We hosted our 2023 Funders Institute in partnership with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness from July 17-19. Embracing themes of trust and accountability this year, we deepened our understanding of these concepts by leaning into the teachings of transformative justice writers and activists, as well as the knowledge of movement leaders who have effectively embraced these values in their work.
Monday, July 17
Framing the Conversation: Trust and Loving Accountability
Amanda Andere, CEO of Funders Together, kicked off the Funders Institute with an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement and announced that a portion of the proceeds from the Funders Institute will go towards the Piscataway Conoy Tribe to shift power and resources back to Indigenous people. Drawing upon the work of the Philanthropic Institute of Racial Equity, Amanda named the importance of leaning into justice as philanthropic leaders in the housing movement. “Justice requires urgent fundamental changes that reposition communities of color in relation to power and resources, which includes being able to challenge and shape the many institutions that shape a community's condition.”
In his opening remarks, Michael Durham, Director of Networks, called attention to the challenging times that we are living in: the increased violence perpetuated against people experiencing homelessness, the rollback of meaningful progress in legislatures across the country, and the failure of many organizations to live up to their commitments to racial equity. In contrast, the mission of housing justice requires us to go all the way to the root of the problem and generate solutions and healing, so that the conditions that create injustice are transformed. Accountability, then, becomes central to this vision because only after taking responsibility for the harm caused can we begin the process of healing and repair.
By framing the conversation of accountability around Funders Together’s core values of love and disruption, Michael emphasized the importance of creating a culture of loving accountability. Differentiating it from cancel culture, loving accountability requires us to recognize our shared humanity and nurture these relationships, rather than sever them. It means not only holding those in power accountable, but also for us to hold ourselves and our institutions accountable as well. Therefore, "Loving accountability means we are learning together, and that we are risking vulnerability in service of creating authentic connection and a better future.”
View the Funders Together opening remarks or read about them in blog format.
Build a Culture Centering People with Lived Expertise
Ann Oliva, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, reinforced the importance of accountability, especially to people with lived expertise and those who currently face homelessness. Throughout her remarks, she provided some examples of some concrete steps that the National Alliance was taking to further center people with lived experience:
- The National Alliance hired two new staff members with lived expertise. Their roles are centered around building more thoughtful partnerships with other people with lived experience.
- Developing a requirement for all new external speaking engagements: the host organization must demonstrate that they're including people with lived expertise in all parts of the process.
- Offering technical assistance to organizations who want to include people with lived expertise in their conference planning, but do not yet have the knowledge of how to do so.
Moreover, Ann highlighted how the Alliance and the rest of the field needs to develop long-term strategic plans and hold themselves accountable to those plans, stating that “short-term planning is no longer adequate.” To this end, the National Alliance developed a three-year strategic plan, modeled how to hold partners accountable through their actions at McPherson Square, and has started engaging more at the local level where many of these regressive policies begin.
View Ann Oliva's Remarks
Reimagining the Possibilities: Shifting Power to Community
Our keynote positioned CEO Amanda Andere in conversation with Temi F. Bennett, co-CEO of if, A Foundation for Radical Possibility, later joined by if Board member Tanya Edelin. Their story illuminated concrete examples of how philanthropy can hold itself accountable to Black people and people at the “sharpest intersections of oppression.” Starting off the conversation in her keynote address, Temi reflected on how if began their transformation process into an organization that prioritized racial justice and repair. It started by asking the question, "Who are we answerable to as grantmakers? Who traditionally has power in these relationships, and who is left behind? And how can we cede power to those most impacted?"
Once they began this process, the answer became clear: they were accountable to the people and the communities they serve, so they began making changes to better reflect that. This required taking a hard look at philanthropy's practices perpetuate power imbalances and build more authentic, trust-based relationships. Reflecting on the power imbalances that often exist in funder-grantee relationships, Temi stated, “We as a sector have the power to create and define reality through our work. We created all these policing practices, and now it is time to dismantle them.” By shifting all of their grants to participatory grantmaking, they cede decision-making back to the community itself.
After declaring this essential truth, Temi and the rest of the staff at if formalized many of these changes by coming out in support of reparations and announcing their five pillars of change. This included giving back power to communities, creating spaces of healing, advocating for reparations and economic justice, and changing institutions and structures to advance racial justice.
