21 April 2012 – minutes
Occupy Philanthropy: how can we devolve the philanthropic power of the 1% to the 99% to create the social change we need?
21 April 2012, 11.00 – 13.00
Monitoring Group, Museum Street, London
- James Sevitt (JS1) (Occupy)
- Sophie Pritchard (Edge Fund co-ordinator)
- KS (Occupy)
- SD (mining, India)
- MB (funder)
- Hannah Lewis (Seeds for Change)
- Judy Russell (Peace and Justice Centre, funder)
- Nim Ralph (environmental, social and racial justice)
- Suresh Grover (The Monitoring Group, http://www.tmg-uk.org)
- BF (corporate accountability)
- John Stewart (Airport Watch)
- EB (Art in Empty Spaces)
- AR (economic justice, funder)
- AS (women’s movement, funder)
- AT (women’s rights, anti-war, anti-racism)
- Liz Beech (Occupy and http://www.thephoenixproject.org.uk)
- Ronan NcNern (Queer Resistance, Occupy)
On 21 April a group of seventeen activists and donors came together to discuss how the power of philanthropy could both be devolved to, and help support, grassroots activists and marginalised communities to create radical social change.
The discussion started with the importance of accessibility. Some of the group commented that funding needs to be accessible to as many groups as possible and therefore several considerations need to be taken into account. Firstly, we need to move away from forms as much as possible. There are many groups which are unable to complete application forms for a variety of reasons, ranging from not having internet access to download forms, not having computers, having difficulties communicating in English and not being able to understand the jargon often used by funding bodies. Many of the group also agreed that the norm is for groups to tailor their applications to what the funder wants to support.
Groups should be able to introduce themselves in a way that suits them and the application process should rely more on personal visits and phone calls than on forms. Often what is presented in a form does not accurately portray the passion, skills and vision of the group. However, application forms are often used in the place of visits because it’s much quicker; a large group of trusted people will be needed to conduct visits if this path is taken.
It was agreed by many in the group that both activists and the communities that we aim to help should be included in the decision-making process. A form of online direct democracy could be useful, as well as bringing people together for meetings face-to-face. Many in the group felt that funders should also be part of the process as it is an educational exercise for them and they also have a valuable perspective. Others felt that having funders involved would change the feeling in the room from one that is supportive (where groups can share challenges as well as successes), to one of competition. Careful thought will need to be given to the power dynamic between funders and activists but also how it might affect the activists involved in decision-making in the wider movement.
Facilitating events to bring funded groups together for skill-shares and support could be a powerful way to strengthen groups and projects.
A popular idea was for the Edge Fund to be run regionally. This would make sense in terms of visiting and assessing groups as a relatively small group of people could not be expected to travel the entire country to do this. Also, funders could be involved in decision making only for those regions they are not funding personally to potentially overcome issues of power dynamics where funders are present. On the other hand, if all funds are pooled, would this be necessary?
Transparency is also vitally important. Minutes should be made available, although it was agreed that identities of individuals should be protected if they wished. Could decisions be made in public? We also need to ensure that it is clear that the Edge Fund is a work in progress; to be approachable and open to input and ideas from others.
Towards the end of the meeting was an important discussion about how some NGOs are co-opting social movements and the need for supporting grassroots activism.
Since much more discussion is needed to draft plans for the fund, another meeting will need to be scheduled with a suggested date of 19 May. Location to be decided. We will find a slightly bigger room so more people can be invited, although for the group will remain under 30 people for now, until the public session. The original group are welcome to invite others, particularly if they represent issues/ communities not already represented within the group.
Distribution of minutes
Significant points/ decisions to be recorded.
Names can remain anonymous for those who prefer that.
Would be useful to give description of the group meeting today.
Useful to know people’s backgrounds to know context of their comments.
Use initials or other symbols, rather than full names.
SP to circulate minutes before putting up on website.
– all agreed.
JS1: Four main areas to discuss: today:-
1. Values of social and political change and how it applies to philanthropy
2. What to fund – what are priorities?
3. Decision-making – who and how?
4. Public education and debate
HL: Suggest focus on 2, too much for 2-hour session.
MB: Start with point 3, as this may bring elements of others, such as values.
Accessibility/ application process
LB: Groups gear application forms to specific donors; tell donors what they want to hear. Who should people ask for money?
NR: People need to be literate, legible, English speaking, middle class, educated to complete the forms. Can we get rid of the forms?
JT: Used to carry out assessments by the phone, you then get the passion and vision you often don’t get from a form.
JS: Forms are always the starting point. It should start with a conversation. A meeting at the group’s place of work.
RM: What makes a crowd funding appeal successful? They are written in broader terms since there is not a specific audience/ funder. There are some good and bad ones would be interesting to look at.
