If there is one thing I have learned that matters above all in my 25 years in the social sector, it is that being intentional in how you act matters. If you seek to be a trust-based grantee-centric foundation, getting there won’t happen accidentally or just because you are well-intended. You actually have to act intentionally in ways that can make it happen.
In addition to being intentional in our actions, it matters greatly how we go about defining the thing we are trying to be intentional about. For example, if you seek to support NGOs to be successful and you define the problem or barrier as their lack of capacity, then your actions are all about having those NGOs participate in endless professional development and capacity building workshops to gain more capacity. If you define the problem or barrier as your lack of trust in the leadership of the NGO, your actions will be something different (anyone want to try unrestricted general operating grants?).
In our work at IDF we are constantly asking ourselves, “How do we define the problem and how do we plan to act to address it? Does this action align with our values?” Whether the question is about the length and content of our application, or who should pay the cost for equivalency determinations, we work with intentionality to ensure that what we do, and how we act, can be traced back to what we value and what we believe.
For example, we believe our role is to walk alongside our partners and to support them in their work. We inherently trust them and their knowledge, and want to make it as easy as possible for them to access the resources we have to offer. Our application is only four questions and our Program Team does the work of getting additional information we need for diligence. There is no proposal required. We only make unrestricted general operating grants. In addition, we provide additional flexible funds to support things like professional development, organizational development, and keeping the spark alive – things other funders rarely provide and that organizations tell us they greatly need.
Working this way means that you are always on alert for when something you are doing isn’t aligned, or not as aligned, as it should be. We recently tackled the fact that when one of our grants ends for a partner they have to wait a quarter for us to determine whether they will be invited to apply for another grant. Why was it this way? For no good reason. We just hadn’t put the time and effort into fixing it. So now we are – piloting a new process with our partners in hopes that if we close this gap, it will support them to plan better and to have some clarity about where they stand with our funding as early as possible (not as early as it is convenient for us!). And yes, we will get feedback from our partners about whether our intentions are realized or not.
I am so proud of our Team and Trustees for pushing on things like this. To be clear, there are many contradictions in our work that we haven’t solved for and we have to own that and continue to push on those. Thank you for your patience as we keep at it.
This year, in addition to continuing to leverage our gender, faith, and community-driven development lenses to get to know potential grantee partners, we are prioritizing the following characteristics of organizations in our process: BIPOC women-led organizations, and organizations with operating budgets under $1 million USD. We believe deeply in the agency of communities to identify and solve the challenges they face. By intentionally seeking out organizations with these characteristics to add to our portfolio, we will be working more often with community-driven and community-led efforts. This supports us in fulfilling our role as a funder which is to walk alongside (never out in front!) those who are proximal to communities and opportunities to advance gender balance, human rights, justice, and spiritual holism.
Thanks to the intentionality and generosity of our Trustees, Ross and Emily Jones, we will also have the chance this year to partner with some exceptional organizations and movements domestically that are working on racial justice. As we define this effort, we will be particularly interested in working with folks at the intersection of our lenses including faith, gender and community driven development. We promise to share more as we learn more. This effort further supports IDF in its mission and pushes us to intentionally include racial justice in the work.
Along these lines, we are also internally working on issues of racial equity, white supremacy, and anti-racism at IDF. As a newly re-formed team, we’d decided that as part of our staff development we would do a few things together on this front. We’ve read books together including Me and White Supremacy, Homegoing, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. We have hired an external consultant to address the hard stuff inherent in working in a multiracial environment. We are thrilled to be working with Bina Patel of Saathi Impact Consulting as our team coach this year. While we are a combination of nervous, excited, and curious about where all this work will take us, we are so glad to be doing it together and with the support and engagement of our Trustees.
As we all put our heads down and get to work to make 2021 even a little better than 2020, I of course want to share a poem about staying the course and getting the work done. Dr. Angelou says it best:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.