For Native-led nonprofits, the integrity with which funders build relationships and invest resources directly affects their ability to make community impact. The weight of this power dynamic between funder and nonprofit underscores the need for funders to address imbalanced relationships among philanthropic institutions and Native nonprofits and alter the fundamentals of Native philanthropy by promoting equitable and effective philanthropy in Native communities that fosters reciprocity.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) report (Overlooked (Part Two): Foundation Support for Native American Leaders and Communities) sought to better understand these relationships in the sector by addressing the question: how are Native American nonprofit leaders and communities overlooked by foundation funders?

In the report, a Native nonprofit leader shared, “You can’t assume that just because you’re meeting with two tribal communities, that they’re going to be exactly the same. There are 574 federally recognized tribes. There are unique, beautiful, amazing differences between those tribes.” This is just one example of why funders need to include Indigenous knowledge in the larger philanthropy ecosystem. Fostering a meaningful and intentional relationship with Native nonprofits requires both community and knowledge building. Another leader shared, “If you don’t understand the issue that you’re trying to impact, you’re not going to have very much impact.” This knowledge defines the reciprocal essence of Native philanthropy. For foundations to be effective drivers of impact, there is a need to create an informed grantmaking system where Native nonprofits are meaningfully engaged and consulted. To change the dynamic from overlooking to prioritizing Native-led nonprofits, foundations must approach relationship building holistically.

Foundations’ funding practices in support of Native-led nonprofits are another major contributing factor to changing this dynamic. Our sector must collectively work to increase funding by large U.S. foundations beyond the current 0.4 percent of philanthropic dollars directed to Native communities.[1] The distribution should meet the actual needs of Native communities while also investing in their tremendous opportunities and cultural strengths. In the report, CEP found that almost two-thirds of foundation leaders provide little or no grant dollars to organizations primarily serving Native American communities. With regard to funding in 2020, the report found that about two thirds of nonprofit leaders whose organizations primarily serve Native American communities reported that they did not receive new foundation funding.

We all must take the time to reflect and ask ourselves: why is this accepted in philanthropy as normalcy? As we witnessed during the early months of the pandemic, numerous Native communities and leaders needed immediate resources to provide support for community members experiencing significant challenges. Where the federal government and the philanthropic sector fell short, many community leaders raised their own resources by establishing GoFundMe campaigns and promoting them heavily across their communications platforms.[2] Major foundations should learn from these transparent and comprehensive community-led efforts as they reevaluate their own funding practices.

Read the full article about intentional relationship building by Joseph Ironhawk Little at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.