10 Lessons Learned From 10 Years of RTF Grantmaking

Lesson 3: Build a Community of Donors to Leverage Impact

Lesson 3: Build a Community of Donors to Leverage Impact - Proteus Fund

Throughout 2019 as we celebrate 10 years of grantmaking, the RISE Together Fund (RTF) team will be sharing 10 lessons we’ve learned.

RTF’s donor partners and philanthropic colleagues at the RTF spring 2019 site visit at DRUM-Desis Rising Up & Moving in Jackson Heights, NYC.

The RISE Together Fund (RTF) is the very first national collaborative established in 2008 around an idea that was radical at the time—funding directly-impacted MASA voices to lead policy and social change efforts. Over the years we have grown to a community of 27 donors.  Our donor partners range from individuals who make a significant contribution to the pooled fund, to regional and local foundations, to large national foundations committing $1 million or more in multi-year gifts. They represent funding portfolios as diverse as arts and culture, racial justice, immigration, collaborative models, among others. Because of this rich diversity of donors, we have been able to provide deliberate opportunities for sharing and learning as part of our role as a donor collaborative. As a result, our partners have not only begun to develop a community among themselves but have also leveraged RTF and the connections they have made for greater impact.

From our interviews with RTF’s donor partners, we have distilled a handful of pragmatic insights into how our model is leveraging resources, educating funders, and building community in philanthropy.

Leverage Resources – #NoMuslimBanEver Campaign

Mayra Peters-Quintero, the Senior Program Officer at the Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice program at the Ford Foundation, was feeling overwhelmed by the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policies of the current administration:

“At times it felt like we were drinking from a fire hose. Small, local groups started reaching out for support after the Supreme Court of the United States scheduled oral arguments on the Muslim ban. As a national funder, the Ford Foundation was unable to support so many smaller local organizations. At a time when we needed national resistance, collaborating with RTF provided an opportunity to use a campaign approach for the mobilization of local, regional, and national efforts. Being a donor partner gave me the confidence to approach RTF and work on a grantmaking strategy where national funders worked together and leveraged RTF’s relationships with the MASA field when every grant dollar was so valuable.”

With Ford’s partnership, the RTF went on to fund 16 organizations around local and national mobilizations critical for amplifying the impact of the Muslim ban. Read more about RTF’s role in the #NoMuslimBanEver campaign here.

Gain Expertise

Donors often find themselves lacking the expertise needed to engage in effective grantmaking in a new field of interest. Making sporadic investments to develop specialized knowledge is not as cost effective as choosing to pool resources to develop collective expertise over time. The Kresge Foundation’s staff and board saw the Muslim ban manifest in their local community and knew they had to invest locally, but also nationally: Stephanie Johnson, Program Coordinator of Kresge’s Opportunity Fund shared:

“After the 2016 [general] election, we created the Opportunity Fund to respond to threats, which weren’t new, but were now more amplified. [We] were searching for a national opportunity to learn more about MASA communities and their issues. We did not want to come into a field and blunder around […] When I’ve had questions, whether it’s how to talk about MASA communities from a racial justice lens to staff transitions at an organization, not only is the RTF staff accessible to answer questions, but the other funders around the table have helped me with making the case internally, which is critical to moving institutions along.

Aggregate Capital – Individual Donors

Donor partners exhibit a range of experience in the MASA field, from those who are themselves experts to those who want to learn more. One of our individual donors, John Crew, shared:

“Prior to joining RTF, I had no experience with donor collaboratives and quite frankly didn’t know anyone who was focusing on MASA communities. Over the past five years, I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about MASA issues and greatly enhance the quality and impact of my relatively modest grants. Being an RTF donor partner allows me to: make informed grantmaking with minimal investment of time and resources; develop specialized knowledge; have access to subject matter experts (RTF grantees, fellow RTF members, and the RTF staff); as well as support and learn from many projects across the country rather than funding one organization.”

Build Community

A common goal of RTF donor partners is the empowerment of MASA communities to raise their voices and to become active players in efforts to solve problems within their own communities. The RTF donor table actively facilitates deepening relationships, whether with activists or fellow funders, with investment through a shared concern of protecting the promise of America.

Our regular engagement with our donor partners has helped to build a community of learning.

Mayra Peters-Quintero commented to us: “You [RTF] are the most thoughtful group of people I interact within philanthropy – from how you treat your grantees to how you have taken such care to build the field to the treatment of the donor partners – you get it done and move on.”

And John Crew offered a prospective on his fellow donor partners at the RTF table: “After every site visit and docket meeting I feel energized and refueled by the work that is being done on the ground. It is amazing to see how people from different philanthropic backgrounds can come together around a shared purpose – it leaves me feeling inspired.”

Stephanie Johnson shared on the community created by RTF and our partners: “[I] really like the people around the donor table. Being white-presenting has made it challenging for me to show up for my own communities in philanthropy. Having a place that embraces me, acknowledges my wholeness, and provides a space where I can fight for my identity makes [RTF] feel like home.”

At the RISE Together Fund, the donor community that we’ve helped found is centering impacted communities, giving our donors a chance to learn from and work in partnership with those experiencing the brunt of the current sociopolitical climate, as well as build meaningful collaborations amongst themselves. We aspire to move “at the speed of trust,” in the words of Mervyn Marcano from the Movement for Black Lives.

Learn more about the RISE Together Fund