Announcing the 2015 RSF Seed Fund Grantees!

May 28, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

Every spring, RSF provides small gifts to seed new initiatives that offer innovative solutions in the field of social finance, or address issues in one of our three focus areas – Food & Agriculture, Education & the Arts, and Ecological Stewardship. Thank you to all of our individual investors, donors, and staff members who make the RSF Seed Fund possible! We are pleased to announce the 2015 Seed Fund grantees:

Arc of Greater New Orleans_blog postArc of Greater New Orleans serves people with intellectual disabilities and delays from birth through adulthood in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes.

Arc provides a variety of social services to the community and also manages social enterprises which enable the organization to employ people with disabilities.

Arc’s Vintage Garden Nursery, which includes a 1,200 square foot state of the art greenhouse, two dozen large raised beds, and a 500 square foot arbor, recevied a $2,000 Seed Fund grant for its work growing native Lousiana plants and providing full-time employment to nine people with disabilities. The Vintage Garden Nursery is a part of Vintage Garden Farm, a nearly five acre mixed vegetable farm which supplies area farmers’ markets, local chefs, and Arc’s own healthy soup enterpise Vintage Garden Kitchen.


BK ROT_blog postBK ROT is a community-supported composting service that generates environmental jobs for Black, Latino, and Immigrant youth in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

BK ROT youth earn weekly stipends to collect organic waste from local residents and community institutions by bike, process the material, and manage compost sites. In 18 months of operation, four BK ROT youth have processed over 18 tons (36,000 lbs.) of local, organic waste, creating over two tons of finished compost. The service has created over $5,000 in youth stipends. The organization has grown from serving seven households to serving 85 unique households, positively impacting over 255 residents. Additionally, the program engages another 200 residents through the compost drop-off partnership at the Bushwick Food Coop.

The $2,500 Seed Fund grant will support BK ROT in creating a sustainable grassroots composting service that defines success as both centering on minority groups lacking access to positive green jobs and increasing community composting practices.


City Blossoms_blog postCity Blossoms in Washington, D.C. works with community-based organizations, neighborhood groups, and learning centers to create outdoor spaces where children and youth can use their creativity, intellect, and energy to grow and develop as future environmental stewards.

Since its incorporation in 2009, City Blossoms has designed, developed, and collaborated with partners to facilitate the creation of over 40 green spaces throughout Washington D.C., Baltimore City, and Philadelphia.

In 2012, City Blossoms partnered with Eastern Senior High School’s administration to create an on-site program that incorporated the schools’ existing but unused commercial grade greenhouse and garden. Since then, participating students have engaged in gardening techniques, agricultural practices, plant identification, composting processes, and water conservation.

A Seed Fund grant of $2,500 will support the creation of Mighty Greens, an urban agriculture-based cooperative created, owned, and maintained by 10th grade students at Eastern High School in Washington, D.C.


Fibershed_blog postFibershed develops regenerative textile systems that are based on carbon farming, regional manufacturing, and public education.

Fibershed envisions an international system of regional textile communities that enliven connection and ownership of ‘soil-to-soil’ textile processes. These diverse textile cultures are designed to build soil carbon stocks on the working landscapes on which they depend, while directly enhancing the strength of regional economies.

Fibershed received a $2,000 Seed Fund grant to support the emergence of a regional textile supply chain with a focus on sustainable farming practices and result in the first biodynamic cotton grown in the United States. The cotton would then be ginned, spun and sewn within the U.S.


NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative_blog postNYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative provides tools to cooperatively finance, acquire, and manage community space in New York City. Through continual education and outreach, the new organization aims to contribute to a movement for social finance and to prepare member-investors for long-term civic engagement.

The $1,000 Seed Fund grant will support a feasibility study and educational program on cooperative financing, acquisition, and management of land trust buildings for art, entrepreneurship, and ecology in New York City.


Planting Justice_blog postPlanting Justice in Oakland, CA is a grassroots organization with a mission to democratize access to affordable, nutritious food by empowering urban residents with the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to maximize organic food production, expand job opportunities, and ensure environmental sustainability in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Their Transform Your Yard edible landscaping program trains and employs formerly incarcerated people, at-risk youth, and other economically disenfranchised community members to design and build permaculture gardens. The Re-Entry Green Jobs and Personal Transformation program, called Pathways to Resilience, provides holistic supportive services to men and women 18 years and older who have been released from prison or jail within the last three years. They are currently fundraising for Urban Aquaponics Farm and Incubation Center, their first commercial urban farm and training center.

