By Tate Williams, Inside Philanthropy
For those vehemently opposed to a Trump presidency, election night was a punch to the gut. Then followed the waves of anxiety and anger over a looming hard-right shift, the president-elect’s disturbing racist and sexist rhetoric, not to mention his unstable behavior.
But now we’ve emerged from those first dark days (right?). And even as protests rage on, we’ve entered a stage in which those on the left are asking: What now?
It’s the subject of endless discussions over dinner, beers, community meetings and board meetings, as we brace for rollbacks to the social safety net, reproductive rights, and climate policy, just to name a few.
For donors and foundations with progressive agendas, the answer has implications for millions to billions in nonprofit support. With the White House and both chambers of Congress under Republican control, philanthropy will play a big role in whatever future progress stands to be made.
As we've all heard, nonprofit fundraising lit up remarkably quickly after the election. Individual donors and volunteers have flooded prominent groups like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Sierra Club. They need it, too. As the team at Earthjustice, which also saw a spike in support, told Inside Philanthropy:
We will need to deepen our expert legal teams—across all program areas and in all regions—to act as the first line of defense against attempts to gut environmental protections, undo public health gains, and reverse the progress we’ve made in the fight against climate change. … There has never been a more important time for foundations and nonprofits to come together and dedicate their resources to fight for the right to a healthy environment.
Gara LaMarche, president of the Democracy Alliance, summed up the mindset of many progressive funders when he told us that "fighting back is going to have to be a priority, but at the same time, we have to continue to build for the future both electorally and in terms of ideas and policies." The stakes could hardly higher, he said: "everything we care for is in danger."
To get a better sense of how a combination of defense and offense might translate into grantmaking, we contacted a handful of leaders at foundations with politically progressive or social justice-based agendas. Some are longtime philanthropoids, others shrewd up-and-comers. We asked what their teams are grappling with right now, what issues and strategies they’re focusing on, and more broadly, what progressive philanthropy needs to do in Trump’s America.
Keep in mind, this only represents a handful of the many sharp minds in the field, and this doesn't reflect a consensus among those interviewed, but I’ve culled what I think are the biggest takeaways from our discussions about the way forward for progressive philanthropy during the next four years.
Hold the Line on Progressive Values
The impulse of Democrats in the face of defeat is so often a rush to the center. But remember, there is hardly a dominant conservative mandate following the election, with Clinton winning the popular vote by nearly 2 million votes (so far), and Democrats winning overall more popular votes in 2016 Senate and likely House races.
In the face of a Trump administration, progressive foundation leaders will need to be resolute in defense of core values like equity and tolerance, and double down on work that reinforces them.
“We need to, in philanthropy and with our partners, be holding the line on democratic values and religious freedom, [against] targeting based on race and ethnicity, citizen status, or gender identity,” said Sharon Alpert, president and CEO of Nathan Cummings Foundation. Alpert moved about a year ago from the Surdna Foundation to NCF, where newly revamped program priorities include racial and economic justice, an inclusive clean economy, and corporate and political accountability.
“I don’t think we feel like there’s anything on the chopping block," Alpert said about NCF's grantmaking agenda, "and in fact, we want to figure out how we can be more supportive of our partners."
Foundations we contacted are sticking with existing programs, but recognized a possible need for tactical changes in cases where there's a direct connection to federal action. They’re also exploring how they can augment current giving, especially given Trump’s campaign rhetoric and heightened threats to vulnerable communities.
“There’s this sense of normalization and accommodation with the incoming Trump administration that seems very, very dangerous,” said Farhad Ebrahimi, president of the Chorus Foundation. Funders need to do whatever they can and support their partners to resist that slide.
“Speaking as a funder that funds social justice organizations and communities of color, whatever happens to normalize Trump and the things that he has said just makes things more dangerous for the folks that we’re supporting.”
Similarly, while there may be an urge to hew toward the center as a defensive strategy, Tyler Nickerson, director of investments and state strategy at Mark Ruffalo-backed grantmaking nonprofit The Solutions Project, hopes funders will instead see the greater potential for impact in building diverse power on the left. Solutions Project funds rapid response and power-building climate work in frontline communities.
“The real investment to be made is in building a strong and unified progressive and justice-oriented movement and coalition that weaves together a number of different issues, a number of different experiences, to actually, truly build power,” Nickerson said. That includes support for work led by people of color, as well as embracing equity at a level foundations have not in the past.
“We haven’t given it full attention. It’s been a box to check instead of the central core strategy, and I’m arguing that given the election results, we need to move it from a box and make it our lens.”
