A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

2020 Funders Institute: Coming Together Through Action and Accountability for Housing Justice

On August 11-13, Funders Together to End Homelessness held our first ever virtual Funders Institute and engaged in principled struggle to push for racial and housing justice in our work to end homelessness.

Attributed to N’tanya Lee, the concept of principled struggle is that struggle is a condition for change and liberation and that to disagree and grapple with each other is an inevitable and necessary part of racial equity work.

Over the course of the three days, 87 attendees gathered virtually to learn alongside each other about strategies philanthropy can support and engage in to push for racial and housing justice, how to make shifts towards racial equity and systems change internally, and what authentic action and accountability for racial justice looks like.

Each day following the plenaries, participants joined breakout rooms to dive deeper into specific topics centered around the day’s theme. Here’s a look at what we learned and discussed over the course of the Institute:

Tuesday, August 11: Designing Strategies for Housing Justice

The Funders Institute kicked off with a Pushing for Racial and Housing Justice through Strategic Policy and Advocacy panel. We were joined by experts Peggy Bailey, Vice President for Housing Policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Colleen Echohawk, Executive Director, Chief Seattle Club; and Susan Thomas, President, Melville Charitable Trust; our own CEO, Amanda Andere.

These experts discussed that while more investments in housing and homelessness are welcome, we must remember that more investments do not mean the policies in place that negatively impact Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color will change. Therefore, in its work, philanthropy must stress the importance and need for the creation of anti-racist policies and support the people in the field, specifically BIPOC-led organizations, in their ability and expertise to lead this work of housing justice to end homelessness. As one speaker said, we must make sure the voices of those who have been and still are most impacted are “in the room where it happens” to create the policies that affect their lives.

There was also a call to action for philanthropy to not engage in silo funding and to understand that investing in both grassroots organizations alongside national advocacy organizations is crucial to ensure an effective push for housing justice. To advance our common agenda of racial and housing justice as a means of ending homelessness, funders can bring grantees together more often to address tensions and pain points through meaningful dialogue.

The speakers also agreed that funders must recognize that federal policy directly impacts state policy because of have the flow of resources and the creation of the policies that guide those resources will affect local and state work. And because of this, philanthropy of all types needs to be supporting or engaging in policy and advocacy work with a racial justice lens and targeted policies approach to address root causes of homelessness and housing instability.

In the second hour, attendees broke out into small groups and participated in sharing and thought partnership around narrative and messaging work and using influence to push equitable policies with political will in the community isn’t aligned.

You can view the recording and resources from this day here.

Reflections from Attendees:

“Funders Together hosted a timely event that fostered growth, togetherness, and a sense of community. I was humbled by the guest speakers' expertise and shared compassion for working together to end homelessness. During the three-day event, I learned so much critical information that will inform the Wilson Foundation's decision-making process and our efforts in addressing racial inequities and housing instability. My biggest takeaway was how much can be achieved when we work together for a common good. My greatest benefit was the ability to network with peers from afar and exchange best practices. Thank you Funders Together, I look forward to the continuation of our partnership and attending future events.” – Junior Dillion, Program Director, Wilson Foundation

“This was my first Funders Institute convening and I am so glad I attended! It provided a great opportunity to connect and learn from so many funders from across the country who are passionate about ending homelessness in our communities. I was particularly moved by the intentional effort by Funders Together to breakdown our self-imposed walls to allow participants to acknowledge our own individual experiences which undoubtedly drive our values and decision-making. I am learning that this is integral to effectively do our jobs as well as to integrate racial equity and housing justice in our grantmaking. I am looking forward to following-up with several of the event speakers to learn more about their own journeys. Thank you Funders Together for putting together this great event – and I look forward to the next one!” – Elvis Guzman, Program Officer, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation


Wednesday, August 12: Internal Shifts Towards Racial Equity and Systems Change

Wednesday’s plenary, Shifting Toward Systems Change and Racial Equity: A Conversation About Moving the Board and Grantmaking Strategy, featured foundation leaders who spoke about the internal work with board and staff that is required to deepen impacts in their grantmaking toward racial and housing justice.

