The great Maya Angelou once said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” At its very root, derived from the Greek word philathropia, philanthropy means “to love people.” We often talk about the role of philanthropy and the ways in which it must grow and innovate, how it has changed and evolved with the times, reacting to crises, wars, economic downturns, and more. I often refer to the post-World War II period, when civil and human rights movements came to the forefront, along with community-organized philanthropic organizations. It was a pivotal time when women began to exert more influence and demonstrate the different ways in which philanthropy could support the needs of all of humankind.

It is that example of rising to the occasion and people coming together that has helped shape my ardent belief in our collective power and what guides us at the Ms. Foundation. I believe it is fostering the love of people and that pathway to change that is the role and mandate of philanthropic institutions and funders.

At the Ms. Foundation, we trust those who are closest to the issues affecting their communities. Our grantmaking, philanthropic advocacy, and capacity-building strategies have included a longstanding practice of supporting the development of women- and people of color-led grassroots organizations, prioritizing and lifting up the voices and visions of movement leaders, and building relationships and building on the insights we’ve gained throughout more than 50 years to continuously learn and grow with our grantee partners.

There is intentionality in all that the Ms. Foundation does, including our calls for funding proposals and how organizations are invited to apply. We strive to be clear and transparent about organizations’ eligibility upfront before folks apply, as we want to be as respectful of the time it may take to apply and know that smaller organizations have limited staff who already are juggling many roles and responsibilities.

Our landmark 2020 report, Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More with Less, revealed significant underinvestment in particular regions, such as the United States’ South, and in women and people of color. The second report of the series, Living with Pocket Change: What It Means to Do More With Less, examines the impact and real-life experiences of chronic philanthropic underinvestment. This critical research informs many of our current practices. Depending on the request for proposal, specific funding criteria that we may look for include geographic location, groups engaged in movement-building and organizing work to advance systemic and structural changes, and organizations that have budgets under $2 million and are led by and for women, girls, and nonbinary leaders of color.

We also look for organizations that seek to impact the underlying causes of gender and racial injustices and are working to change policies and conditions in their communities. We ask folks to describe their political, historical, and/or socioeconomic context in their state or local region, the changes they are fighting for, and how they are centering the experiences, issues, and leadership of people impacted by the problems they seek to address.

Read the full article about building capacity by Teresa C. Younger at Candid.