Get Out of the Bubble
Sticking to principles doesn’t mean funders should dig their heels into liberal enclaves. Foundation leaders conceded that, without backpedaling on values, they clearly need to do a better job of connecting with more Americans, particularly those living outside of coastal and city strongholds. In a speech to Democracy Alliance partners right after the election, Gara LaMarche declared that the election called for "resistance" by funders and said "all of us need to reach deep into our wallets in the coming months and years to fund the defense of our most cherished laws." But he also said losing an "election you were supposed to win" required "reflection" on the part of progressives. "Donald Trump’s appeal exposed just how estranged many white working class voters are from the elites of both political parties," he said. A key challenge going forward is to figure out how to align these people and communities of color to create "a bigger, stronger New American Majority."
Phil Henderson, president of the Surdna Foundation, made a similar point: “There’s a whole swath of the United States where the sorts of things that we talk about don’t resonate. And I don’t think it’s because the underlying issues don’t resonate." Surdna funds areas like sustainable infrastructure, strong local economies, and arts and culture.
“I don’t care whether you’re in rural Iowa or you’re in the Bronx, the basic principles translate well, but they have not been translated effectively,” Henderson said.
If you look at the grantmaking footprint of Surdna and other foundations, he said, you’ll often see a geographic bias toward the coasts and bigger cities in the central U.S.
“That is a reflection of, I would say, a strategic misstep writ large, because I think we’re emblematic of the way progressive philanthropy, but philanthropy in general, is not evenly spread. And I think we tend to go to places where it’s easy to work, and not always find ways to work in places where it’s a little bit harder to engage partners.”
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Judilee Reed, Director of Thriving Cultures, contributed to The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) new book, How to Do CreativePlacemaking: An Action-Oriented Guide to Arts in Community Development. The book is part of NEA’s ongoing commitment to producing resources for community engagement with the arts. The book features 28 essays from thought leaders active in arts-based community development as well as 13 case studies of projects funded through the NEA’s creative placemaking program, Our Town. The book is intended as a primer for those interested in bringing the arts to the community development table as a tool—along with housing, transportation, public health, and other sectors—to advance revitalization efforts in an authentic way.
In just a few weeks, the Surdna Foundation will begin its centennial year. Over the past century, communities across the United States have faced and overcome critical challenges, seen extraordinary advancements, and suffered devastating setbacks. We, like you, continue to try to make sense of the election last week, an election that in many states and localities saw the advancement of key elements of our agenda, but also resulted in a president-elect who ran on policies and rhetoric that are at odds with the values of inclusion, social justice, and sustainability that are at the core of the work Surdna does. We observe these results humbled by the scope of the changes over the past century and humbled by the recognition that we don’t know what the coming decades will bring.
What we do know, however, is that in the next few years we and our partners, across the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, have critical work to do. We must defend and advance the issues we care about in the face of emboldened opposition to those ideas. Surdna and our many partners stand for social justice, and, through our programs, we place equity first. The Trump campaign used and encouraged dangerous rhetoric that opposes the core ideals of social justice and equity. This was deeply troubling to us. We are concerned that as a nation we will be unable to heal the wounds suffered in the past year of divisive electioneering, and instead will continue to hear inflammatory rhetoric and see policies pursued by the new administration and their allies that further damage the rights, economic opportunities, and social cohesion among families and communities that Surdna and our partners work so hard to support. This will require us to defend hard-won gains where necessary, to build new partnerships, to find new solutions to current challenges, and to stand up for what we believe.
We remain committed to the pursuit of healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures because they are key to truly equitable and sustainable communities. And we remain committed to these programs and our values at this moment precisely because we believe they are important for all of us, regardless of political affiliation. We care about increasing the number of people who hold high quality jobs. We care about creating the next generation of infrastructure in our cities and towns, infrastructure that serves everyone and makes our communities more prosperous and livable. We want our communities to be suffused with art, and to have artists expressing the deep bonds that are at the heart of the places we live and thrive. These goals are not partisan, they are the promise of the United States that can and must be realized.
We value our many partnerships with remarkable nonprofits and social change groups. We also recognize that to continue advancing our efforts to build just and sustainable communities, there are critical questions facing us, and that deep and continuing dialogue and collaboration with our partners will help guide the way forward. The tenor of the presidential election reflects real pain, anger and division in the United States, and we must address that reality as we move forward. To do that, in the next few years, we will need to build new partnerships across sectors and geographies. We will need to listen, learn, and engage differently, leading with the humility of an institution that has been around for a century and still realizes how much there is that we don’t know.
The Surdna Foundation today announced Ellen Braune as its Director of Communications. Bringing more than 20 years of communications, media production, advocacy, and strategic planning experience, Braune joins the Foundation to lead the organization's internal and external communications efforts.