Planting Justice received a $1,000 Seed Fund grant to support the creation of jobs for formerly-incarcerated adults in Oakland.


Shepherd Valley Waldorf School_blog postShepherd Valley Waldorf School in Niwot, CO, seeks to educate children for the whole of life. By using the curriculum and principles of Waldorf Education, the students become confident individuals, capable of making free choices, able to realize their full potential, and inspired to make a difference in the world.

The school sits on 22 acres of agriculturally zoned land, providing students with year-round exploration and connection to the rhythm of seasons and the joys of nature.

RSF awarded a Seed Fund grant of $1,000 to support their farming initiative that will provide educational opportunities to the students, investment opportunities for the community, an income stream for the school, and rejuvenation for the land.


Transform Finance_blog postTransform Finance builds a just world by making capital a force for real transformative change. They seek to do this by building a bridge between the worlds of finance and social justice, leveraging their collective power to realize the true promise of impact investment.

Transform Finance supports investors, entrepreneurs, and social justice leaders who seek to turn capital and entrepreneurship into tools for positive social change. They believe that finance can be truly transformative and can work as an additional resource in a social justice toolbox.

Transform Finance believes that for capital to be truly transformative, two things need to happen simultaneously: finance practitioners need to engage with a social justice approach, and social justice practitioners need to engage with the world of finance. The $2,500 Seed Fund grant awarded will support training and coaching for social justice leaders and activists to enable them to engage in social entrepreneurship and take advantage of impact investing.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services.

Gift Catalyzes a For-Profit

May 26, 2015

This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 RSF Quarterly.

Alex Haberby Alex Haber

In the Philanthropic Services department at RSF, our purpose is to cultivate gift as the source of economic life. This purpose shows up in many ways, as we work to underscore how gift is used not only in charitable activities, but in market-driven ones as well. Our Program Related Investment (PRI) platform, for example, pools charitable dollars from foundations and lends them to catalytic enterprises working in sustainable food and agriculture. One of the organizations that has received a loan from our PRI program is Eastern Carolina Organics, or ECO. Our PRI investment is not the only place that the power of gift shows up in the story of this for-profit enterprise, though. In fact, their first funding came in the form of a grant, and the spirit of that initial gift has rippled through their success and their business model in powerful ways.

ECO was founded in 2004 to support emerging organic farmers and organic tobacco growers while improving the supply of local organic produce. In the last ten years, ECO has grown almost four-fold, and are now working with over 40 growers and over 100 customers. By working as an intermediary between organic growers and customers like retailers and farm-to-table restaurants, they provide a steady supply of high-quality, seasonal, local, organic produce while creating stability for farmers and efficiency for buyers. Since ECO is a largely farmer-owned enterprise, the farmer-owners have a level of commitment to the business that allows them to feel confident in future sales and provides mutual support in a way that is also responsive to the demands of the market.

Sandi Kronick, Eastern Carolina Organics, Durham, NC

Sandi Kronick, Eastern Carolina Organics, Durham, NC

In 2004, though, ECO was just an experiment. Sandi Kronick, ECO’s co-founder, felt confident that the business model could work, but she didn’t want to ask farmers to invest in an untested enterprise. Instead of seeking start-up financing in the form of debt, she instead applied for a grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission with the help of a non-profit partner, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. The mission of the Commission is to support the economic livelihood of current and former tobacco farmers, and ECO served just that purpose. Sandi hoped that the initiative could prove that organic produce could be the “new tobacco” for NC agriculture and not just a passing fad. But she knew that to demonstrate this, ECO would have to operate as a market-driven business and not as a charitable endeavor. On this point, the grant application to the Tobacco Commission was explicit: if the model worked, ECO would seek to incorporate as a for-profit, farmer-owned company at the end of the one-year grant term. The application was successful, and ECO received a relatively modest grant of $48,000; most of the other Tobacco Commission grants were in the six-figure range. In retrospect, Sandi says, that relatively small grant was a blessing: “Because the gift was small, we came into it with humble goals, and a humble sense of our ability to achieve those goals. We didn’t know if this was going to work.”

In that first, grant-funded year, ECO ended with an $11,000 margin. Seeing that the model would work, they incorporated in 2005 with thirteen farmer-owners and two manager-owners. There were many reasons ECO chose to incorporate as a for-profit enterprise. Perhaps most importantly, a for-profit model with farmer-ownership at its core demonstrated to farmers that this was a sustainable way to make a living, which in turn created a sense of security that, as Sandi says, farmers were able to “plant in the ground.” This was a key factor in ECO’s early success. In addition, incorporating as a for-profit allowed ECO to operate with little overhead and focus on their core work of aggregating and distributing organic produce. If fundraising had been at the heart of the business model, staff would have been distracted by donor cultivation and at the mercy of the latest trends in philanthropy. The wisdom of this decision became starkly clear during the economic downturn following 2008, when ECO witnessed many of its non-profit partners suffering while their business remained relatively steady.

