The Visionary Freedom Fund gave youth activists control of its grants

In a typical room the place nonprofits do the work of grantmaking—deciding which packages and options to fund with their philanthropic {dollars}—the faces round that desk doubtless don’t replicate the communities that can obtain that charity. “The approach these funders are arrange, it’s often a board which tends to be primarily white, not from the communities they fund, folks of wealth—whether or not inherited or in any other case—and so they’re very disconnected from the communities that they’re making an attempt to help,” says Manuela Arciniegas, director of the Andrus Family Fund, a nonprofit that helps youth-focused social justice organizations.

Some nonprofits could herald folks like neighborhood liaisons or advisors to that desk, however even then, there are nonetheless energy dynamics at play that may have an effect on which teams in the end get funding. How snug can a younger neighborhood organizer be to talk up once they’re sitting subsequent to somebody who has labored in philanthropy for many years, or once they’re outnumbered at that desk by rich, white donors, whose cash it’s they’re deciding the right way to spend?

When it got here to a brand new spherical of funding from the Andrus Household Fund, the muse wished to do one thing totally different. As half of its twentieth anniversary, it launched the Visionary Freedom Fund, with an intention to incorporate extra younger folks within the grantmaking course of. The thought began when youthful members of the household (the Andrus Household Fund is the philanthropic work of descendants of John E. Andrus, former mayor of Yonkers, New York, and U.S. congressman), discovered they’d have entry to an extra $1 million funding to have a good time their twentieth anniversary. “The board felt that as an alternative of focusing [on] and celebrating themselves, we must always leverage this million {dollars} to make an affect within the youth justice area,” Arciniegas says. “And so what we determined was to make use of it as seed funding to launch our twentieth anniversary fund, the Visionary Freedom Fund initiative.”

On the core of the fund was one thing the group referred to as Energy Desk, made up of eight youth organizers—these straight impacted by the sort of points the fund would profit and children impacted by the legal justice system, whether or not meaning tousled within the school-to-prison pipeline or witnesses to police brutality—together with 4 grownup motion leaders and eleven funders. The Energy Desk, a brand new addition to the grantmaking course of, steered the selections for the way the fund would distribute a complete of $2.5 million.


To Arciniegas, the Visionary Freedom Fund is a form of passing of the baton, with funders lastly handing over some energy to the younger folks their charity goals to profit. “Younger persons are deeply conscious of what the problems are. They know what must be funded. And so placing them within the decision-making energy to drive the place {dollars} are going, to sign what probably the most revolutionary options are, is, I believe, actually sensible grantmaking,” she says. “It could take philanthropy years to find out about these options and to essentially preserve our finger on the heart beat.”

In some situations, it could take philanthropy years to simply know what points younger persons are going through—particularly once they’re in confinement or tousled not directly with the justice system—not to mention what may resolve these issues. She provides an instance: She is aware of children who have been advised in the event that they went to a probation program and reported in day by day, they wouldn’t be incarcerated. However as a result of of the pandemic, this system received shut down, and people children have been routinely deemed noncompliant and returned to incarceration. Rich, often-white donors, residing in one other half of the nation, don’t see that taking place firsthand, or know anybody who did, and the phone sport of getting that data from communities on the bottom to somewhat-sequestered boardrooms dolling out philanthropic {dollars} will be gradual.

[Source Image: speedmanstudio/iStock]

“These are the methods techniques fail our children, and children know that,” Arciniegas says. “And for funders to find out about that in actual time would take perpetually.” As an alternative, they turned to children across the nation on the entrance strains of these points and mentioned, “you guys resolve the place the cash goes.” These eight youth organizers have been chosen via an open utility course of, and have been compensated. All had expertise with activism and organizing, like Jemima Abalogu, who, throughout her junior and senior years of highschool, was the Youth Justice Ambassador for the Texas Prison Justice Coalition, engaged on restorative justice practices; and Adrianna Gonzales, who at 16 began volunteering with Poder in Motion, a Phoenix-based group targeted on techniques change, like reducing the quantity of school-resource officers as a approach to finish the school-to-prison pipeline. Now 19, Gonzales leads the nonprofit’s youth program.

That technique resulted in 26 organizations receiving funding for a 2-year funding, engaged on things like calls to divest from policing and prisons—and make investments as an alternative in neighborhood companies—methods to make use of artwork to assist younger individuals who have been via the jail system, and packages targeted on psychological well being for teenagers whose mother and father have been incarcerated or deported. (All of the initiatives are led by both Black, immigrant, Indigenous, queer, and trans, or AAPI communities.) This variety within the sort of work funded is itself a illustration of the range of the folks across the funding desk, says Bryan Perlmutter, one of the Visionary Freedom Fund undertaking coordinators and cofounder of Piece by Piece Strategies, a consulting agency that helps social justice organizing.

“Seeing the tip end result of grantees can be a mirrored image of the method that was used, which felt like a very stunning second—that lots of the organizations that received resourced, the donors at desk weren’t essentially conversant in,” he says. The teams that have been funded have been ones the Andrus Household Fund had no prior relationship with. So whereas Andrus Household grants have supported youth justice organizations up to now—like Secure Passage Venture, which offers free legal professionals for immigrant youngsters being deported, and Advance Peace, which mentors these on the heart of gun violence in a neighborhood—their conventional course of wouldn’t have led them to those particular teams, that are led by marginalized communities themselves, specializing in probably the most related, current points to justice-system impacted children, and infrequently missed or underfunded.  The grantees, Arciniegas, says, have been “from locations the place we’d by no means go.”

The youth organizers additionally raised points that these with legacy expertise within the nonprofit house could have by no means thought to query. With their recent eyes, they requested about why the grant purposes wanted to be so lengthy, or in the event that they actually wanted to carry folks to return in to speak in particular person, after the grantmaking desk simply learn a 20-page report. These have been customary practices, however have been they the very best use of everybody’s time? “We discovered lots from them,” Arciniegas says, “and a few of us are taking again what we discovered into our personal establishments to rethink how ought to we alter our grantmaking utility and course of.”

Ultimately, 26 organizations have been funded out of 600 whole purposes. The Visionary Freedom Fund members additionally related with everybody who didn’t get grants, strolling them via the factors and course of and explaining why they weren’t chosen. That honesty and transparency is one thing else that made the fund stand out from different grantmaking packages. Jessica Pierce, one other undertaking coordinator and Perlmutter’s cofounder, says they obtained calls from folks appreciating how totally different this course of was than different grant purposes, the place funders could combine up their group’s title with one other’s (an indication of carelessness), or the place they by no means get any suggestions about why they didn’t get a grant.


The Visionary Freedom Fund is now elevating cash and planning to proceed with extra grantmaking cycles. It’s a mannequin everybody concerned hopes to see increase past this fund, too, to the broader world of philanthropy. “Half of what we’re making an attempt to do just isn’t carry folks to the desk, however construct a very totally different desk,” Pierce says. Too typically, Arciniegas provides, “Philanthropy facilities philanthropy moderately than neighborhood,” that means customary practices and institutional norms get in the way in which of the actual work of philanthropy: to offer away cash (ideally in a approach that builds actions or builds towards justice, Perlmutter provides.) This mannequin may change all that. “I hope that it continues to encourage people to maneuver extra sources,” he says, “and to do it in additional accountable methods to the communities that they’re in search of to construct with.”