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

Collaboration Across the Pond

The partnership between Butler Family Fund and Oak Foundation illustrates the power that funders have when they join forces to create replicable, systemic, and lasting solutions to homelessness.

How does a philanthropic foundation with a clear mission and big vision, but  a relatively small endowment extend its reach? Since its inception, the Butler Family Fund has grappled with this challenge. Governed by a family board whose members live in the US and the UK, the Fund has two primary giving areas: criminal justice reform, and preventing and ending homelessness. The Butler Family Fund strives to be lean and strategic, with the flexibility to address pressing needs and test innovative solutions. We consider it a “tugboat pulling the ocean liner” approach.

Although Butler recognises the importance of funding direct services such as food banks, we believe our homelessness dollars have a greater impact when they leverage resources in the service of improved social welfare policy. For example, in 1999 the Butler Family Fund was the first national funder to help launch “Housing LA”, a campaign to create an affordable housing trust fund—a dedicated public revenue source for affordable/low income housing. Our $20,000 grant helped attract other funders—funding that we renewed over the next couple of years. As a result, the Mayor of Los Angeles signed a $100 million annual housing trust into law in 2002. To date, an estimated 5,810 new affordable housing units have been built.

The Butler Family Fund’s effectiveness has been greatly enhanced through our deep connections with other funding organisations. We collaborate out of necessity: innovative partnerships with other foundations are key to extending our reach. Because we value collaboration so highly, we were delighted to be selected by the Geneva-based Oak Foundation as a re-granting partner. This alliance between a relatively small, endowed family foundation (Butler) and a large, worldwide foundation (Oak) is one of the first of its kind.

Butler’s core giving has been extended by two large grants from Oak to expand our homelessness work nationwide. We design the funding programme, conduct due diligence, provide staffing and legwork, and make the grants—and throughout the whole process, we work hand-in-glove with Oak staff to ensure that our mutual funding interests are met.

Despite the difference in size, our transatlantic partnership thrives on the shared values and mission of the two families who govern our respective boards. Crucially, the Oak-Butler partnership gives each organisation the opportunity to expand its presence and impact. Through this re-granting collaboration, Butler has made grants to help open the US public workforce system to homeless jobseekers, forge connections between employment and homeless programmes, and re-purpose scarce public welfare dollars to lift families out of homelessness.

The ripple effects of this funding extend far beyond money spent. We have helped spur new learning that has informed advocacy and policy changes up to the highest levels of the US government. Together, we are more than the sum of our parts.

Martha_Toll.jpgMartha is the founding executive director of the Butler Family Fund, a path-breaking philanthropy focused on ending homelessness, abolishing the death penalty, and ending the sentence of juvenile life without parole.

This blog originally appeared on the Non-Profit Center‘s blog site.




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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