SP: Application forms can speed up process for funder, although not ideal for applicants. Would be better to visit groups rather than having forms but would need large group of people trusted to do this as very time consuming.
BF: Forms allow easy comparison between of groups, but often groups are very different and thus should not be compared. Forms are time consuming, spend too much time fund raising.
NR: Accessibility important. Perhaps use a very basic form or video as introduction to funder. Let groups introduce themselves in the way they want to.
SG: Agree accessibility should be multi-faceted. There needs to be autonomy between funded groups and those making funding decisions. Needs to be based around shared values.
AT: How do funders deal with accountability and sustainability? What are individuals growing stronger to do? Often personal development seems to take place of community development.
CS: Is there a way to facilitate skill-sharing between groups being funded? Groups could regularly network.
BF: Agree that it’s problematic that groups tailor applications for specific audience. Same applies to framing successes.
JS: Agree would be good to facilitate networking between groups. Important that non-funders are part of decision making. Also having more people involved with visiting and assessing groups allows more hands on deck to share workload.
MB: Re accountability. Hard to answer; comes down to being horizontal, respect and honouring pledges. How do we foster collaboration when there is competition between groups?
RM: Mechanisms for decision-making; online direct democracy. Bring together applications, donors and others to make decisions. Being discussed at Occupy.
HL: Dream was that activists would be making decisions. Values and trust very important.
LB: Funders are activists. Funders should be at meetings where decisions are being made, their perspective is important. Need to change the relationship between funders and grant recipients.
JT: Also important for funders to be able to sell concept to other funders.
EB: Hierarchical system/ power structure of traditional philanthropy process is wrong. Need to involve the communities you aim to help.
SP: Funding Exchange has been running activist led funding since 1970s, using funding panels that change regularly. Each member group takes it in a different direction, including having a one day event where donors, groups and others come together to make decisions.
SG: We need to make sure that more and more groups have access to funding. Take in to account that some people don’t want to speak at meetings etc. Need mechanisms to bring in new activists and donors. Could decisions be made publically? There is a desperation for funding which can cause falling out. Need to make sure process is equitable, open and transparent.
JS: Agree re open and transparent. Decision making panels should change and would be interesting to make decision making public! Funders should be at meetings, learning experience for everyone.
AS: This will appeal to donors who are activists the most. Once read that it is the lowest form of giving to give money to a homeless man on the street and receive his thanks, and highest form is to give to a trusted third party/ group. Struck by the fact that some people employ others to assess/ visit projects they want to fund (re LB visiting Palestine).
HL: Involving community is good, but what happens if they cannot speak – trees, air etc? Bringing activists and donors together will bring up interesting power dynamics. Do funders have to commit funds before and after decision-making meeting? If funders are in meetings, how can we ensure they don’t carry more weight? How can activists involved in decision-making be supported in dealing with how this affects their power within the movement?
NR: We would need regional groups to make this accessible. Therefore could it be structured so that funders attend meetings, but in a different region to the one they’re funding? Need to be conscious of language, can be alienating. Many people on front line would not label themselves activists, radical etc.
BF: Involving groups will have to be done differently according to group, re environmental and other issues with no voice. Donors will always have greater power. Meetings should be supportive, not competitive. Groups should be able to share challenges etc. If donors are present at meetings it would make it competitive. Like the idea of regions and donors only attending those they don’t fund.
MB: Find it difficult to be involved as both donor and activist. Two main points; want to devolve donor power to very bottom and address need for extraordinary change.
RN: We need to devolve donor power. Occupy has brought together many different people. Email list can be very challenging as there are so many different opinions. Ben and Jerry’s have recently set up fund to support Occupy US. Panel consists of donors and activists. One activist involved turned up at launch event to criticise the fund as he felt that having donors on the panel gave them all the power again. They can still take control. We need to put thoughts out there, be transparent, let it be seen as work in progress. Not overly glossy. Approachable.
AR: There’s a need for seed funding and crowd funding – hybrid models of the two. How did Lush do this? Donors can learn a lot through the decision-making process, if you don’t allow them to take part they’ll loose out in the learning process. Also need to be aware of conflicts of interest.
NR: Clarification re regionalisation: donors still involved but just not in their own regions.
JT: The funds would be in a pot anyway, so decisions wouldn’t be made on funders own money specifically.
SD: Grassroots activists not visible – not in meetings like this! Foundations often have damaging impact on social movements because of the organisations they fund; Arundhati Roy recently wrote about Ford Foundation, they wanted her on their board along with Tata. NGOs take over movements, employ activists, promote compromising instead of fighting. Depoliticising movements.
AT: Crucial point – money is used to undermine movements. See exactly the same in women’s movement, particularly around women’s rights and Afghanistan. We can learn a lot from Indian activists who challenge this.
SP: Need longer to discuss other points.
