Giving

Integrated Capital for Social Enterprises

July 17, 2014

Originally published on the Stanford Social Innovation Review

Don Shafferby Don Shaffer

A thriving social enterprise sector is essential to increasing community resilience and improving the lives of those who’ve been marginalized by the global economy. Social enterprises—which are in business to solve social and environmental problems—are willing to tackle complex systemic problems, build new infrastructure, and develop products and services that address pressing needs even if their profit potential is not obvious or will develop only over a long term.

These enterprises’ ability to succeed is hampered, however, by the current division of capital resources into overspecialized sectors, such as venture investing and charitable foundations, that fund only narrowly defined types of enterprises at particular stages. This situation won’t produce the breadth of social enterprises we need to solve systemic problems, because these enterprises confound the expectations of conventional funders in many ways:

  • They may have to build a supply chain or other systems (rather than just plugging into an existing infrastructure), which results in relatively high up-front costs.
  • They may have slower revenue growth or relatively low profit margins—by definition, they aim to maximize social value before profit.
  • They may have hybrid business models that put them outside conventional for-profit and nonprofit funding models (for example, a revenue-generating business with nonprofit charitable status).
  • They think about growth as a way to serve their mission, not as an end in itself. They may intend to remain rooted in a community and serve as a model to others, for example, rather than pursuing rapid and far-reaching expansion.

To build a thriving social enterprise sector, we need to rethink the purpose of capital and employ an integrated capital strategy. Integrated capital is the coordinated and collaborative use of different forms of capital (equity investments, loans, gifts, loan guarantees, and so on), often from different funders, to support a developing enterprise that’s working to solve complex social and environmental problems.

Read the full article here

Don Shaffer is President & CEO at RSF Social Finance

A Celebration of Giving

July 10, 2014

RSF_30th_purpleby Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we can be pleased with how much we have accomplished since the organization’s founding in 1984. Our staff has grown dramatically and clients now number well over 2,000. The number of transformative financial transactions has greatly increased and the RSF community is even more deeply rooted in its mission, vision, and innovative work in the world.

In looking back over these 30 years, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money and that have brought associative economic principles into daily practice.

Over the next few months we will be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers that saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, helped direct our destiny.

THE FIRST FAIRY GODMOTHER

In the fairy tales of old, the fairy godmother gives magical support and wise counsel to the hero or heroine of a story. She also tests their integrity and inner loyalty. In this relationship, the emphasis is always on the giving. Today, we use the word “donor” to identify a similar role in human affairs.

MaryA very special donor to RSF was also one of our first, Mary Theodora Richards. She was a biodynamic farmer, musician, and a student of Rudolf Steiner. Similar to the fairy godmothers in the stories, she advised and supported Mark and Siegfried Finser during the organization’s formative stages. She encouraged them in word and deed.

Her interest in RSF came from her passion for associative economics and the threefold social principles identified by Rudolf Steiner. During their long relationship, Mark Finser and Mary Theodora studied these principles together. She was deeply inspired by the vision of RSF to bring spiritual elements together with practical movement of money in the world.

The number of times Mary Theodora Richards acted as “the first” in RSF’s history is astounding. She opened the first Investment Fund and the first Donor Advised Fund at RSF.

Many of the activities her gifts made possible are early examples of what has emerged as RSF’s innovative approach to financing—integrated capital. Here are a few examples. Mary Theodora was excited about leveraging her gift money to make lending activity possible. She was the first client to guarantee a RSF loan with a gift. She also allowed RSF to use her charitable funds to make loans to schools when not enough investor funds had been raised, in effect creating a bridge loan. In addition, she guaranteed a portion of our reserve funds, providing a larger safety net that was attractive to more investors.

photo 1Mary Theodora Richards was able to plant ideas she knew would be important to our future as a growing organization. She made a challenge gift to RSF to fund the first year of a retirement plan on the condition that it would be included in the budget for the following year. She funded our first computer and database system knowing the importance of technology for the future. In addition to all these deeds, she helped to fund the purchase of the original building on Fern Hill in New York which housed RSF until the move to San Francisco.

These are the many ways Mary Theodora Richards acted as RSF’s first fairy godmother, encouraging its growth and giving direct support when it was needed. This turned out to be the special quality in all of our most collaborative donors—the ability to see and cultivate in us what we have not yet seen ourselves. Like so many others over the last 30 years, she acted anonymously, never wanting to place herself in the foreground.

