Early Learnings from the Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund: Part 1

Posted on March 12, 2018 | Corinne Goudreault and Hanh Le, Weissberg Foundation

Advancing Racial Equity in the DC Area

The Weissberg Foundation is committed to a culture of learning, which allows us to constantly improve our relationships, streamline our work, and deepen our impact. In that spirit, we are excited to share some key learnings from the early stages of our new Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund!

By way of background, Reframing Washington is a new program area we launched in 2017. Through this initiative, we hope to explore and advance efforts to change how the greater Washington region sees and therefore transforms itself, particularly in terms of how we build and distribute power, opportunity, and potential. We believe this reframing can lead to positive, community-driven outcomes for all the region’s residents and system-level change to advance racial equity for the region and beyond. The Empowerment Fund specifically supports small, community-based organizations in the DC region that are tackling racism head-on through advocacy, organizing, and/or civic engagement. These groups are building the economic, political, and social power of those most negatively impacted by racism—communities of color, those closest to incarceration, immigrants, and refugees.

Funding advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement for racial equity is new to the foundation. As we conducted a landscape scan of the greater Washington region to inform the grant program, reviewed applications submitted in response to our request for proposals, conducted feedback calls with declined applicants, and met with organizations we would ultimately fund, we gathered a lot of information about the current state of the field.

This blog post, the first in a two-part blog series, focuses on those insights gained from the diversity of community-based organizations, peer funders, philanthropy support organizations, and community members as we developed and rolled out Reframing Washington and the Empowerment Fund. The second blog post in this series will focus on feedback we received about our grantmaking process – both what worked and what could be improved.

Key Learnings on Efforts to Advance Racial Equity in the DC Area

  • Anxiety within populations of color, immigrants, and refugees is heightened. The nation’s current political climate has historically marginalized communities feeling even more under attack. A result of this is that some individuals are less likely to access and advocate for services and conditions needed to support their and their families’ well-being.
  • More funders are needed in this space. Funders seem less apt to support smaller organizations engaging in advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement for racial equity, because they perceive them as too political, financially instable, and not making enough of an impact. These are unfair assumptions, and a new narrative on these organizations needs to be shared.
  • Adequate staffing and fundraising capacity are consistent challenges. Organizations doing this work have consistent capacity needs around staffing and development. They need more funding to hire, retain, train, and develop staff, as well as to strengthen their fundraising abilities.
  • More organizations want to advance racial equity inside and out, but need support to do so. Some organizations currently working to advance racial equity predominantly through programs also aspire to internalize racial equity into their operations and governance. Because resources are scarce, they need capacity building support to help them—and their boards—prioritize the shift.
  • Grantee convenings, if undertaken, should be driven by grantees. There is a wide range of opinions—based on past experiences—from community-based organizations on whether grantee convenings are a good use of time. Funders should ensure that any convenings we do are indeed worthwhile to grantees by asking them what would be most useful to them.
  • Lived experience should be a non-negotiable. When those with lived experience who are closest to the issues in affected communities are foremost in building power and pushing for change, the work itself is more authentic, and its impacts deeper and more sustained.
  • There are many ways to measure success. Wins, successes, and accomplishments in advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement for racial equity are diverse and multi-layered. Some are policy wins like paid family leave; others are more about reach, like the number of people at a particular action. Still others are around leadership development, such as training folks to testify before city council, or to organize tenants to advocate for improved housing conditions. All of these wins are creating power in our communities, and step by step they are increasing racial equity in the region.
  • Racial equity work necessitates both urgency and patience. Systemic change, particularly in a region that crosses multiple types of jurisdictions and contains such diverse communities, is necessarily a long game. The path may not be linear or quick, but we believe community-driven approaches will make the change effective and sustainable.

To learn about ten awesome organizations working to advance racial equity in our region, check out our Reframing Washington Empowerment Fund grantees! Stay tuned (and follow us on Twitter @WeissbergFdn) for the second installment of this blog series, as well as more updates on the Empowerment Fund. Please reach out to us if you want more information about our work in this area or are initiating a similar program at your organization.

Corinne Goudreault is the Program Associate at the Weissberg Foundation, where she provides a wide variety of administrative and programmatic support, including working on the Reframing Washington program area. She has been with the foundation for two years, prior to which she worked with several nonprofits in her home state of North Carolina.

Hanh Le is the executive director of the Weissberg Foundation, where she oversees strategy development, stakeholder engagement, grantmaking, and operations. Prior to joining the foundation, she was the chief program officer at Exponent Philanthropy, where she led educational programming, content development, and internal learning efforts. Hanh has directed training, grant, and technical assistance programs for KaBOOM!, Community Technology Centers’ Network, and the Peace Corps.

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