For 11 years, Braune worked in network television where she was an editor and producer for programs including CBS’s 60 Minutes, NBC’s Today Show, and PBS’s Frontline. She left broadcast journalism to provide affordable strategic communications and public relations support to social change organizations. Since then, she has created and implemented strategic communications and advocacy plans for grassroots, regional, national and international organizations on issues ranging from the death penalty and mass incarceration to immigrant rights, and economic and reproductive justice.
Braune will use strategic communications to support Surdna’s partnerships with grantees, funders and leaders in the public and private sectors to foster just and sustainable communities. She will identify and leverage opportunities to use the Foundation’s platform and networks to further its impact and engage people to think differently about how best to transform communities.
"For the past several years, Surdna has been increasing our investment in communications because we recognize the powerful role it can play in advancing the issues we're working on," said Surdna President Phillip Henderson. "Ellen is a talented and committed professional who has spent much of her career advancing many of the issues of social justice and sustainability that are at the core of Surdna’s mission. We are excited to see where Ellen takes us, especially as we ready for our centennial year in 2017.”
Prior to her position at Surdna, Braune served as the Director of Communications at The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communications lab. She has also built successful communications departments for four national social justice organizations, including serving as Vice President of Communications at the Ms. Foundation for Women and as the first Director of Communications at Demos and The National Labor Committee for Worker and Human Rights. In the 1990’s Braune launched the New York City office of Fenton Communications and co-founded and directed New Channels Communications, a non-profit communications firm focused on international policy in El Salvador, Haiti, and the Middle East. She holds a Master of Arts in Media Studies from the New School of Social Research and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Buffalo.
“Ellen’s experience using strategic communications to advance the objectives of social change organizations is formidable,” said Betsy Fader, Surdna’s Vice President of Programs. “The Surdna Foundation and our grantees will benefit greatly from her deep knowledge and insights around messaging for a variety of social justice issues.”
The search was conducted by Sherry Ettleson, a Washington, DC-based executive search consultant.
The Surdna Foundation today announced its new board officers. Peter B. Benedict II, a board member since 2008 and Vice Chairperson since 2010, was elected as the foundation’s Chairperson. “I am honored to step into this leadership role and build on the momentum of my predecessor, Jocelyn Downie, to advance the social justice work of the foundation,” said Mr. Benedict II. Carra Cote-Ackah, board member since 2011 and newly elected Vice Chairperson, is the head of Community Involvement at The Vanguard Group, where she leads the company's philanthropic and volunteer programs. Peter Voorhees, a partner with the international law firm Simmons & Simmons LLP, where he practices corporate finance law, has been a board member since 2015 and was appointed Secretary & Treasurer. All three officers are fifth generation descendants of John Emory Andrus who established the foundation in 1917.
The Surdna Foundation announced on Monday the election of Cameron Griffith, a congressional affairs liaison, and Tim Thorpe, a non-profit executive director, to the foundation's Board of Trustees. Mr. Griffith and Mr. Thorpe are fifth generation descendants of John Emory Andrus who established the foundation in 1917.
Griffith and Thorpe were founding board members of the Andrus Family Fund, a fund of the Surdna Foundation, which manages its own grantmaking focusing on supporting organizations that advance social justice and improve outcomes for vulnerable youth.
"We are thrilled to have Tim and Cameron join the Surdna Board of Directors," said Peter Benedict, Chair of the Board. "Both of them bring tremendous skills and expertise, but also a demonstrated commitment to the Andrus family and to philanthropy. Tim’s experience working as an executive director at a non-profit will be a great added perspective for our board, and Cameron’s deep experience in Washington, DC, will benefit the foundation as we make headway on policy reform."
The Surdna Foundation retained the executive search firm Isaacson Miller to recruit and vet candidates from among the more than 400 eligible descendants of John Emory Andrus.
"Tim and Cameron are joining the board at a very exciting time for Surdna," said Phillip Henderson, President of the Surdna Foundation. "In just a couple months, we will begin a yearlong celebration of our centennial. Having such experienced family board members joining us will enhance our efforts to ensure that our work in the centennial year and beyond will reflect the foundation's history, and demonstrate that we are learning from 100 years of grantmaking.
Henderson added that the appointment of Tim and Cameron to the board reflects the foundation's success in identifying, recruiting, and vetting new voices from within the Andrus family.
Cameron Griffith, 55, is the Congressional Affairs Liaison for the Embassy of France in Washington, D.C., a position he has held since 2003. With over 25 years of experience on and around Capitol Hill, Cameron is the primary point of contact for the French Embassy with Members of Congress and congressional staff regarding all matters of mutual interest to France and the United States. Reporting directly to the French Ambassador to the United States, his responsibilities include organizing meetings in the House and Senate for the Ambassador, French Members of Parliament, French government officials, and other visiting French delegations, as well as participating in their meetings on Capitol Hill. Mr. Griffith holds a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College and a master’s degree in International Affairs from George Washington University.