It seems very appropriate now, 24 years after her death, to honor her role in the life of RSF Social Finance.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

A New Purpose for Philanthropic Services

June 24, 2014

KelleyBuhles_Books_Small

by Kelley Buhles

“Where do natural resources come from? Did humans buy them from somewhere?

What about our knowledge and abilities? Did we also buy those? Or are they on loan to us?”

John Bloom, RSF’s Senior Director of Organizational Culture, recently posed these questions to staff. The response was a long stretch of thoughtful silence, it was clear these weren’t easy questions.

Perhaps that is because it isn’t often that one is asked these types of questions; they are often delegated to the philosophers and spiritual practitioners of our time. Yet, if we take the time to search within ourselves for the answers, what we arrive at can dramatically change how we frame our relationship to the world around us.

Can we begin to explore the idea that the bounty of life, our ability to physically engage with the world, and our mental capacities to imagine, reason, and learn are all gifts to us? How differently would one behave in the world if we started to see everything we have as a gift, rather than something we earned? And if we can, how might that transform our relationship to money?

The Philanthropic Services team at RSF has been working with Rudolf Steiner’s thinking around the vital role gift plays in our lives. We observed that gift is typically left out of modern economic thinking. As part of RSF’s work to transform the way the world works with money, we also feel it is important to transform the way the world works with gift. We are excited to announce a new purpose statement for our philanthropic services department:

To cultivate giving as the source of economic life

As a transformative intermediary we:

·        Move the field of philanthropy towards a gift economy

·        Support and honor our client’s deepest intentions

·        Integrate gift money into catalytic capital

·        Facilitate the circulation of gift money

With this framework we can start to build a new understanding of the role that gift plays in economic life. Gift moves at the beginning of the cycle, rather than being something that happens at the end, once an individual has accumulated adequate wealth. By seeing gift as the primary igniter of economic activity we can start to understand what Steiner said in World Economy, “We cannot arrive at a healthy economic process unless, in the first place, it is made possible for people to have something to give and, in the second place, unless they have the good will and intelligence to give what they have.” (Lecture 5)

This transformation of our understanding of the world from something we have earned to something we are gifted with can inspire us to live into the spirit of interdependence with each other. Ultimately it can transform our understanding of the primary purpose of economic life, from meeting our own needs, towards working together to meet each others needs.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Gift Finance in the Ecological Age – Part II

June 10, 2014

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Click here for Part I

Charles Eisenstein Headshotby Charles Eisenstein

What is an investment? For a long time, we have considered it to be a way to grow one’s money. That was the goal, and the socially conscious investor sought, within that parameter, to do as little harm or as much good as possible. Fundamentally though, he was taking a share of the growing economic pie.

Now that we are realizing that that parameter, in itself, encodes harm, and that the pie can grow no longer, we need to reconceive what an investment is. That isn’t to say we eschew a positive return; it means we don’t precondition the investment on the likelihood of a positive return. We don’t base the investment on what it will bring back to ourselves. We make it, in other words, a gift.

This gift can take several forms. One would be outright philanthropy – the gift of money. Another would be a zero-interest loan, the gift of the use of money. To a lesser extent, even a loan at below-market rates is a gift. The same goes for an equity investment in an enterprise that has lower profit potential or higher risk than the numbers would justify.

What unifies all of these is that pecuniary calculations are secondary. What directs the flow of capital is the investor’s desire to contribute to something meaningful, something beautiful, something that benefits the planet and society. Money becomes a creative tool and the investor becomes an artist. We all know that a painter who paints to please the critics or the art markets has sold out, and in an important sense isn’t a true artist at all – something else has come first. The same is true for the investor. You might end up profiting after all, but that is not the goal. The goal is to use money in the most beautiful way you dare.

Investment in the spirit of the gift is quite natural when we recognize that our money has come to us as a gift. That’s obviously true in the case of inherited money, but what if you earned it by dint of hard work and creative genius? Well then, did you earn your creativity? Did you earn the capacity to work hard? Did you earn this planet, the earth, the water, the sun? Did you earn being born? Did you earn your mother? On some level we know life is a gift, and so is everything we have and everything we earn. Investing in the spirit of the gift is therefore a simple expression of our basic gratitude at being alive.

Spiritual teachings such as the doctrine of karma tell us that anything we give out comes back to us in some form. We cannot escape the consequences, good or ill, of what we do. That was obvious in traditional communities, in which one’s contribution was visible and would generate gratitude or disapproval from everyone else, and in which anyone who had more than he or she needed would share it. In that society, your good fortune was my good fortune, because you would have more to share. Spiritual teaching and economic life were aligned.

