Leaning in and learning about philanthropy can be challenging for donors who want to make a difference. For many, the best learning experiences are applied — learning while doing. If you are among those who are interested in learning more about the needs in your community and the ways you can advance social justice, and you are willing to give time in addition to money, Giving Projects may be a great resource for you.

Giving Projects as a model were first piloted in 2010 by Social Justice Fund Northwest (SJF) — a Seattle-based foundation that makes grants to grassroots equity-focused groups in five Western states. Each Project brings together 20 to 25 individual givers from different backgrounds around a specific issue area over a six-month period, who engage together in activities ranging from learning about race and identity, to learning about community organizations, to leading grassroots fundraising efforts.

Giving Projects offer a way to address some of the power imbalances that often are part of philanthropy. High net-worth individuals who participate in Giving Projects are learning to share their long-held power in meaningful ways by working directly with those who have been on the other side of the table. And those who have been grassroots leaders in their communities are able to make decisions about the funds that will affect their own communities, using the expertise of their own experience to choose the projects that are most likely to work. All benefit from creating community outside their usual bubbles, and building skills in fundraising and grantmaking through training, practice, and hands-on support.

How else are Giving Projects different from traditional donor collectives or giving circles? Besides the aforementioned workshops and fundraising philosophy, here are a few other key distinctions:

1) There is no set minimum contribution, which makes it more inclusive to all types of donors (some have never seen themselves as philanthropists before).

2) The group must be cross-class and cross-race.

3) Analysis of social justice and movement building must always be at the core.

4) The money raised must be distributed through a democratic grantmaking process, which includes reviewing applications and site visits.

5) The value and practice of community-building is always present.

Read about the experiences and reflections of some Giving Project alumni.

A consortium of mission-aligned funds — SJF, Chinook Fund (Denver), Crossroads Fund (Chicago), Headwaters Foundation for Justice (Minneapolis), North Star Fund (New York), Bread and Roses Community Foundation (Philadelphia), and Grassroots International (Boston-based but participants can join remotely from anywhere) — is now using the same Giving Project model, experimenting and innovating, and sharing evaluation materials and knowledge.

This Learning Community has learned that an open conversation about race is as important a resource as money, that communities must be the primary driver of systems change, that advocacy work requires courage and commitment, and that it’s vital to develop and center strong relationships with donors of color.

Through participating in a Giving Project, you don’t just support social justice work, you do social justice work. By learning about race and class in a truly diverse cohort, participating in authentic conversations, organizing your own community to fund vital grassroots efforts, and sharing decision-making power, you develop and practice the skills to create a more just and equitable world.

Giving Projects are open to everyone who can commit the time, but space is limited. To speak to an SJF staff person about getting involved in Seattle or Portland, get more information here. To contact organizations doing Giving Projects in other parts of the country, find information here.

Consider joining a Giving Project to learn, be engaged, and be challenged in your practice of social justice philanthropy.