Not too long ago, I chatted with a successful entrepreneur who had started four failed companies before his big break. Time after time, failure after failure, investors continued to believe in him and in his vision. Failure was not only acceptable, it was seen as a positive development — a way to find the most viable solution, learn from your failures, and try again. In corporate settings, we call this “failing forward,” or purposely failing to find success.
What if philanthropy took the same risks with its grantmaking? If funders viewed their dollars as a way to invest in bold ideas and creative solutions, we could find new ways to address systemic problems. By putting resources into the hands of capable people with innovative approaches, and giving those people the freedom to fail, learn, and grow – we could ignite a new way of funding and utilize philanthropy as a springboard for lasting change.
In 2017, JustFund was created by funders and organizers of color with a clear charge in mind: Get the money to the movement. We work to get critical resources to people on the frontlines of social change and ensure those resources are easy to access and distribute. We’ve created a community of funders and organizations that champion trust-based philanthropy and equity in grantmaking. We recognize the challenges to traditional grantmaking and have developed accessible, equitable, and transparent systems to center the transformative over transaction.
If you are a funder or individual donor who wants to reset philanthropy and explore what it can be, consider adopting any or all of the following practices as you prepare for your next grant cycle or before you make your next donation. These are types of actions trust-based funders are taking as they work to center equity, trust, and transparency in their grantmaking.
Make new connections and expand your network. Find smaller, grassroots, frontline organizations that are BIPOC-led, values-aligned, and doing work you’re inspired by and believe in. BIPOC-led organizations receive only 4% of all funding. About 9% of grantmaking from foundations goes to communities of color. These organizations are working at the forefront of our nation’s most systemic and critical issues from criminal justice to voting rights to racial justice and need the most investment. Given their size, they are often the hardest organizations to find. The JustFund portal has thousands of organizations like these that are searchable across dozens of filters, and you will see the funding decisions of other funders: foundations, collaborative funds, pooled funds, and individual donors. You can also view an organization’s common proposal, reach out to other funders, or connect directly with the organization. In traditional models of philanthropy, access to funding often revolves around who you know or who you are connected to. JustFund expands access to resources by connecting historically underfunded groups to new funders and donors. Create some more room at your table by expanding your existing network and making a new connection!
Reduce the burden on applicants. What do you really need to make a funding decision? When it comes down to it, the legal requirements include an organization’s name, address, and EIN. Measurable outcomes are important, but so are the people behind the numbers. Solutions that feel different, risky, creative, or unconventional may be the most effective and need bold funders ready to provide critical resources to create change. At JustFund, our common proposal provides all funders with basic information about the organization, their work, who else is already funding the organization, and how to move resources. Applying for funding is tedious and expensive for organizations, taking an average of 15-25 hours and upwards of $5,000 per application, when groups have the ability to hire a professional grant writer. Organizations shouldn’t be bogged down by administrative work. We invite you to explore innovative solutions that reduce the burden on grantees and help you get funding to people who need it, in a streamlined way.
Take more risks - together. Funding new organizations can feel risky. But, when you’re funding in community and can rely on vetting from people you trust, your risk is greatly mitigated. You can have increased confidence to fund organizations that are new to your network and take more chances on historically neglected and chronically underfunded groups and communities. If the solutions were simple, someone else would have already solved them. Let’s take more risks, together. Even if groups end up not doing the work you envisioned or work that leads to another type of outcome and impact, we are learning, and more importantly, learning together.
We invite you to come join our community of values-aligned funders and organizations at JustFund. Uncomplicate your RFP, have time to have trust-filled relationships with your grantees, and delegate your grant cycles to our team - or come find new organizations doing critical work on the frontlines.