Tanya Edelin, Board member at if then joined the conversation in a fireside chat to share more about what their transformation looked like from a governance perspective. In order for them to truly achieve their goals of racial justice and repair, they had to accept a couple of truths: not everyone may come on the journey with you, and in order to think intentionally about the radical possibility of achieving their goal, they must take perpetuity off the table. Additionally, if started a process to intentionally recruit people to their board that had lived experience at the "sharpest intersections of oppression."
This meant discovering where the gaps were on the board and prioritizing those with lived experience of homelessness, poverty, and those with strong roots in the community. It also included a focus on recruiting Black people, people of the global majority, young people, and people with disabilities. This opened them up to conversations about their strategic direction that the board wasn’t having earlier. By allowing each person to show up as their authentic selves, it created an environment where people could be vulnerable and open to the transformation if needed to undertake. By doing so, if was able to take bolder, more meaningful steps towards justice and shifting power to the community.
Programming Pop-Up: Intersections of Housing and Immigration
After the keynote remarks and fireside chat, Kathy Niedorowski from Chicago Funders Together to End Homelessness spoke about the influx of asylees and refugees in Chicago, as well as how funders decided to respond collaboratively. She highlighted the need to coordinate amongst the overlapping groups and interests: funders, homelessness and health systems, and those focused on racial equity/justice.
Although there was some initial tension around addressing immediate needs versus long-term solutions, Kathy emphasized the importance of working in tandem to truly address the needs of the community. This included local mutual aid, finding capacity in shelters, legal aid for migrants, and more. By learning about how Chicago responded as a case study, funders were able to hear about solutions to address this emerging challenge rooted in compassion and solidarity.
Advocating for Government Accountability: Actualizing the Vision for Housing Justice
During the afternoon session, we heard from panelists about how to keep government accountable, exploring the perspectives of funders, national advocates, and grassroots organizers. Each of the panelists started by describing what accountability looks like in their work.
Daniel del Pielago, Housing Director at Empower DC, explained that being clear about to who you are accountable to is a crucial part of the work, but it also means taking tangible action on public commitments, stating “It’s more than 'housing is a human right,' that’s a given. But it's about how you actualize that. If you believe that the city is going to end homelessness by 2030, how are you going to make that happen?”
Peggy Bailey, VP for Housing and Income Security at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, stated that transparency for both funders and public partners is needed to hold each other accountable. Recalling her experiences with the National Coalition for Housing Justice, national housing justice groups were able to take action in response to federal partners when they violated their own federal strategic plan with the encampment sweep of McPherson Square.
Representing a funder’s perspective, Almas Sayeed, VP of Partnerships at Liberty Hill, framed it as a continual process that should be interrogated constantly. “We need to think about accountability and advocacy as a discipline because disciplines are always re-imagined, revisited, and re-anchored every moment. I might feel like I have no power, but as a funder, I have to figure out how to be at that table [pushing for accountability], otherwise those that I work with on the ground are going to reap the consequences of that failure,” she reflected.
Panelists also pondered the broader picture. “As folks that care about housing, we like to center housing, but I wonder if that is a mistake. What if we should be centering anti-poverty or the crisis of capitalism? Homelessness is one of the worst outcomes of that system. But can we as a movement talk about housing instability in the framework of anti-poverty and look at the system that keeps them left behind? Do we have the courage to talk in those kinds of terms?” Peggy asked the audience.
When it came time for Q&A, several audience members asked about how funders should balance long-term strategic visions with incremental changes or harm-reduction efforts. In her answer to the question, Almas acknowledged the challenges of doing both, but mentioned that funders can provide general operating grants to allow more space for that more strategic thinking and advocacy work.
Peggy encouraged funders to think about the diversity of the portfolio they were funding, but rejected the notion that it had to be one or the other. "The important thing to pay attention to is whether those small incremental changes are in service to the future justice of tomorrow." She posed the question, “Are the solutions that we are finding in the process of reducing harm in service of this broader vision? Or are we doing something under the guise of crisis that is going to maintain this current structure of institutionalized racism and discrimination? Are the compromises worth it?”
