The Importance of Being Nimble to Support Communities in Need

April 20, 2018

As a grantmaker, I know the importance of staying connected to the community. Everything I do as a program officer requires me to be in a good relationship with the community at large and to understand the issues nonprofits and the residents they serve feel most impacted by. That’s why it was helpful to attend the “Supporting Frontline Communities” convening hosted by Philanthropy Northwest, Rainier Valley Corps and the Nonprofit Assistance Center last month at the Ethiopian Community Center. More than 70 funders and nonprofits spent the afternoon building relationships, sharing stories and talking through hurdles to adequately and equitably support organizations impacted by today’s political climate. Best of all, it was led by communities of color.

Here are some quick takeaways on how funders can best support the work of nonprofit organizations and organizers on the frontlines:

  1. Convenings that bring together funders and frontline communities are incredibly valuable for structured conversations or opportunities to network. These conversations identify challenges and solutions, help explore questions of accountability, and surface actions we all can take to increase racial and economic equity.  
  2. Funders and frontline communities’ relationships cannot be purely transactional. The best grantor-grantee relationships go far beyond a well-written grant application and a check. Funders can also do smaller things to strategically support organizations such as help find them other funding sources or invite them to events and make in-person introductions to other philanthropists. The time invested pays important dividends.
  3. Community-based organizations often have no choice but to be flexible to their community’s needs and adapt to local, state or federal policy changes. Funders need to be strategic, and should also ensure their grantmaking practices are flexible to support these nonprofits.

Seattle Foundation developed its own dedicated effort to support organizations that are addressing urgent and emergent needs in their communities, through the launch of our Resilience Fund in 2017. While it was in development, it was helpful to hear from organizations during last year’s inaugural “Supporting Frontline Communities” convening, about how they were impacted by the new administration and Executive Orders aimed at immigrant/refugee communities. The Resilience Fund is a funder collaborative and had wide support from other sources: King County, Medina Foundation, Sheng-Yu Len Foundation, Stolte Family Foundation, Emerald Fund, Bank of America and private philanthropists. In 2017, we made grants to 57 organizations, investing $930,000 through two cycles of funding.

The spring 2018 cycle of the Resilience Fund is now open and we’re accepting applications from community-based organizations in King County who seek flexible funding to address urgent and emergent needs in the communities most impacted by the current political climate and policy changes. The deadline to apply is May 8 at 5 p.m. I encourage you to spread the word. 

I’ll be sharing more about the Resilience Fund at Philanthropy Northwest’s next member briefing: Philanthropy and (Rapid) Responsiveness, on April 24 from 10 - 11:30 a.m. The session will also feature staff from Pride Foundation, Montana Community Foundation and The Ford Family Foundation sharing lessons and strategies learned in supporting communities through rapid response programs. If you’re in King County, you can also learn more about the Resilience Fund at a public information session we’re hosting later that day.
*Resilience Fund Q&A session: Tukwila Community Center (Banquet Hall C, 12424 42nd Ave S.,Tukwila, WA 98168), Tuesday, April 24, 3 to 4:30 p.m. Register for this session.*

As funders across our region continue to learn about being both strategic and responsive in grantmaking, we’re eager to share practices, keep the conversations going and hope that you’ll join us in bringing more flexibility to funding strategies that support frontline communities.