Although it has been important that ECO be able to thrive in the marketplace, the spirit of that initial gift has been just as essential to its business model. Sandi believes that the enterprise could not have survived if it took on debt at its founding: “We wouldn’t have been able to make those payments on a loan back then. It was absolutely necessary to get that initial gift.” In 2012, ECO received another grant from the City of Durham to aid in the rehabilitation of an industrial building that now serves as its home. Although they knew it would help the business, they also couldn’t justify the expense as a part of their regular work. Again, a gift was catalytic for their growth—but they felt comfortable accepting it because it was clear, after so many years of successful operations, that there was no fear ECO would become grant dependent. The market-driven, core work was still successful; the new gift helped ECO to grow and expand, just like the first.

The initial gift also ripples through ECO’s work. The $11,000 margin that ECO was able to retain its first year was crucial to helping it weather the challenging second winter of operations. A company making goods in a factory and working in “industrial time,” to borrow a concept from Wendell Berry, can balance between supply and demand on a thin margin. Being in tune with the natural rhythms of “agricultural time,” though, requires a farmer-driven business to have the cushion and balance of resources that gift provides. The founding gift capital allowed ECO’s business model to survive and thrive by providing the flexibility and trust needed in a cyclical, land-driven business. Along with the farmer-ownership, it was that trust, the spirit of that initial gift, which was planted back into the ground and cycled back into the business through the gifts of the land itself.

ECO may be a for-profit company, but as a social enterprise driven by the gifts from the land, and catalyzed by a gift of capital, the spirit and value of gift is crucial to the business’s success. Even today, over ten years after the initial grant that made the business possible, Sandi says: “I really feel a certain level of responsibility to steward that gift, because it had several incarnations. I see all of that as a blessing.”

Owners 2015 (1024x958)

Eastern Carolina Organics Farmer-Owners

Alex is Program Manager, Philanthropic Services at RSF.

Clients in Conversation: Money & Spirit – Part II

May 19, 2015

This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 RSF Quarterly. This dialogue is with John Bloom, Vice President, Organizational Culture and RSF clients Rose Feerick and Barbara Sargent.

Last fall at the SOCAP14 conference, RSF sponsored a panel titled, “What Does Spirit Have To Do With Money?” The participants, Barbara Sargent, Rose Feerick, and John Bloom (facilitator), began this conversation prior to the panel in preparation and it deepened more during the panel. This “conversation” is an extension of that dialogue. Our hope is that the questions we explored be engaged with by anyone reading this distillation. It would honor the participants and the dialogue itself were this to be the case.

The questions: What in each of our biographies led us to seek the connection between money and spirit? How do spiritual practices inform our work with money? What are some practical examples from your current work with money and gift which evidence the presence of spirit?

Click here to view Part I

Sargent_FeerickRose: I am fascinated by the way Barbara’s journey with money led her back to her natural spiritual orientation. I have also found that working with money has deepened my spiritual journey. Here is what I mean: staying conscious of what is happening in my money life; engaging with financial tensions as a way to see where I need to grow spiritually; choosing to notice and let go of the desires to grab, get more, move from scarcity or fear; bringing my financial realities out of privacy and into transparent community—these practices allow me to become increasingly conscious of my inner life and then make choices that manifest my values and vision. One of those values is compassion for all the ways that I am not yet in full alignment.

I also practice prayer forms that emerge from the monastic stream of Christianity. These practices alongside my work with money are helping, I hope, to open my heart more fully to grace. They make it easier for me to witness the various drives and assumptions that I experience in my day-to-day life, which then give me an opportunity to choose which ones I want to live from. Over time, I hope that my life and financial choices are less sourced from an ego-centered operating system and more rooted in my spiritual heart.

Barbara: I so admire Rose’s willingness to stay present with and explore the dynamic tensions around wealth as part of her spiritual practice. The dynamics between those with and without wealth around power and privilege are so entrenched and strong, and for Rose to sit in conversation and work through these tensions is not only courageous but also contributing so strongly to the eventual breakdown of the separation. As we increasingly realize we are living in an interconnected world where the good of one is the good of all, perhaps those with wealth will increasingly use their resources to serve the wellbeing of all communities. Rose is pioneering the kind of conversations that are sorely needed.