View the recording of the panel here
Tuesday, July 18
Case Consultations: Shifting Power to People with Lived Expertise
On the second day, we previewed a forthcoming report from Foundations for Racial Equity on shifting power to people with lived experience, spending the majority of time in case consultations with attendees supporting one another with their needs related to this issue.
Stephanie Chan, Chief Strategy Officer, encouraged funders to do some power-mapping of their own and asked them some essential questions: “How can philanthropy plan around the priorities and needs of people with lived experience and community organizers? Are we shifting power at all stages of planning, decision-making, and implementation? And how must philanthropy change in order to successfully move power and resources?”
Afterwards, as part of a case consultation, volunteers at each table introduced a challenge they were facing related to shifting power to those with lived expertise. Other participants at each table had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions, brainstorm different considerations, and offer advice. During this process, the presenter would take turns listening and providing additional information, concluding with takeaways and action items from the experience.
Wednesday, July 19
Becoming Pro-Black and Pro-Indigenous
Finally, on the third day, we convened for a conversation that touched upon what it means to build Pro-Black and Pro-Indigenous organizations in philanthropy, and what our individual roles might be in pursuing that vision. Tia Smith, Director of Membership and Programs, and Michael Durham helped facilitate this conversation, by asking "What are some characteristics of a pro-Black and pro-Indigenous organization in philanthropy? What does being pro-Black and being pro-Indigenous mean to you personally?
We examined Cyndi Suarez's article "Defining Pro-Black" and discussed some of the elements that make up a pro-Black organization. Participants were able to add to this list with their own definitions and observations, while also acknowledging that Funders Together has more work to do to include more Indigenous voices in the conversation. Bringing the discussion home, participants also explored what it would mean to adopt more Pro-Black and Pro-Indigenous values into their own organizations and how to connect these to our broader work of housing justice.
Reflections from Attendees
"As someone new to the world of philanthropy within the realm of homelessness, the session served as a remarkable introduction. The emphasis on integrating lived experiences into the conversation while delving into the complexities of power dynamics was truly eye-opening and inspiring. Learning about the Foundations for Racial Equity (FRE) community of practice and the strategies it offered for empowering individuals with lived experience provided invaluable insights that I plan to carry forward in my work. The interactive elements, particularly the case consultations, created a dynamic platform for peer learning, enabling us to collaboratively address challenges and devise solutions. The session's impact on deepening my understanding of effective approaches to housing justice was profound. Thank you for curating such a thought-provoking and actionable event."
- Jonathan Sanbria, Hilton Foundation
"During the Funders Institute conference, the emphasis on centering community voices, and fostering long-term partnerships resonated deeply. Embracing Accountability as Grantmakers was a particular panel that struck me, given the expertise of the panelists who emphasized the importance of integrating equitable practices into the grantmaking process. Speakers highlighted the significance of aligning values and goals while diving deep into how we can create a more inclusive environment in the sector. I have been reflecting on the insight shared by Tanya Edelin in regard to how to integrate reparations as a framework to push forward the work we are stewarding toward liberation for our communities."
-Thalia Yarina Carroll-Cachimuel, NDN Collective
"One of the most enjoyable and helpful aspects of the Funders Institute was the activity where one individual would present on an issue that they were experiencing at their organization and the other members of the group would provide recommendations and solutions. The discussions around interrogating power and trust based accountability were very beneficial. As a funder, I think it is very important that we are consistently evaluating whether we are funding organizations/programs in a way that will lead to successful outcomes for both the community and the organizations we fund."
- Maria Hernandez, United Way Los Angeles
"As I've been diving deeper into the realm of trust-based philanthropy and exploring alternative approaches to grantmaking, attending my first Funders Institute offered a timely and invaluable opportunity for reflection and learning. Connecting with a community of leaders who passionately champion transformative concepts to advance housing justice has reaffirmed my desire and early efforts to pave nontraditional paths through my role at Front Porch. In holistically examining accountability and power, the discussions further underscored the need to challenge the status quo in order to drive meaningful change that will truly serve the communities we're dedicated to supporting."
- Tess Houser, Front Porch Society