Tony Richardson, Executive Director of the Nord Family Foundation, discussed his foundation’s journey toward more coordinated housing and homelessness systems change and toward stronger engagement with people with lived expertise. He then moderated a discussion between Susan Bass Roberts, Vice President Executive Director, Pohlad Family Foundation, and Kate Levin Markel, President, McGregor Fund. Kate shared about her foundation’s journey from funding smaller amounts in broad areas to funding more specifically in two areas: ending homelessness and strengthening employment opportunities. Likewise, Susan highlighted her foundation’s journey to focusing on ending youth and family homelessness, but also discussed the foundation’s more recent journey to deepen their commitment to racial equity and how that committment resulted in a $25 million fund centered on racial equity in the Twin Cities area.

The panel agreed that one of the most important aspects of leading racial equity work internally and externally at foundations is listening to and learning from the needs of the community and those with lived expertise. It’s important to know what the community believes racial equity and justice would look like, rather than assuming we, as funders, have the answers. The speakers also highlighted that, in order to think more strategically about systems change work toward justice, it is important to provide learning for their boards and staff around the history of housing and racial injustice.

After the plenary, attendees joined together in breakouts around topics like working towards racial equity in our organizations, going beyond statements to action by making funding commitments to the Black community, and exploring real systems change at the intersection of employment and homelessness.

Wednesday also featured our first ever virtual networking reception! An opportunity to informally network with peers is always a highlight of our in-person events. Making dedicated time to connect and experience joy was an important feature we wanted to include in this virtual experience. We had the honor of being joined by Philip Metres, an award-winning poet, who read two poems that tell the stories, in their own words, of two formerly incarcerated people who have experienced homelessness.  

You can view the recording and resources from this day here.

Reflections from Attendees:

“What a gift to hear from Foundation executives who are doing the hard work of shifting investments and priorities towards racial justice, and then to caucus with colleagues from around the country to take a deeper dive into what that would look like for me and my organization. This day was both inspiring and useful, my heart and head are full!” – Todd Shenk, Senior Program Officer, Rasmuson Foundation


Thursday, August 13: Action and Accountability for Racial Justice

On the final day of the Institute, our CEO, Amanda Andere was joined by Twiggy Pucci Garçon, Senior Program Director, True Colors United, who discussed the process behind the True Colors United’s Statement on Black Lives.

Twiggy shared the importance of not responding immediately to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Many of True Colors United’s staff are BIPOC and offering staff time to feel and process was vital for a people-first approach to creating a statement. Staff decided a statement was needed after realizing that the statements being put out by so many organizations were lacking, and Executive Director, Gregory Lewis, took a step back and allowed staff to create the statement they needed to write. Through staff collaboration and revising the statement alongside the National Youth Forum on Homelessness, True Colors United created a call to action for the field, and hoped that through this statement, partner organizations might be called to being bold in the face of injustice.

Amanda and Twiggy discussed the nuances of the statement, focusing on truth telling in the media instead of highlighting racist ideas in the name of giving equal weight to the “other side”, the importance of giving up decision making power and placing it in the hands of youth with lived expertise, and the necessity of moving past allyship to become co-conspirators, those who actively work to be anti-racist and pro-Black.

After the engaging conversation between Amanda and Twiggy, attendees had an opportunity to receive coaching and advice around something they are grappling with in their efforts to advance racial justice. By breaking out into groups of three, people were able to dive deep into candid and honest conversations to seek guidance and accountability from peers.

You can view the recording and resources from this day here.

 Reflections from Attendees:

“While every aspect of the Funders Institute reignited my thinking and energy for the work, Thursday’s conversation between Amanda and Twiggy on Thursday was an absolute game-changer. I so appreciated the way they dispensed with the formalities of panels and/or plenaries and instead just spoke in relationship about what it means to sustain this work – both the urgency and the depletion, which only creates a stronger mandate – in a context of ongoing racial injustice. Not only was it inspirational to hear them go to the heart of the challenges in front of us; it was downright medicinal to see the joy they derive from their friendship, and to understand that equitable practice must grow not only from progressive politics and moral imperatives, but also from love.” – Christy Prahl, Program Director, Crown Family Philanthropies

While we missed the experience of our typical in-person events, we were filled with joy to see so many of our members show up to learn, connect, and have honest conversations about racial and housing justice. 

Showing 1 reaction

  • Lauren Bennett
    published this page in Blog 2020-08-28 11:03:50 -0400

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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