After Kalliopeia was well established, Tom and I started New Field Foundation, which supports the agency of rural women and their associations in West Africa to improve the lives of their families. And most recently, we started Tamalpais Trust, which supports the development and strengthening of indigenous-led initiatives, organizations and networks that promote and serve indigenous cultures and lifeways, human rights, ceremonial practices, and the protection of sacred lands and waters. Indigenous peoples know how to be true stewards of our earth and its varieties of life. They know there is no sustainability without ceremonial life or without honoring the spiritual nature of existence. I think this last point is the key in terms of pointing to the most fundamental need of our time.

Rose: One of the specific needs that Harvest Time has been working on for the past nine years involves a project in Mississippi. The project began when we received a piece of land to give away in a way that would serve healing and transformation. The very act of making a gift in Mississippi has become an opportunity to practice a kind of sacred alchemy so that light can flow through a painful history and bring a hopeful future. Given the history of that particular corner of the world, manifesting that intention has required diving into the shadows of our culture and ourselves so that the diverse circle of people involved can partner from the place of their brilliance and not assumptions, fear or cultural norms that reinforce separation. This is not easy work. And yet, in Christianity we believe that grace is active in places where the shadow is operative and has the power to transform.

Barbara: What a beautiful story Rose tells of how this gift of land to community, done consciously and carefully with the engagement of spirit and self-awareness, can bring grace and transformation. What an invitation for all of us to engage gently, openly, and with maturity in conversations when we see our own or other lives shrouded by shadows where there could potentially be increased wellbeing or freedom from past wounds. In these polarized times this kind of engagement brings hope that we can learn to cross divides.

We live in a spiritually alive universe, and what we are conscious of is only part of the whole. To collectively acknowledge that the unseen and the unconscious parts of life are vitally potent, that we can ask for the energies of love to help us address the unrelenting problems we are facing, and that we can then evolve systems of living that honor this wholeness and the interconnectedness we are beginning to perceive—I think is the next step in our collective evolution.

Barbara Sargent is president of Kalliopeia Foundation and on the board of New Field Foundation. She and her husband, Tom Sargent, are active in building financial practices that can lead to holistic and truly sustainable ways of living. Her practice is within the Sufi tradition with Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan Lee of the Golden Sufi Center.

Rose Feerick is the Director of Harvest Time, an ecumenical Christian ministry that invites people of wealth to engage questions of money as a doorway to spiritual transformation. Rose has been offering retreats, reflections and spiritual direction related to money and Christian faith for over ten years. She has a BA from Georgetown University and an MDiv from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. She lives in Redwood City, CA with her two sons who share her love of music, sense of wonder in nature, and spirit of playfulness.

Clients in Conversation: Money & Spirit – Part I

May 12, 2015

This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 RSF Quarterly. This dialogue is with John Bloom, Vice President, Organizational Culture and RSF clients Rose Feerick and Barbara Sargent.

Last fall at the SOCAP14 conference, RSF sponsored a panel titled, “What Does Spirit Have To Do With Money?” The participants, Barbara Sargent, Rose Feerick, and John Bloom (facilitator), began this conversation prior to the panel in preparation and it deepened more during the panel. This “conversation” is an extension of that dialogue. Our hope is that the questions we explored be engaged with by anyone reading this distillation. It would honor the participants and the dialogue itself were this to be the case.

The questions: What in each of our biographies led us to seek the connection between money and spirit? How do spiritual practices inform our work with money? What are some practical examples from your current work with money and gift which evidence the presence of spirit?

Sargent_FeerickBarbara: During the 1980s I was gradually growing into too much wealth for my own comfort as a result of stock that had been gifted to me. My parents advised me to just keep these funds in the bank, not speak about it, and not give too much away.

Toward the end of the eighties I had become quite uncomfortable with this shadowed world, for this was translating into hiding from the reality of my own life, hiding from myself. There was also a nagging, if not fully conscious, feeling that not circulating the funds in service to people and life in general violated a fullness that I sensed was present in me.

I was scared of the exposure that being more public about the presence of this money would bring. At the same time, I was praying to be of service to the well being of the world. Now I can say that that prayer was heard, because the courage and energies needed came for what my husband Tom and I are in the midst of doing philanthropically and through our investments.

Rose: I grew up in a traditional Irish Catholic family in an affluent neighborhood. From a young age, I understood that faith was meant to shape how we lived and what we did with financial resources. I witnessed my parents’ generosity in responding to various food drives and fundraising requests. Neither of my parents paid any attention to fancy clothes, jewelry, or cars, which was a source of much embarrassment for me at the time. Even so, I knew that their lack of concern for image was because their hearts and values were rooted in something else—their faith.

