10 Lessons Learned From 10 Years of RTF Grantmaking

Lesson 10: We Must RISE to the Times

Lesson 10: We Must RISE to the Times - Proteus Fund

The RISE Together Fund (RTF) is celebrating 10 years of grantmaking in 2019!  Throughout 2019 we are sharing 10 lessons on what we’ve learned over the course of 10 years.

Dear Friends,

As we stand at the brink of a new year and a new decade, the RISE Together Fund has had a chance to reflect on the past eleven years of our work and assess our progress. 2008—our inaugural year— witnessed a global financial crisis, with MASA communities facing a host of crippling challenges that extended beyond financial hardship to Islamophobia, hate crimes and xenophobia. The need for services, and the need to defend the civil and human rights of Muslim, Arab and South Asian (MASA) communities was urgent and unprecedented.

We stepped in as the very first national donor collaborative in the United States dedicated to bolstering the critical work of MASA individuals and organizations fighting to uphold the rights of our communities. In our first year, we supported 16 MASA organizations. We have since grown to supporting more than 50 organizations around the country in 2019 and expanded our geographic diversity of support to states like South Dakota, Minnesota, and Alabama.  In the aggregate, we have granted more than $15 million to support the innovation and leadership of MASA communities at the frontlines of our democracy. RISE Together Fund continues to serve as a bridge-builder between the field and philanthropy, often as the first institutional funder for grantees in our portfolio.

Our work and mission are more important than ever. The 2016 election catapulted MASA communities into a period of tremendous volatility, signaling an urgent need to protect rights, advance policy reform, strengthen coordination, and shift the narrative to safeguard the values at the core of our democracy and society. We are navigating these rapidly changing times by engaging diverse funding partners and enhancing intersectional grantmaking, supporting the MASA field and philanthropy, and strategically working to ensure that MASA communities are integrated into broader racial justice issues and in important policy fights for our collective liberation.

Looking ahead to the 2020 election and beyond, we believe that deepening support for civic engagement is an important pathway to empowering MASA communities over the long term. We recently completed a field analysis to help us target our work, and we have laid out some of our key insights in a recent blog. We are called to stretch our grantmaking and programming creativity in these extraordinary times.

We are immensely grateful to our grantee partners for their resilience and inspiring work, and  to our funding partners for their trust and support as we collectively strive to achieve racial equity and social justice.


What’s in a Name?

At the beginning of 2019, We changed our name—to shake off the “security” framework of the state that our former name was inadvertently echoing, along with the false notion that MASA communities somehow pose a unique and ubiquitous threat. We changed it, too, in order to more accurately reflect the aspirations, collaborative spirit and vision of the communities whose rights and very existence have become defining markers in our democracy. Under the auspices of our new name, the RISE Together Fund, its donors, and the Proteus Fund have recommitted to pushing towards a vision of what is possible when we rise together.

A Decade in Philanthropy on the Frontlines

To mark our ten-year anniversary, we have compiled a series of lessons learned over 10 years of grantmaking that span the breath of our work and offer a view of what’s unfolding in the MASA field— from the first-ever MASA women’s leadership cohort to understanding how Islamophobia is an intersectional racial justice issue to deepening our support for civic engagement work. You can read the blogs here.

A three-year, in-depth evaluation of our work by an external evaluator— thanks to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation— culminated in May 2019. The report offers observations across our focus areas and looks at RTF’s impact on movement building and policy advocacy in the MASA field. We are thankful for the recommendations and learnings. The strategic insights gleaned from the report will bolster our work as we tackle the next decade.

Amongst a plethora of research findings, below are just a few takeaways from the report about lessons from RTF’s grantmaking and programmatic activities:

  • RTF grantmaking plays a crucial role in an environment where comparatively few philanthropic resources are available to MASA organizers and activists
  • Flexible RTF funding has been instrumental in fostering innovation within grantee organizations
  • RTF’s impact as a grantmaker is closely tied to its impact as a networker and capacity builder
  • RTF provides intensive capacity-building assistance for grantees and other impacted MASA groups to address operational and data security needs

As always, a highlight of our year were the times we got to meet in person at funder briefings, donor partner site visits, and grantee convenings. In-person connection enables us to listen to each other, learn about challenges and share experiences and wisdom, and cultivate collaborations within the racial equity field.

We ended this year with a cohort of our grantee leaders in Montgomery, Alabama.  We immersed ourselves in the lives and stories of the great civil rights leaders including Rosa Parks and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; bore witness to the powerful Equal Justice Initiative Memorial and Museum; and dug into challenging discussions on how the MASA field can undertake our work from an anti-racist lens. This learning journey has emboldened us to continue our learning and translate that into bold action. And thus, our final lesson of year- that we must RISE to the demands of the times in which we live.

The RISE Together Fund embodies the unrelenting and inspirational work of our grantees on the frontlines and the collaborative efforts of our funder partners. Working in unison, we will achieve Rights, Inclusion, Solidarity, and Equity (RISE) for all.

With hope and courage—and in solidarity with you and our partners—we are ready to enter the next decade of impactful work. We wish you a peaceful, prosperous, powerful 2020!


The RTF Team


2019 Highlights

  • We made 53 grants, totaling more than $1.7 million.
  • We made 22 Rapid Response/Opportunity Fund grants totaling $170,000 addressing urgent issues including:
    • Detention of Sikh immigrants in El Paso
    • Temporary Protected Status legislation in the Senate for Nepali TPS holders
    • A Muslim-led effort to bail people out of prisons, jails, and ICE detention
  • 7 new donor partners joined our efforts
“We all work in this space and have a general knowledge of the historical background and challenges ahead. This experience and trip solidified how much more I personally have to learn and grow. It taught me to recognize I have a responsibility to be intentional with my actions, partnerships and words in this space.” – RTF grantee on the Racial Justice Learning Journey in Montgomery, AL.

Learn more about the RISE Together Fund