Strengthening Our Voices, Deepening Our Strategies

Proteus Fund’s October 2023 Newsletter

Strengthening Our Voices, Deepening Our Strategies: Proteus Newsletter — October 2023 - Proteus Fund

Strengthening Our Voices, Deepening Our Strategies

This has been a watershed year at Proteus Fund filled with new colleagues, donor partners, and initiatives. We welcomed excellent new leaders to the Piper Fund and the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative (RFDC) in the spring. Working with our VP of Programs, Amar Singh, our new program directors are deep in programmatic assessment and future planning in order to evolve their collaborative’s strategies and tactics to adequately meet this moment of increased and broader attacks on individuals, communities, and US democracy itself.

To bring our fiscal sponsorship work to the next level of quality and impact, we have created the position of Director of Fiscal Sponsorship and brought on board Alexandra Rachelle Siclait to lead this portfolio. Working with our Chief Operating Officer, Beery Adams Jiménez, who has built the FSP portfolio over 10 years, Alex is in discussions with FSP leaders and our senior team to explore additional and innovative ways to support these vital social justice initiatives and leaders.

Beyond growing our core team significantly and bringing on talented and committed colleagues with fresh eyes and new ideas, we have also spent the last twelve months designing and preparing to launch two new programmatic efforts which will significantly expand our impact on the social justice issues and movements Proteus Fund prioritizes. We look forward to sharing news with our supporters, partners, and other stakeholders in the coming months.

All of these efforts in 2023 are in service to the movements we support in light of the increased challenges on the ground. Most notably, we have witnessed continued and escalating attacks on transgender communities across the country, in this newsletter, we are highlighting the incredible work of an RFDC grantee to stave off hate-based, anti-trans legislation in their state. We’re also sharing how Proteus Fund is pledging its commitment to addressing the need for greater philanthropic focus on and investment in transgender communities.

— Paul

Leading in the Field

Proteus Fund team members are sharing their expertise and experience in many spaces in order to amplify our focus on racial, gender, queer, and disability justice.

  • Director of Grants Management Kyrstin Thorson Rogers has joined the Board of PEAK Grantmaking, a leading organization for philanthropy professionals dedicated to advancing equitable, effective grantmaking practices.
  • President Paul DiDonato represented Proteus Fund at this summer’s OutGiving Conference. The conference brings together major donors and institutional funders – both LGBTQ and allies – in a private setting to connect, learn, and exchange ideas on ways to advance queer justice through strategic and intentional philanthropy.
  • Piper Fund Judicial Independence Senior Program Officer Kathy Bonnifield led a workshop at the 22nd Century Conference in Minneapolis called Exposed! Billionaires Destroying Democracy. Speakers included representatives from True North Research, Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), and Montana Voices.
  • Proteus Fund is a sponsor of the 2023 Change Philanthropy Unity Summit, which will feature presentations from two of our donor collaboratives. The Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative will host a session with the Arcus Foundation entitled Have a Little Faith: Building a Faith-Inclusive Movement to End White Christian Nationalism and Advance LGBTQI Liberation and Reproductive Justice on Tuesday, October 17th from 3:30-5 p.m. California Donor Table and Piper Fund Program Officer Tiffany Mendoza pre-recorded a “Spark Talk” for the summit called Small Donors, Big Impact, which focuses on the Democracy Dollars public campaign finance reform model that successfully passed in Oakland.

