Neighborhood Funders Group: People, Place, & Power

By: Jennifer Fairbanks, Communication Specialist
Native Americans in Philanthropy

The Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) held their national convening this year from June 14-16 in Oakland, California. NFG is a membership association of grantmaking institutions with a mission of building the capacity of philanthropy to advance social justice and community change. NFG organizes the field, develops leaders, and cultivates thought leadership among its national base of members and encourages the support of policies and practices that advance economic, racial, and social justice.

With a focus on Philanthropic Strategies for People, Place & Power, the content and programming centered around rethinking the role of funders in building long-term holistic transformation and community power. Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) has a mission that closely aligns with this to power reciprocity and invest in Native communities through our three strategic directions: ENGAGE together to develop meaningful philanthropy opportunities; EDUCATE to master a method of philanthropy rooted in Native values; and EMPOWER each other to advance Native assets and strengths. Oakland has a long history of innovation and movement building that has stemmed from grassroots organizing which made it the perfect location to house NFG’s discussions around people, place and power. One of the most well known grassroots groups that emerged from Oakland is the Black Panther Party, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and recognized by NFG with a special movie screening of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.

As a “newbie” to the conference, I was excited to see the three-day conference was filled with progressive and thought-provoking sessions that challenged funders to take a look at their own funding and grantmaking portfolios and how they add to the power imbalance or are preventing transformation. Oakland’s history and grassroots advocacy was consistently at the forefront of conversations discussing place and what we could all learn from one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the US. The impacts of displacement and gentrification on communities were examined at the conference with author Jeff Chang who presented on the An Exploration of Power plenary challenging, “We have to understand displacement as another form of re-segregation.”

Another plenary explored power through three different lenses: political, economic, and cultural. Attendees of the conference were encouraged to not approach government as an adversary but instead to look for champions within who have a commitment to equity. Funders must look at approaching problems with bridging and bonding in collective solutions. “Poverty is not a policy problem. It’s a function of seeing some people as ‘not people’. Diversity is scary to people,” explained John A. Powell, Director of Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Learning tours gave participants a chance to explore Oakland on various site visits. The Arts and Culture for Community and Power Building tour that I went on highlighted for us how arts and culture have advanced social justice and supported community activism in the downtown area. We were treated to a tour and panel in the Malonga Casquelourd Center for The Arts, a presentation on the Alice Street Mural, and a look at the inner workings of Youth Radio. All sights posed a question that many communities of color face: Do you want to be a part of my community or do you want to just benefit from the resources? Native communities in particular who have a long history of removal and displacement are faced with sports teams using Native American names and mascots and non-Natives appropriating cultural praxis while Native people themselves are suffering from health and disparity issues.

The theme of Philanthropic Strategies for People, Place & Power also probed at moving beyond conversation and onto operationalizing the shifting of power. Challenging funders to fund not only people’s pain but also their power will hopefully inspire not just funding needs but funding aspirations as well. Sessions and panels urged the importance of organizing and working collectively in order to see these shifts in power happens and to transform the philanthropy sector as a whole. Taking accountability for your organization’s power and creating strategic philanthropic partnerships is the key to uplifting People, Place & Power.

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