In a typical room where nonprofits do the work of grantmaking—deciding which programs and solutions to fund with their philanthropic dollars—the faces around that table likely don’t reflect the communities that will receive that charity. “The way these funders are set up, it’s usually a board which tends to be primarily white, not from the communities they fund, people of wealth—whether inherited or otherwise—and so they are very disconnected from the communities that they’re trying to support,” says Manuela Arciniegas, director of the Andrus Family Fund, a nonprofit that supports youth-focused social justice organizations.
Some nonprofits may bring in people like community liaisons or advisors to that table, but even then, there are still power dynamics at play that can affect which groups ultimately get funding. How comfortable can a young community organizer be to speak up when they’re sitting next to someone who has worked in philanthropy for decades, or when they’re outnumbered at that table by wealthy, white donors, whose money it is they’re deciding how to spend?
When it came to a new round of funding from the Andrus Family Fund, the foundation wanted to do something different. As part of its 20th anniversary, it launched the Visionary Freedom Fund, with an intention to include more young people in the grantmaking process. The idea started when younger members of the family (the Andrus Family Fund is the philanthropic work of descendants of John E. Andrus, former mayor of Yonkers, New York, and U.S. congressman), learned they would have access to an additional $1 million investment to celebrate their 20th anniversary. “The board felt that instead of focusing [on] and celebrating themselves, we should leverage this million dollars to make an impact in the youth justice field,” Arciniegas says. “And so what we decided was to use it as seed funding to launch our 20th anniversary fund, the Visionary Freedom Fund initiative.”