Proteus Fund has welcomed two additional members to our team to support the capacity and impact of the Piper Fund and RISE Together Fund (RTF):

  • Melissa Rudnick joins Piper Fund as the new Right to Protest Program Officer. Melissa’s 20-year career is centered around building community power and pursuing racial, social, economic, and gender justice – as a movement and community organizer, a facilitator and convenor, a relationship-builder, and as a grantmaker and funder. Most recently, she served as the Director of Program and Grantmaking at Headwaters Foundation for Justice.
  • Zahra Ali is RTF’s new Strategic Partnership Officer. Zahra is a seasoned fundraiser and communications specialist with a background in advocating for the needs and rights of underserved and racialized communities. Prior to joining the Proteus Fund, Zahra served as the Assistant Director of Institutional Philanthropy at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) where she grew a portfolio of institutional donors to support the expansion of pathways for displaced people globally and rebuilding the refugee resettlement system in the U.S.
(Photography by Chad Greene)

Supporting Grantees’ Efforts to Defeat Harmful Legislation

OutNebraska is one of 10 state-based organizations awarded rapid response grants this year through the Rights, Faith & Democracy Collaborative (RFDC). Along with other state partners, OutNebraska fought legislation to ban reproductive healthcare and trans-inclusive, gender affirming care. They mobilized local and state clergy and faith communities to show their support visibly and vocally for the LGBTQ+ community and abortion access at the state capitol. As part of their resistance strategy, they employed mental health practitioners and counselors to provide on-site support for those who showed up to testify during hearings and to speak to legislators.

“Even when people did get the chance to speak in a committee hearing or perhaps they were lucky enough their senator came to speak to them, some of the questions or comments that were made to people were dismissive or hurtful,” said Abbi Swatsworth, OutNebraska’s executive director. “Some senators were just saying back a lot of misinformation, and so then we really worked hard to organize support for those folks, because we knew how hard it was. We would not be responsible community organizers if we didn’t take the time to do that sort of care for folks.”

While ultimately the legislation passed, OutNebraska’s efforts to educate legislators, create and mobilize a base of outspoken resistance, and build community power to fight back are a powerful example of what’s possible when organizations have support to organize.

“There were incredible numbers of young people advocating for themselves with their families. There were so many brave families who came forward to be part of the process. Organizing those families and harnessing the energy of those young advocates will be really important going forward,” said Swatsworth. “We also saw the value in having those faith voices speaking up. We can’t cede the faith perspective to the opposition. We have to always keep that in the view of our legislators, some of whom themselves feel uncomfortable with this legislation. Having progress faith willing to speak up maybe will build some cover for those legislative folks who didn’t feel good about the position they ultimately took.”

Please take the time to watch this inspiring video to learn more about the work on the ground that Proteus Fund is committed to supporting: 

Improving Philanthropy’s Focus on Transgender Communities

Proteus Fund is proud to sign on to the Grantmakers United for Trans Communities (GUTC) pledge, an effort to bring more philanthropic attention to and investment in the lives and wellbeing of transgender people and communities. GUTC is an initiative of Funders for LGBTQ Issues, which “aims to inspire a philanthropic culture that is inclusive and supportive of trans people through grantmaking and decision-making.” We believe that we cannot achieve the fully representative democracy we seek without the inclusion of these communities, and recognize that philanthropy has an important role to play in addressing issues that impact transgender individuals.


GUTC Project Director Luna Moreta Avila spoke about why this pledge is important and its potential impact.

With the onslaught of anti-trans bills being introduced and, in many states, passed into law, there is a growing awareness of the challenges and disparities that transgender communities face daily. What are some of the most significant issues and urgent needs?

I think we’re in a historical moment where we are unfortunately faced with balancing both the urgent need to fight back against the repression and moral panic about trans people being put into law around the country right now as well as the urgent needs that trans communities have been facing for many years now: housing, personal safety, meaningful employment, food security, and so much more. So our community-based organizations are stretching every dollar to somehow make it possible to do both, after years of stretching every dollar to meet the needs of rapid response to keep their communities safe during the beginning of the COVID pandemic. This need to do more and more with the same or even less funding is a growing crisis. Even before all of these bills, trans communities have been vastly underfunded: around the country, only $36 million is being given to trans organizations from the philanthropic sector, which is pennies compared to the amount of money resourcing other communities and projects. So there’s no shortage of urgent needs, but from my perspective, the true need is long-term investment. GUTC is a step toward that: a call for long-term philanthropic investment in trans communities and trans leaders within our sector.