In today’s anonymous market economy, it would seem otherwise. A gift seems like an act of self-sacrifice. Yet those who enter into the territory of the gift find the opposite is true, and that indeed one’s gifts do return in some form. In truth, we are not really separate from other people or the world. Our civilization is now learning that as well in ecological terms, as we find that we cannot escape the consequences of what we do to nature.

As humanity relearns that truth, our economic systems are bound to change to come into coherency with it. The economy of the future will reinforce, and not contradict, the aspirations that motivate the social financier. Someday, the best business decision will also be the best ecological decision, and the wealth of each will be the wealth of all. The ideology of selfishness bears a kernel of truth after all, when we understand that “self-interest” is really the full expression of one’s gifts, and not the maximization of control over others. Already we can see glimpses of a system on the horizon that unifies economics with spiritual and ecological principles: ideas like green taxes, reclamation of the commons, interest-free financial systems, universal basic income, gift economies for digital goods, the sharing economy, and reskilling. They show us the world that is coming—if it doesn’t come, indeed there will not be a world.

That means that the social financier is preparing for the future, and her investments might turn out to be economically remunerative after all. Even if you are investing in something with no foreseeable return – wetlands restoration, for example, or community self-sufficiency in India – who knows how the knowledge base and relationships you cultivate will develop? Who knows, through the uncertain times ahead of us, how what you give will come back to you?

Have no fear. The problem as you take your natural next step into the gift is not that your giving will leave you depleted and unable to give. The “problem” will be that your giving will bring yet more wealth into your life (financial wealth or otherwise), possibly via mysterious pathways. You will then need to develop further as an artist, as a giver. When we give, we widen the channel through us and the throughput grows along with its associated challenges.

What is the next step? It might involve changes in your mix of gifts, investments, and so on. It might involve using money to contribute to systems change; it might operate on a more personal level. Unexpected opportunities will arise – just at the edge of your courage but not beyond it – when you embrace the knowledge stirring within: that social finance is an art form; that money is its creative tool; and that the world is calling all of us to devote our gifts toward the profound and beautiful transition that is before humanity today.

Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, most recently Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. His background includes a degree in mathematics and philosophy from Yale, a decade in Taiwan as a translator, and stints as a college instructor, a yoga teacher, and a construction worker. He currently writes and speaks full-time. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and four children.

Gift Finance in the Ecological Age – Part I

June 5, 2014

This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Charles Eisenstein Headshotby Charles Eisenstein

Ever since the statistic we call GDP was invented in the 1930s, economists and politicians have used it as a proxy for the public good. It seems reasonable: the more goods and services being bought, the more everyone has—more cars, bigger houses, more music, and more conveniences. As GDP rises, life gets richer and richer.

In this context, ethical investing is more or less congruent with conventional investing. A high return means that your capital has successfully contributed to the expansion of the economy. You have contributed to the production of more salable goods and services. Fundamentally, this is the logic underlying neo-liberal economic policies: governments should do what they can to further the efficient functioning of markets, so that capital is free to flow toward the highest return. It is also the reasoning behind Gordon Gecko’s famous maxim, “Greed is good.”

Today this ideology is crumbling. Of course, some profitable investments also benefit society and the planet. But in general, the growth of GDP—and the source of profits— is coming from the depletion of the biosphere, the commoditization of “developing” societies, fracking, stripmining, deforestation, and more subtly, the conversion of the gift relationships that form communities into monetary transactional relationships.

Moreover, as even these sources of profit dry up, the highest returns are to be found not in creating new wealth, but in stripping it from the productive economy through financialization. The last six years have seen huge profits in transferring wealth from the middle class, homeowners, nations, and manufacturers through debt-pressure and the financialization of assets.

In the past, socially responsible investors could have it both ways: they could avoid the most obviously harmful investments, and still earn a decent rate of return. That is becoming impossible, for two reasons. First, as the prevailing rate of return on capital stagnates or falls, the economic system as a whole comes under increasing pressure to exploit whatever profit opportunities remain, even if they come at grievous human and environmental cost. So for example, as supplies of safely obtainable oil and gas dwindle, we are pushed toward fracking and off-shore drilling. Another example can be found in the downward pressure on wages and environmental standards.