I chose to study that faith in college at Georgetown University and there learned about inspiring men and women such as Dorothy Day, St. Francis, and Romero who left positions of privilege in order to confront the injustice of their times. I was also troubled by the economic injustice I witnessed as I took a two-mile bus ride every week from Georgetown to 14th Street to work with homeless women. I understood that Jesus had a lot to say about these realities and wanted to see if I could find a way to embody the Christian values of simplicity and social justice in my own life. How ironic, then, that as I was making this decision, I received a substantial financial gift. Of course, now I see that paradoxical moment as the holy joke that launched me on my path.

Barbara: I am taken by Rose’s expression of that ‘paradoxical moment,’ of receiving a substantial gift of money from, what I call, the universe. It is compelling for me to watch how the universe responds when we make a very serious commitment from our inner life. We are tested, and depending on how we respond, we can be supported by gifts of the energies needed to carry the commitment through, or not. For Rose this moment turned out to be the holy joke that launched her on her life path. This little story expresses a kind of sweetness and intimacy with the unseen world. For me, at a meditation retreat during this early period, an energy came with the words “just start a foundation.” From there I knew I would do so, as intimidated and scared as I was by the thought. When we started what became Kalliopeia Foundation, I asked myself, “What should this foundation focus on, what should it be about?”

During my growing up years I had become lost and without purpose, and the natural, spiritual orientation I was born with had disappeared, largely because this was not reflected in the culture in which I lived. So this is what Kalliopeia Foundation came to be about. Its mission is to support the evolution of communities and cultures that honor the unity at the heart of life’s diversity. It is not religiously affiliated, but through its grantmaking it honors programs that hold the sacred at the center, that work with authenticity, the re-emergence of feminine values, and with deeply holistic, emergent ways of living.

Stay tuned for Part II…

Barbara Sargent is president of Kalliopeia Foundation and on the board of New Field Foundation. She and her husband, Tom Sargent, are active in building financial practices that can lead to holistic and truly sustainable ways of living. Her practice is within the Sufi tradition with Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan Lee of the Golden Sufi Center.

Rose Feerick is the Director of Harvest Time, an ecumenical Christian ministry that invites people of wealth to engage questions of money as a doorway to spiritual transformation. Rose has been offering retreats, reflections and spiritual direction related to money and Christian faith for over ten years. She has a BA from Georgetown University and an MDiv from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. She lives in Redwood City, CA with her two sons who share her love of music, sense of wonder in nature, and spirit of playfulness.

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Cooperative Fermentation

May 7, 2015

by Alex Haber

Food and agriculture is one of the primary focus areas of RSF’s work. We believe that by investing and giving within food systems, we can also support economic resilience, community health, and thriving ecosystems. Although the Local Initiatives Fund is our primary vehicle for supporting the linkages between sustainable local economies and food systems, many of our other partners focus on this intersection as well.

IMG_7928One such initiative is 2014 Seed Fund grantee Cooperative Fermentation, a project of the Cooperative Development Institute and Resilience Hub. The organization’s mission is to democratize the food system by seeding cooperatives in farming and other food enterprises. By providing consulting and training programs across the state, Jonah Fertig, the founder of Cooperative Fermentation, hopes to act like the “bacteria that ferments ordinary cabbage into delicious kraut,” bringing communities together to accelerate the growth of a cooperative food and agriculture economy in Maine.

RSF’s Seed Fund grant supported a number of Cooperative Fermentation’s programs, including pro-bono consulting with farmers and food enterprises, ten cooperative economic development workshops, and a Cooperative Farm Design Day, where about fifty participants explored and designed models for cooperative farms. One of Cooperative Fermentation’s more intensive programs is its Cooperative Design Lab, which includes both web-based and in-person trainings for food enterprises exploring how to self-organize as cooperatives. One of the Design Lab participants is a group of Somali farmers looking to organize as a cooperative, which provides the opportunity for Cooperative Fermentation to create dual-language options for its curriculum. The Design Lab is also co-sponsored by Crown O’ Maine Organic Cooperative, a borrower in RSF’s PRI Program, who helped to produce the curriculum and agreed in advance to purchase from the cooperative farms being incubated.


