Highlights from our December B Learning Lunch

At our December B Learning lunch, we heard from BW White, AKA “Bdub,” the Oregon Development Manager at Social Justice Fund Northwest. BW co-facilitates Giving Projects as well as development and fundraising for SJF. The organization is a foundation funding frontline community organizing in a five state region through a unique model called Giving Projects. While SJF has been around for 40 years, the organization is currently best known in Seattle, and working to increase their presence here in Portland. BW began their talk by pointing out that while they are a white person, they are not the most representative of SJF’s leadership. SJF is a POC-led organization with 75% of staff and board being people of color.

The Organizational Context

BW gave some context for SJF’s work. They see themselves as challenging the field of philanthropy to do better, and doing that by leading by example. The first large private foundations we might think of today were started in the early 1900s with names like Rockefeller, Carnegie and Ford. The idea that just a handful of decision-makers at foundations wield so much control over what gets studied scientifically or what kinds of schools are offered or what initiatives get on a ballot is still a concern today for our democracy. The other big critique of private foundations is that they are often used as a tool for tax avoidance and keeping control of wealth.

Some other stats about foundations:

  • Currently an average of 6% of all foundation assets are paid out a year.

  • Less than 10% of foundation board members are people of color.

  • 16% of philanthropic giving in the US last year was from foundations. 5% was from corporations. The vast majority of 79% was from individuals.

  • Only around 3% of foundation funding goes to community organizing nationwide.

The Giving Ecosystem

As a member-funded foundation that actively fundraises, SJF believes we all have a role to play in philanthropy. SJF is part of a giving ecosystem or community that plants and nurtures the seeds of social change. SJF funds grassroots community organizing, which they define as “the process of building leadership and collective power to make long term change.” They operate from the conviction that a better world is possible but only if we do it together.

“We know social change doesn’t come from playing it safe“

Social change requires taking risks, and SJF focuses on funding organizations that change systems. Problems are big and interconnected, so SJF funds an entire region here in the Northwest: Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Their grantees are fighting on the frontlines of social change to benefit their communities and the greater good.

SJF funds organizations led by the people most directly impacted by the issues they’re working on.

SJF knows the people most directly impacted are experts on their lives and their communities. They are in the best position to come up with the solutions that will work. The leadership of those most directly impacted is not optional.

BW gave the example of telling the story of PCUN, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (Northwest Tree Planters and Farmworkers United), which is based in Woodburn, Oregon. 40 years ago PCUN was SJF’s very first grantee and we were their very first funder.

Giving Projects

SJF calls themselves “donor organizers,” and they use a funding model called Giving Projects. Each Giving Project is a cohort of intentionally multiracial and cross-class community volunteers who commit to working together for 6 months. Each cohort is led through intensive political education about race and class to build a foundation and shared analysis. They are taught how to engage in grassroots fundraising. Then they learn how to be grantmakers, aimed at being equitable, intentional and impactful to community organizing. Last year SJF’s Giving Projects made $1.2 million in grants. SJF’s Giving Projects are building collective power to accomplish something they couldn’t do alone. That’s what grassroots fundraising does and that’s why they call it organizing. SJF also trusts their grantees, and empower them to determine the best use of grant funds.

2017-2018 Accomplishments

Each of SJF’s 6-7 Giving Projects a year builds collective power from over 100 GP participants and their hundreds of donors. It’s added up to these accomplishments in 2018:

  • Winning policy victories - like Washington passing a police accountability measure including deescalation training and requiring independent investigations when police officers use deadly force.

  • Defeating a so-called bathroom initiative in Montana that would have prevented trans and gender nonconforming Montanans from participating in public life.

  • Developing and winning the Portland Clean Energy Fund, the first environmental initiative created and led by communities of color in Oregon’s history.

  • PCUN this year secured $620 million for a school district that serves farmworker’s families.

Last year, in 2017, SJF:

  • Held 49 workshops, both through giving projects and as stand alone programs, to build our collective muscle as social justice donors and donor organizers.

  • Through giving projects, developed 122 leaders in social justice philanthropy.

  • Those giving projects made 74 grants to grassroots movements.

  • 86% of the $1.2 million granted last year went to organizations led by people of color.

So, what can YOU do?

There are many ways to get involved in and support SJF’s work:

  • There are two Giving Projects scheduled for 2019 in Portland. Leaderfull Movements starting in April and Economic Justice starting in September.

  • Sign up to receive emails and reach out to SJF if you’re interested in joining a Giving Project or learning more.

  • SJF is growing their presence in Portland. They have a Portland Giving Project that is currently breaking records, and has already raised $220,000 that will be granted out and they still have two months of fundraising to go.

  • SJF is in the Willamette Week Give!Guide for the first time ever. Make a gift today at giveguide.org.

Thank You, Canvas Host!
We also want to offer a big thanks to Canvas Host for sponsoring our lunches and supporting collaboration and learning to increase our social and environmental impact.

Photos from our December B Learning Lunch

BW from Social Justice Fund Northwest at the December B Learning Lunch

Social Justice Fund Northwest: “Social change doesn’t come from playing it safe.”