Secondly, socially responsible investors themselves are awakening to the interconnection of all things. They now see the delusion of cordoning off some subset of investments and pretending that they don’t contribute to an overall economic system that is inherently destructive. For example, maybe you vow not to invest in fossil-fuel energy companies, or in any company that is clearcutting and stripmining in South America. OK then, how about the banks that finance these activities? How about the manufacturers that use the stripmined minerals? That would include the entire tech sector. You might stay away from companies that employ sweatshop labor abroad or minimum-wage labor at home – but what about companies that contract with these companies? Ultimately, it is nearly impossible to make profits without participating in a system of social injustice and ecocide.

But that doesn’t mean you should withdraw from the system and bury your money under the apple tree. That won’t help anyone. The point is not to avoid the taint of complicity, but rather to align money with values. What we need is a shift in how “investment” is conceived.

Click here for Part II

Charles Eisenstein is a speaker and writer focusing on themes of human culture and identity. He is the author of several books, most recently Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World our Hearts Know is Possible. His background includes a degree in mathematics and philosophy from Yale, a decade in Taiwan as a translator, and stints as a college instructor, a yoga teacher, and a construction worker. He currently writes and speaks full-time. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and four children.

A Culture of Gifting

May 22, 2014

Originally published in the San Francisco Waldorf School Alumni Newsletter

There are three indications of real generosity:

To remain steadfast without resisting,

To praise without the emotion of generosity,

And, to give before being asked.

—Maaruf Karkhi

John Bloom by Katie Teague copyby John Bloom

There is no community without gift and gifting. The acts themselves may not be visible, they may not have names, they may elude materiality, and yet, and yet, we depend on them for our very existence as givers and receivers. Warmth, recognition, love, care, and sometimes money—these are the bearers of our deepest feelings, longings and needs. Wait, did I miss something? What is money doing in that list? On one hand, money is the necessary evil everyone needs and no one likes to talk about. On the other, money is the emblem of modern mysteries, meaningful through circulation, in movement that defines our relationships, our values, our needs and priorities—that is our economic self.

But not all money is the same. A dollar bill can be differentiated not in how it looks, but in how it is used. You need only ask yourself how you experience the money and the transaction when: a) you need to buy something; b) when someone asks you to lend it to them; c) and when you decide to make a gift or someone asks you for one. It is this last that is the hardest to grasp because we are so wired to be consumers, to engage in the exchange of commodities and services. We are conditioned to think of these transactions as the primary drivers of economic life. They are definitely connected to the generation of wealth—no question about it. Virtually every economics textbook would confirm this. But the fundamental assumption in this view is the primacy of self-interest, which is a myth, highly problematic, and one of the key reasons we are where we are in our economy today, regardless of how you might feel about it.

My reflection on the Karkhi quote is that it epitomizes a sense of service to others, and further that we are part of, and not greater than, the community of relationships in which we are embedded. I would propose that if we are going to rid ourselves of the myth of self-interest and the social damage that seems to accompany it, and move instead into a recognition of our real interdependence, then our greatest leverage point for change is through gift and gifting. That is gifting understood as coming from our capacity to recognize the importance of others’ destiny paths both for us and the world at large. That is a lot to say in short form. But, it names the essence of gift and gifting. It names why and how we actually support each other’s success. It names how lasting value is created through the continual passage and transformation of a gift. Here is a personal example. I had wonderful teachers and parents growing up. They took good care of me, provided form and discipline and support even for mistakes. I received these as gifts, continued to work on them and on myself, to discover my own gifts, so that I could put those gifts, such as they are, in service to others. This is no thing, nothing, that could be bought or loaned. In some ways, a gift of money works in the same way. For example, a gift goes to build a building, many children are educated in it over the years, many of them will change the world. Was the gift the bricks and mortar, or was the gift what the building makes possible into the future. Well, the gift purchased the construction—that is to say it was transformed into purchase—but the value of the gift actually lives on long after the purchase. Such is one mystery of money.

There is no community without gift, and without community there is no economic life. We actually depend upon each other, whether it is those who make the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or the school we choose. And others are depending upon us to contribute our capacities. While we may “earn a living” through those capacities, what we earn does not constitute a life. Rather it is what we care about and value that bring meaning to life. Money is but one thread in this story; hopefully as we use it in alignment with our values, it becomes meaningful through what it makes possible. Gift, despite what the textbooks might say, whether in the form of love or money, is the first grace in economic life. In its purest form it is a liberator of human inspiration and capacity. And gifting bears the future for community life, it is the key to regeneration, to education, to wellbeing and sustainability.