With interest in cooperatives growing throughout the state, Cooperative Fermentation has a number of exciting projects on the horizon. After a very successful training in Portland, the mayor of that city is looking to find ways to incorporate cooperative development into the city’s larger economic development plans. One way this connection might be made is through the city’s purchasing power. The city government, or other anchor institutions, could enact procurement policies that privilege cooperatives during the bidding process. Another large anchor institutional purchaser that could help to scale the cooperative food economy in the state is the University of Maine. Cooperative Fermentation, the Cooperative Development Institute and other collaborative partners are now organizing the Maine Farm and Sea Food Service Cooperative to respond to the University’s Request for Proposal for food vendors. That level of institutional purchasing could make a significant impact on the cooperative and local food economy.

By working at the local level to bring community members together and seed cooperative development, Cooperative Fermentation is building a new food economy from the ground up. RSF is excited to see where that work leads, and to support the next round of innovative Seed Fund grantees, which will be announced later this month!

Alex is Program Manager, Philanthropic Services at RSF.

Exploring the Purpose of Gift

May 5, 2015

This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 RSF Quarterly.

KelleyBuhles_Books_Large (2)by Kelley Buhles

In 2013, a critical op-ed by Peter Buffett was published in the New York Times titled, “The Charitable Industrial Complex”, his term for the growing industry of philanthropy. Buffet explains, “Inside any important philanthropy meeting you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”

His piece sparked a wide debate about the effectiveness, and perhaps even the usefulness, of the philanthropic industry. The backlash from the philanthropic and finance communities was strong.

Critics pointed to a lack of data to back up his claims and the unfoundedness of sweeping generalizations about the motivations of wealthy donors. The biggest problem most had with the article was that he critiqued an industry created for the benefit of humanity and his lack of recognition for all that philanthropy has already done to improve the human condition. In the end, most critics of Buffett came to the conclusion, not that philanthropy is inadequate, but rather that it needs to be better directed and made more efficient.

Here at RSF, the article continues to resonate. His article points not only to giving, but also to how we give. Is expending gift money to analyze the effectiveness of our giving an effective use of funding? Should those who have wealth be the deciders for how their wealth is given away to the community? Is philanthropy something only for the wealthy? Can philanthropy transform the very system that created it?

At RSF we have been exploring deeply the purpose and qualities of gift. One of our first realizations was how different true gifts are from philanthropy. True gifts are given freely and allow for creation and failure. True gifts create trust and solidify community. True gifts are given to us at all aspects of our lives, from the parental gift of nurturing and raising children, to the natural world that supports our lives, to the gifts and talents we each have as part of our being.

We began to see how important gifts are in our lives and in our communities. What happens when these aspects of gift are lost, or overshadowed by the power of money, whether in the philanthropic field or in our modern economic thinking?

In an effort to highlight the important role of gift in the economy, the Philanthropic Services team at RSF created a purpose statement that outlines some of the most important aspects of gifts and our goals for making these aspects more visible in the world. The RSF Philanthropic Services purpose is: To cultivate giving as the source of economic life. And we further qualified the purpose with the following.

As a transformative intermediary we:

  • Move the field of philanthropy towards a gift economy
  • Support and honor our clients’ deepest intentions
  • Integrate gift money into catalytic capital
  • Facilitate the circulation of gift money

As we continue to explore how this purpose fits into our day-to-day activities at RSF, we acknowledge our strong community of values-aligned organizations and individuals that inspire and collaborate with us. Over the past few years we have started to see more and more projects emerge that are taking up similar exploration into the nature and value of gift money and the role gift plays in the world. Here are a few examples:

One of the earliest inspirations for the RSF Philanthropic Services team has been the model of Flow Funding. Created by Marion Weber, Flow Funding is based on the idea of infusing trust, discovery and adventure into the funding process. In her experience as a philanthropist, Marion felt constricted by the work and pressure of deciding how to give away money. She created the Flow Funding model where she would select others, whom she calls “Flow Funders” to entrust her money to. These Flow Funders then would decide how to grant the money out, and could even pass it along to another Flow Funder. Through this process she realized the power of letting intuition and spontaneity into the process, and how that in turn created generosity and feelings of abundance. She also saw how this model expanded the reach of the funds, going to projects that she would have never found on her own. The model democratizes the philanthropic process by having more people involved in decision-making. And, it highlights the value of giving other people the learning experience of being a giver. This model has been an inspiration to RSF’s Shared Gifting model which also works to make the granting process more associative.

