foundation. “On these issues, we can’t cede the political sphere, especially as people get frustrated with the pace of change.”

One of the New Belgium Family Foundation’s first grantees, RE:Vision will be joining them for IDEALAB. RE:Vision has been working in the Westwood neighborhood of Denver since 2007 using food as a way to transform the health and economy of the community and its residents. Their innovative philosophy of community development encourages a different economic model of ownership.

“Our focus is on systems and long-term viability,” said Eric Kornacki, executive director of RE:Vision. “The entrenched model is to look at individual things that are failing, whether that is education or food access, and try to deal with that one thing. We are trying to fundamentally change the nature of economic relationships between people. To create an ecosystem rooted in a specific community, building on the people and the assets there.”

RE:Vision began by encouraging backyard gardens to improve the health of Westwood residents living within a food desert. The success of that program led to urban farms and the establishment of a co-op store that will employ and serve community residents. RE:Vision and the Westwood community are also developing a landbank in an effort to manage gentrification of the neighborhood.

“In the three years we’ve been working with RE:Vision, they have significantly expanded their scope,” Cantwell said. “By keeping the lines of communications open and asking questions, we know what they’re thinking and how it aligns with our work.”

“It has been a really fruitful and rewarding relationship,” Kornacki said. “As the work evolves, we’ve figured it out alongside each other. It’s different from traditional funders that are very set in how they do things.”
A fourth panel will focus on CoSign, a Cincinnati initiative that is rolling out nationally. Megan Trischler, now with People's Liberty, worked for the Haile Foundation in 2012 when they provided a grant to the American Sign Museum team for a pilot project in Northside matching sign craftsmen with small businesses. The project received funding from ArtPlace in 2013 to continue their work in Northside and expand into Covington. A recent grant from the National Endowment for the Arts will launch CoSign nationally with projects in Florida, Illinois, Iowa, and North Carolina. Jason Snell of We Have Become Vikings,
and one of the Northside sign designers, will join Trischler to talk about the project.

Talent-led Funding
Following the panel discussion, Eric Avner, CEO of People’s Liberty, will give a keynote presentation over lunch. People’s Liberty, an arm of Haile U.S. Bank Foundation, provides grants to individuals through several efforts.

Each year, two Haile Fellowship winners develop a “big idea that could change our community’s future.” Brad Cooper’s Start Small Homes was one of the first Haile Fellowship recipients.

Twice a year, four Project Grants are awarded “to prototype solutions to civic challenges.” Past project winners include Look Here, which installed historic images of Over-the-Rhine around the neighborhood, and Everyone’s Umbrella, which allows people to rent the yellow umbrellas at different businesses. Globe Grants are awarded to three individuals to transform the Globe Gallery space with six-week installations, such as the Mini Microcinema and The Play Library.

People's Liberty also offers Mad Philanthropy, which is a residency program for emerging professionals to spend three months working with People’s Liberty staff and grantees.

Central to the People’s Liberty model is offering support systems to its grantees. During a grant period, recipients have access to workspace, professional development, networks, mentors and funding. Following the completion of an award, People’s Liberty leverages and sustains those relationships to create an ever growing community of civic-minded individuals.

The evolution of philanthropy represented by The Kresge Foundation, the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, New Belgium Family Foundation and People’s Liberty has the potential to expand the impact of foundation assets and the tools available to support organizations and individuals. These foundations are examples for developing inclusive, equitable and transparent models of philanthropy. They, along with other IDEALAB panelists and the three after-lunch field trips, will kick off a national conversation about the next generation of philanthropy.

The Soapbox/Issue Media Group IDEALAB is presented by the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation and People's Liberty.
Registration for the Dec. 8 event is $44, which includes lunch, a happy hour, an all-day streetcar pass and transportation to the off-site afternoon programs. The 21C Hotel is also offering a special rate for IDEALAB attendees. Funders, innovators, community activists, nonprofit organizations, students, urbanists and social entrepreneurs are encouraged to attend. You can reserve your spot at the all-day event here.