John Bloom is Senior Director of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance.

Cultivating a Local Food System for Kansas City

January 17, 2014

by Meredith Storton

Kansas City, Kansas, like many urban areas in the United States, has its share of food deserts – low-income neighborhoods devoid of fresh, healthy foods; it also has its share of vacant land. Cultivate Kansas City, a local non-profit, is changing the landscape and engaging the entire community with a healthy, environmentally-sustainable venture: urban farming.

Founded in 2005, Cultivate Kansas City promotes urban farming as a way to build a healthy local food system. Along the way they have become advocates, educators, and activists supporting the production of organic, nutritious produce on the ground and in the policy space. One population that Cultivate is introducing to urban farming is the Kansas City refugee community. Responding to a demand for more community garden space for low-income refugee families, Cultivate partnered with Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and three refugee organizations to begin the Juniper Gardens Training Farm and the New Roots for Refugees program. Since the program began in 2010, two gardens have been established: the Bhutanese Community Garden and the Somali Bantu Foundation garden. A third will be established in 2014.

cornFor each of these gardens, Cultivate provides the gardeners with training, basic seeds, and supplies. The gardeners receive their training at the Juniper Gardens Training Farm, an eight-acre plot of land adjacent to a public housing site where many of the refugee families live, making the location both accessible and convenient. Once these gardens are fully developed, they will help up to 600 individuals living in poverty grow food for themselves and for sale at farmer’s markets. Further, these gardens allow refugees from Bhutan, Somalia, Burma, and elsewhere to grow vegetables from their home countries, like blue Burmese pumpkins, African corn, bitter melon, Hmong red cucumber, and more.

RSF was able to provide Cultivate Kansas City with a $3,000 grant through the Seed Fund to support their work establishing the second of these gardens for the Somali Bantu community. The Somali Bantu live in northeastern Kansas City where one grocery store serves a six-mile radius and one-third of the families earn less than $10,000 annually (ISED Solutions, Apr. 2010). In Somalia, the main occupation for Bantu people is farming, so urban farming seems to be an ideal way to help them assimilate into their new home while providing them with access to fresh, healthy produce.

The nearly one-acre plot of land that will be used for this garden was donated by the Somali Bantu Foundation of Kansas, an organization dedicated to the resettlement and integration of Somali Bantu refugees. Upon first glance, the land did not appear ideal for farming; it was heavily sloped and filled with weeds and construction debris. Urban farmers make do with what’s available, though, and Cultivate Kansas City and Somali Bantu Foundation volunteers cleared the land, formed terraces, composted the soil, and planted cover crops. As a result of their efforts, a little over a half-acre is now ready for planting.

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Juniper Gardens Training Farm

Before the growing season begins, Cultivate Kansas City will help install two cisterns for the garden which will help them plan for water costs ahead of time (instead of connecting to the city water system directly). The plan is to plant the first vegetables in the spring, and the first harvest will be ready for enjoyment and sale at local farmers markets in the summer. To get their new gardeners ready, Cultivate Kansas City will offer workshops covering basic gardening, soil management, and planting for the region and season. They will also work with the gardeners to order seeds and supplies. The garden’s benefits will reach beyond the gardeners to their neighbors and families who will have access to fresh, healthy, culturally-appropriate, and affordable produce.

Cultivate Kansas City is doing some ground-breaking work –they’ve helped start more than 40 farms and have provided thousands of hours of technical assistance to hundreds each year. But there’s still more to be done. As their Executive Director Katherine Kelly said, “there is food to be grown and money to be made and empty lots to be turned into assets rather than blight!” Cultivate Kansas City wants to grow a movement of people who know that they can reclaim the food system and their communities, and who know there is joy and power in the process. It seems they are off to a great start.

We’re now accepting applications for 2014 Seed Fund grantees! Learn more here

Meredith Storton is Client Development Associate at RSF Social Finance

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Calypso Farm & Ecology Center

December 5, 2013

CuteSheepby Ellie Lanphier

Congratulations to 2013 Seed Fund grantee Calypso Farm and Ecology Center on a successful first Farmer Training Program!

Seven participants spent May through September at the non-profit, educational farm in Ester, Alaska. They came from all over the globe to experience a full-farm, immersive training, that included field work, business planning, mapping, mechanics, animal husbandry, and fiber arts. Support from the RSF Seed Fund helped to offset living costs for the program’s aspiring young farmers.