Tim Thorpe, 59, is the executive director of Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center in Minneapolis, a non-profit, volunteer-sustained organization that provides programs and an environment designed to provide complementary therapy services and programs for people with life-threatening illness. Along with a staff of three, he oversees community relations and outreach, program & services development and funding sustainability.
Thorpe’s career includes for-profit business planning, marketing and advertising with strong strategic, media and communications planning experience. Throughout his career, he has built strong non-profit expertise through experiences with various organizations focused on social services, arts, education, youth and the elderly. Thorpe’s philanthropic endeavors include serving as board member and president of the Thorpe Foundation, board member for the Minnesota Council on Foundations; Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support; Youth Frontiers; and advisory committee member for Wilderness Inquiry.
Griffith and Thorpe join the Surdna board as long-time board member Lawrence S.C. Griffith, M.D. retires following four decades of service.
About the Surdna Foundation
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States -- communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.
The Surdna Foundation invites you to explore www.CommunityEngagedDesign.org, a new website that highlights written, audio and video content regarding developments in the community engaged design field.
Community engaged design (CED) is practiced when architects, designers or urban planners work in solidarity with low-income communities and communities of color to ensure decisions made about the built environment are equitable and just. CED is frequently referred to as community design, participatory design, community-based design, public interest design, and other terms including community organizing and advocacy.
While Surdna supports CED practice through direct grantmaking, our broader goal is to highlight exemplary practice and support the growth and sustainability of the field at-large. This website, which includes a selection of peer-reviewed articles, opinion pieces, videos, case studies, and news articles, is a resource to do just that.
Surdna is the host and curator of the site but all content is created, owned and controlled by the named primary authors. We encourage you to explore the site, use the content filters, and enjoy the varied and dynamic content.
About the Surdna Foundation
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States -- communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. The Thriving Cultures program is based on a belief that communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous, and benefit from the diversity of their residents. We believe that artists and cultural organizations can help us explore shared values and spark innovation, imagination and advancement for our communities.
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, the Surdna Foundation and Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) today announced that four U.S. community development financial institutions (CDFIs) won the Small Business Leader Award (SBLA) for their transformative and innovative growth strategies.The mission-driven lenders nominated for this national award play a critical role in financing small businesses in low-income, low-wealth or historically disinvested communities that lack access to traditional capital.
In July-September 2016, nine grants totaling $1,985,000 were approved by the Surdna Foundation staff and board to further the foundation’s mission of fostering just and sustainable communities in the United States – communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. Grants are listed below by program area with additional information about the specific line of work within each program. Grant information is also available on our grants database.
Strong Local Economies
B Lab Company, Wayne. PA - $250,000
To support: 1) the Best for NYC and rollout of Best for campaigns nationally; and 2) the Future of Work Initiative. (2 years)
Category: Business Development and Acceleration
Chicago United Inc., Chicago, IL - $250,000
To continue to build the momentum of Chicago United's Five Forward Initiative by accelerating the growth of selected minority businesses, strengthening the local economy and creating quality jobs. (2 years)
Category: Business Development and Acceleration
Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber Foundation, Cincinnati, OH - $300,000
To support the Minority Business Accelerator (MBA)’s vision of becoming a national leader in Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) development by optimizing the growth of its portfolio companies; building a high-growth MBE pipeline; and advancing a national replication strategy. (2 years)
Category: Business Development and Acceleration
Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Madison, WI - $300,000
To provide project support to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy to coordinate and implement the Mayors Innovation Project. (2 years)
Category: Integrated Infrastructure
Clean Energy Group, Montpelier, VT - $200,000
To support the Resilient Power Project which creates a market for clean, reliable, distributed energy systems in low-wealth communities by developing new tools and ownership models for communities. (2 years)
Category: Just Energy: Shifting Power to People
Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center, San Pablo, CA - $150,000
To support hands-on cultural arts immersion training for Latino teens built on role modeling and mentorship. (3 years)
Category: Teens’ Artistic and Cultural Advancement
Flexible Grantmaking Fund
Foundation for Louisiana, Baton Rouge, LA - $5,000
General operating support to respond to immediate needs of communities impacted by the police shooting death of Alton Sterling and the demonstrations that followed. (1 year)
Headwaters Foundation for Justice, Minneapolis, MN - $5,000
To support local organizing in Minneapolis being spearheaded by Black Lives Matter - Minneapolis (BLM-MN) and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC). (1 year)
Board learning is mission-critical. It’s one of the most important components to a high functioning organization that is often overlooked and underappreciated.
Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.