RISE Together Fund

10 Lessons Learned From 10 Years of RTF Grantmaking

Lesson 8: Supporting Collaborative Communications to Build Field Capacity and Connections

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.

By Shireen Zaman (Program Director, RISE Together Fund), Deborah Makari (Program Assistant, RISE Together Fund) and Lynn Fahselt (Co-Founder & Executive Director, ReThink Media)

As RISE Together Fund (RTF) reflects on our decade of work in the MASA field, one of our key grantee partners, ReThink Media, is also celebrating its 10-year anniversary. In their informative report, The Issues Are Our Client, ReThink shared some major lessons learned from the past decade of their work in capacity building and collaboration. Many of these takeaways align with what the RTF has gleaned from its grantmaking and programming and we wanted to highlight some of these similarities, as well as the unique collaboration model of the collaborative communications hub, as a part of our own lessons learned series.

Recognize the organizations that are making a strong impact in their work and provide them the resources they need to expand their reach.

In their opening letter in the report, ReThink’s co-founders explain that “our goal can’t be competing for a slice of the media pie. Our goal has to be a bigger pie.”  For the RTF, our work has been about expanding the funding available to MASA communities, both from the RTF but also from other donors. In a non-profit sector that can often fuel competition, ReThink and the RTF have positioned ourselves as spaces for collaboration and as advocates for the field and the issues. The RTF began funding ReThink Media in early 2009 to provide the MASA field with gravely needed strategic communications tools and media support. Since then, the RTF’s support for ReThink’s Rights & Inclusion Collaborative (RIC) has helped to support groups across the field in critical crisis response moments; in raising our communities’ voices in response to hate crimes from the Chapel Hill shooting to the mass shootings at a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, WI, and at the New Zealand mosques in Christchurch; in launching social media accountability campaigns such as #CanYouHearUsNow centering Muslim women’s voices in speaking up and out in condemning President Trump’s hateful attacks; and in providing tested messaging and opinion research for the fight ahead to repeal the Muslim Ban. In the past two years alone, the RTF and ReThink have worked together to identify more than 250 community leaders across the country and provide them with media spokesperson training.

Together, we provide both tangible and intangible support from training and resources to surge support during crises or a sounding board to test out a strategy. We also take an individualized approach to our respective work. For ReThink this means one-on-one work with spokespeople and organizations to take their work to the next level. For the RTF, this means building deep relationships with our grantees and offering tailored support, whether that is a connection to a donor, a stipend for training, or opportunities to come together to coordinate, network, and learn from and support one another.

Actively engage with communities to learn and understand key issues and to help organizations respond quickly to crises.

Understanding that MASA communities and our allies would face an unprecedented level of attack and rapid policy developments in the wake of the 2016 election, the RTF moved quickly to provide additional resources and infrastructure to support the field. Within weeks of the 2016 election cycle, we developed a partnership with well-respected field leaders who now lead the MASA Organizing team. The group of consultants, now in the third year of the project, lend capacity, coordination, and substantive expertise to increase collaboration across the field and have been an important source of analysis and advice for the RTF.

They have also helped to bolster the critical crisis response work of ReThink. For example, the MASA Organizing Team, in coordination with ReThink, worked overnight after the Christchurch, NZ attacks broke on the evening of March 14, 2019, to provide rapid response resources to the field. The next morning, ReThink and the MASA Organizing team coordinated and held a call with more than 70 participants in attendance, from mosque personnel to leaders in the MASA space. In addition to messaging and rapid response support, efforts like these also ensure that MASA community members can speak in real time about pressing concerns including, in the case of Christchurch, active security protocol and healing support for families and the community.

Amplify new and impacted voices to strengthen the “voiceshare” of the MASA community and to raise community needs.

In 2018, the RTF completed a field research project that identifies growing and vulnerable MASA communities around the country. The first research of its kind, this comprehensive analysis revealed that the MASA population represents one of the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S., and further, that the metro areas that have seen the most significant growth in their MASA population are not necessarily the metro areas with the largest MASA populations. This study identified that these new growth regions lack the infrastructure to deepen MASA community civic engagement and are also home to active hate groups. The RTF is using this research to guide expanded grantmaking, to unpack the existing needs and potential opportunities for MASA communities to join, inform, and influence the coalitions to combat the rise of hate and xenophobia. And because of our unique partnership, ReThink is also using this research to plan spokesperson trainings around the country to build capacity in these same regions, including Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Nashville.

Establish trust between us and the organizations we work with to cultivate a strong partner relationship.

Perhaps of all the lessons we share in our decade of collaborative work, this one rings most true to the unique partnership between ReThink and the RTF and between our respective organizations and the field we support. Being in service to the field and building authentic relationships has been critical to the work we have collectively advanced.

Over the years, the RTF and ReThink have collaborated on many rapid response moments. The RTF was able to quickly identify field leaders on the ground in places like Southern California and Boston when crises hit those communities. The RTF reached out to those leaders to connect them to ReThink’s resources, participated on rapid response calls and followed up with funding and other forms of support. Based on the trust between the RTF and a leading LGBTQ Muslim organization, ReThink was able to help staff their media response after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016.

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