Another great project that we have had the pleasure of funding through a Donor Advised Fund is Canticle Farm. Located in Oakland, CA, this community farm has been experimenting with a complete transition towards operating in the gift economy. In 2014, they posted on their website their monthly operating expenses and what those expenses cover in the hope of inviting donors to support their needs. They explain on a post from their website, “What that means for us is making the radical move of detaching the services that we offer to the public from the expectation of receiving conventional currency in return. On the one hand, this presents a challenge in a world where everything (and everyone) is being commodified, and offerings without a price tag may be seen as worthless. On the other, our stance allows a larger circle of generosity—of friends blessed with conventional currency, and time and energy—a means of participating in our shared activities fostering generosity and forgiveness in the human community and compassion for all beings.” This group is pioneering in terms of living fully in the gift economy and we are excited to learn from their experiences.

Photo courtesy of Canticle Farm

Photo courtesy of Canticle Farm

Indie Philanthropy, an initiative dedicated to activating the next wave of thoughtful, proactive giving, is busy blazing a bright trail towards reshaping the field of philanthropy as well. Seeking to add diversity and creativity to the field, examples of Indie Philanthropy practices include crowdfunding, giving circles, community-based funding decisions, and seed funding. The initiative is built and sustained by those organizations whose funding work already exemplifies an Indie Philanthropy field of practice, and fortifies each individual’s work with a common voice. The website hosts a donor education tool, highlights of creative funding methods at work and emerging, as well as stories and guides on the practice of unconventional funding. By creating this cohort of imaginative funders, Indie Philanthropy hopes to embolden and inspire mainstream funders to question the status quo in philanthropy, and imagine how the world’s needs might be better served by innovation and experimentation in the field.

It has been tremendously inspiring to see these, and other transformative projects growing in the world. RSF partners, such as those shared here, provide tools for honoring the spiritual and communal qualities of gift that allow it to play its crucial role in our economy. It is equally important to realize that these ideas don’t just apply to those who participate in philanthropy. As John Bloom, RSF Vice President of Organizational Culture, explains, “Mostly our culture views the capacity to give based upon having more than enough—whether that is money or time. I would propose that the opposite is true—when one gives, one experiences the reality that ‘enough’ does not exist without giving. That is, giving makes us whole.”

Kelley Buhles is RSF’s Director of Philanthropic Services.

RSF Shared Gifting Featured in a Report on Collaborative Funding Models

May 1, 2015

Last year, the New Economy Coalition (NEC) sponsored a report titled, “Philanthropy and the New Economy: Models for Collaborative and Democratic Innovation.” The report examines current models of collaborative funding and was published to begin a conversation about how these models might be useful in supporting the movement to create new economies.

As discussed in an RSF white paper on Shared Gifting, some traditional models of philanthropy can dampen collaboration by forcing organizations to compete, rather than cooperate. The NEC report offers information about different forms of giving and explores whether additional innovation within philanthropy might enhance the impact of the emergent New Economy movement. A broad spectrum of historical examples provides evidence that models of giving, rooted in the principles of democracy, justice, and appropriate scale are valuable additions to the traditional paradigm of philanthropy.

The NEC is a network of organizations imagining and building a future where people, communities, and ecosystems thrive. The NEC is united by two beliefs. The first is that we must confront the structural flaws rendering our environment more unlivable and our economy more unjust. The second is that we will only succeed if we develop new commitments and tools to support each other.

RSF is excited to be a part of this growing movement!

Click here to download the report

RSF Spring Quarterly: Can Giving Go Deeper?

April 8, 2015

In the latest issue of the RSF Quarterly we explore the power of gift. RSF community members share stories of the most transformational gifts they have given and received. Kelley Buhles offers insights into what’s happening on the cutting edge of philanthropy. In Clients in Conversation, Barbara Sargent of the Kalliopeia Foundation and Rose Feerick of Harvest Time discuss how their personal biographies led them to seek a connection between money and spirit. Learn how a gift catalyzed the innovative work of a for-profit social enterprise, Eastern Carolina Organics. And, hear from Ted Levinson on how to spot a social enterprise star.

Click here to download an electronic copy of the Quarterly

Cover from Spring 2015 Newsletter

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Tanka Fund

March 24, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

Tanka 1“The four leggeds came before the two leggeds. They are our older brother, we came from them. Before them, we were the root people. We came from them. We are the same thing. That is why we are spiritually related to them. We call them in our language “Tatanka,” which means “He Who Owns Us.” We cannot say that we own the buffalo because he owns us.1

 – Birgil Kills Straight, Lakota elder

Buffalo, hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, were once critical to supporting Native American communities, economies, and way of life. Now, with the market demand for buffalo on the rise, organizations like Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Native American Natural Foods are working tirelessly to ensure Native Americans are a part of the buffalos’ comeback.