JS: Half day/ most of day, at weekend most suitable (except HL)
AS: More accessible if short
RM: For outreach event, perhaps framed around latest news on cap on tax on donations. Backdrop of Olympics.
AS: Session has spoken for itself, brought together people wouldn’t usually talk with and great ideas, particularly public decision making, regionalisation, Olympic idea. Can we see Ronan’s Q&A. Also set up e-list.
SP: Will send list of people’s names and email addresses, set up email list, send info on Occupy events. (Can people send in statements of support for website?)
SG: We’ve not yet discussed values. Need another event to take this forward. Not been to a meeting before with such diversity of issues. Invite same group of people, but widen group to involve more people.
BF: Important to involve as many people as possible at this initial stage.
Proposed date: 19 May
SG to send details of space at Kings Cross
Could also use EB’s space in Hackney, RichMix, Friends House.
Occupy May events – they are all listed at this Facebook page. The big days are 1, 12 and 15 May. See https://www.facebook.com/events/288620067873162/
Also, the specific info for May Day this Tuesday is at –
This will include thousands of white flowers and ‘Occupy business cards’ being given out with messages on them, along with 10 major billboards across London being subverted with Occupy messaging.
Occupy Philanthropy: how can we devolve the philanthropic power of the 1% to the 99% to create the social change we need?
Date: 21 April 2012
Time: 11am – 1pm (possibly longer for those interested)
Location: Monitoring Group, London Civil Rights & Art Centre, Upper Floors, 37 Museum Street, London, WC1A 1LQ (near British Museum – Holborn or Tottenham Court Road tube)
Aim of the session
A small group of donors would like to initiate a funding experiment, as a pre-cursor to a new fund called The Edge Fund (http://edgefund.org.uk), to explore ideas for how funding decision-making can be more democratic and both support and devolve power to the grassroots. The session will help to formulate more concrete models and ideas to be presented at a public event at a later date, which will involve a wider group of people in the discussion. Hopefully by the end of these two sessions there will be a much clearer idea of what processes might be suitable and a list of people willing to support the project longer-term in various capacities.
Some of the key questions will be:-
- What can we learn from existing models of grantmaking?
- Who should form the steering committee and what should their responsibilities be?
- Who should make funding decisions and what should the processes be for deciding which individuals take part?
- How can we ensure that activists participating in funding decision-making do not gain unfair advantage over others in the movement as a result?
- How can we ensure the fund is transparent whilst also respecting the privacy of participants and the sensitive nature of some applications?
- How can we make the decision-making process alliance building and a learning experience for all involved?
- Who should donate to the fund and how involved should they be?
- How should the fund be focused to create lasting, radical systemic change?
- How can traditional philanthropy be influenced in a non-judgmental and engaging way?
Who should come
We’re looking for a small but diverse group of around 10-20 people representing communities facing issues related to gender, race, class, sexuality, ability and environmental justice. We’d also like a range of grassroots activists with experience in various environmental and social justice issues and would welcome funding organisations supporting these causes.
There’s a big problem with philanthropy very few people want to talk about: the system that creates the wealth of philanthropists also causes many of the problems philanthropy attempts to solve. Could it be that we don’t need philanthropists, and that what we need is a new world where everyone has equal rights and a fair share? It seems that if people have the means and are free of oppression, they’ll solve their own problems. But if charitable donations are used to thrust someone else’s solutions upon them, this is unlikely to happen (especially if they happen to belong to someone with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo).
Since we currently live in a world where there are pots of money to distribute, whether from individuals or funding bodies, we have a fantastic opportunity to help create real change. In the struggle for the lasting systemic social and ecological change we need, the best funding strategy might be to support projects that spring from the grassroots, and which help to grow powerful, horizontal social movements. But if those with money are serious about wanting to see systemic positive transformation in society, they need to take action to devolve their own power.
We would like to explore and implement ways that we can put the decisions about funding not in the hands of those with money, but in the hands of those who don’t and in the process help to create a world where philanthropists are no longer needed. Is it about time philanthropy put itself out of business?
Funding Plus: there’s a growing number of funding organisations that engage in grant-making that goes beyond just giving money, termed Funding Plus. This can include providing support in building the capacity of groups, organising events to bring grantees together for skill-shares and offering other resources.
Strategic programmatic funding: the board decides on how much funding will be allocated to specific causes and then the funder brings together all the key players to form an alliance. The alliance, including the funder, decides on the course of action and the funder provides the funds needed as well as being an active partner in the campaign.
Activist-led grantmaking: boards of activists that represent the diversity of the affected community make funding decisions, which are then ratified by the board. Variations on this theme include bringing applicants together to take part in decision-making; including donors and mainstream funders and Community Grantmaking where board members, staff, donors, potential grantees and activists all come together in a highly participatory one-day event to explore what needs to be addressed, what people are passionate about and can commit to and how funds should be allocated.