In 2014, the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Native American Natural Foods (NANF) received a RSF Seed Fund grant to support their shared efforts to return buffalo to the lands, diets, and economies of American Indian people. Together they established the Tanka Fund in 2012, with a ten year goal to convert one million acres of land to buffalo production.

“The buffalo and the Great Plains were made for each other,” says Mark Tilson, President and Co-founder of NANF. “No species is more suited to the huge prairie ecosystems than the buffalo.” Compared to cattle, which currently dominate the Great Plain region, buffalo can tolerate more extreme temperatures, calve without supervision, produce more meat on less grass, and reproduce longer. Buffalo eat different grasses at different times of the year; this rotation helps restore grass root systems and plays a significant role in prairie restoration.

Beyond the environmental benefits, the Tanka Fund supports the reintroduction of buffalo meat into the diets of Native American communities as means to a healthier people. According to the American Center for Disease Control, Native American people have a 2.3 times higher chance of being diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, and the likelihood is even higher among youth. Many Native American communities suffer from a lack of healthy, accessible food options, either due to poor economic conditions or geographic isolation. In response, the Tanka Fund will provide educational programs on healthy eating and lifestyles as well as incorporate buffalo meat, praised for its nutritional value, into school lunches, take home meal initiatives, and elder meals.

The Tanka Fund also plans to provide technical assistance programming to American Indian ranchers to aid in the conversion from cattle to buffalo, and alongside these efforts, public education programs on the health and environmental benefits of buffalo ranching. Other proposed services include aiding in the development of buffalo ranching, processing and marketing cooperatives, and market demand/feasibility research. For a more complete list of all the activities the Tanka Fund will support, visit this page.

Tanka 2

Photo by Positive Exposures

  1. LaDuke, Winona (1998). Pte oyate: Buffalo nations, buffalo people. St. Paul, MN: Honor the Earth.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Rosebud Economic Development Corporation

March 19, 2015

by Ellie Lanphier

REDCO logoIn South Dakota, on the 1,900 square miles of the Rosebud Reservation, the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation (REDCO) is working to address high rates of poverty and unemployment and pervasive food insecurity. To support their campaign to increase access to fresh, local foods, REDCO received a RSF Seed Fund grant in 2014 towards the establishment of a community garden and farmers’ market.

REDCO is a non-profit, tribally chartered entity of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate (Rosebud Sioux Tribe). Through many different programs and initiatives, the organization promotes economic development and self-sufficiency to improve the lives of the tribe’s 32,000 members. The tribe currently faces staggering challenges. The county on which it sits is the second poorest in the United States, the life expectancy for men is 47, compared to the national average of 77 years. The tribe faces epidemic levels of alcoholism, suicide, and diabetes that are more than double the national rate. REDCO is committed to generating revenue for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and promoting economic growth through business management and development, economic policy development, and community development.

In 2012, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe put REDCO in control of 600 acres of tribal land adjacent to the tribal-owned Turtle Creek Crossing Supermarket. Over the next 10-15 years it will become the Keya Wakpala Green Development (KWGD), a holistic, resilient, and planned development incorporating community gardens, walking trails, native plant habitat, spaces for cultural and spiritual activities, energy efficient housing, renewable energy, and business incubation. KWGD was recognized as a “Commitment to Action” by the Clinton Global Initiative in 2013. In late 2013, community members, spiritual leaders, and other tribal leaders were asked to prioritize features and services to be included at KWGD. In written surveys, the top four priorities in a long list of options were food or agriculture related: a community garden, grocery store/food co-op, farmers market, and greenhouse.

The Keya Wakpala Farmers’ Market will be a weekly seasonal market, featuring produce grown by the new Keya Wakpala community garden and other reservation gardens. The market will be located in a convenient location, next to the existing supermarket, and as a part of the KWGD. From the time the market opens, they will accept SNAP food stamps and provide opportunities to sample food and educational materials on the relationship between diet and health to encourage adopting a healthy eating lifestyle.

REDCO’s Food Sovereignty Coordinator will oversee the community garden program, and later the farmers’ market. Beyond providing access to fresh, local food, the hope is that it will also create a safe gathering space to come together regularly. Market vendors will receive hands-on entrepreneurship training as well as generate income. REDCO also hopes to encourage and inspire the development of agriculture and food-related industries on the reservation, such as dried buffalo, specialty dried corn and popcorn, and preserves, including the use of wild foods like chokecherries and plums.

REDCO was in touch with RSF since receiving the Seed Fund grant, and described challenges to securing other funding for the garden and market project. The RSF Local Initiatives Fund was able to provide an additional $10,000 grant to support fencing and irrigation costs to get the community garden development underway.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance


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