You can meet the 2013 Farmer Training Program Participants here. Explore the blog further to get an idea of their experience at Calypso Farm and to learn more about how to apply for the 2014 Farmer Training Program. Best of luck to all the young farmers!

Farmers_jumping

Shared Gifting Strengthens Local Food System in Skagit County

November 15, 2013

P1000511by Ellie Lanphier

“Thank you for being here and your willingness to join us in this experiment,” began Kelley Buhles, facilitator of the RSF Shared Gifting meeting that took place this October. While the original Shared Gifting model has been practiced for over 25 years by a group of Waldorf School administrators in the mid-states region, this Shared Gifting meeting in Skagit Valley, WA, was only the second to occur outside of the original group. As such, “experiment” is an apt word to describe Shared Gifting, an exploration of what happens when there is a shift in the balance of control in philanthropy, from the donor (giver) to the grantee (receiver). The Shared Gifting model encourages participants to develop a deeper understanding of the value of being on both sides of a transaction.

Working with RSF borrower and Skagit resident Viva Farms, and RSF investors in the Pacific Northwest, we sought nominations and subsequently grant proposals from eight organizations working to build a sustainable food system in Skagit County, WA. We then invited representatives from each organization to participate in a day-long meeting to divide up $120,000 in grant funding.

The day began with this question: what are your hopes and expectations of the meeting today? “We are excited to see the community blossoming, and to formalize our link with these organizations,” was one reply. “We want to learn how this funding process works so that we can suggest it to other funders,” said another optimistic participant who welcomed a more interactive grant process. Another response, met with nods from the other participants, highlighted the common thread for this Shared Gifting group, “we want to create a stronger food system for everyone in Skagit County.”

P1000560After sharing personal and professional stories, the group was encouraged to ask questions about each other’s proposals. The opportunity, to defend or enhance your funding proposal, is unique to Shared Gifting. In traditional philanthropy, requests for funding are often denied without explanation, which neglects important opportunities for learning. This group was able to request clarification on budget lines, program timelines, anticipated results, and outcomes. In some cases, participants amended their proposals based on the feedback they received.

When all questions were asked, each participant was told to keep $5,000 and grant out an additional $10,000 to the other organizations at the table. The group then began the incredibly hard task of dividing up the gift money. “It’s stressful, there isn’t enough money,” one participant fretted. When time was up, each organization shared their gift amounts and the reasons for the decisions they made. One organization split their money equally because they felt everyone was doing equally important work. The others divided their funds based on the perceived merit of each proposal. After viewing the first round totals, the participants were given time for additional gifting. Organizations that had received more than they had requested in their proposals were asked to consider giving away some funds to those who had received less than requested.

P1000574When gifting ceased, final gift totals were read and the group reconvened to share reflections on the day. The participants marveled that, despite working on similar issues their community, it was the first time they had all been in the same room at the same time; everyone was happy to have met and to have shared a day together. A sense of empowerment was present, and one participant shared how powerful it was to feel that you could support all the other amazing people and projects while still supporting your own work. It seemed that a new understanding was reached: the success of each organization really depends on the success of others in the community. Furthermore, the group developed a shared sense of accountability to each other and a commitment to make the best use of funds received that day.

As veterans of the grant proposal process, participants commented on how much Shared Gifting differs from traditional funding models. The key difference related to the experience of working with, not against, their peers who are often viewed as competitors. Participants valued the experience of sharing proposals, receiving important critical feedback, and having the opportunity to improve a project proposal. Additionally, everyone agreed that they would like to meet again in a year to talk about what they accomplished with the grant money, the impact of that work, and any challenges they faced. The group also created a list of others working in this community to invite to the next event.

At the reception following the meeting, Viva Farms’ Ethan Schaffer joked that RSF had invited everyone to participate under false pretenses—the real purpose of Shared Gifting is to help others understand how hard the job of a funder is. Deciding who does and doesn’t receive funding is incredibly difficult. What is so unique about Shared Gifting is that it puts the funder at the same table as the recipient opening up opportunities to foster compassion, relationships, and collaboration in an unparalleled way. By simultaneously playing the role of grantor and grantee, people are encouraged to make the most of their resources, and to do so by relying on and supporting their own community.

RSF’s mission statement, “to transform the way the world works with money,” requires making the participants in financial transactions more visible to each other. Shared Gifting is an example of how a transparent grantmaking process can build collaboration, rather than competition, amongst non-profits. As we at RSF explore and refine this model, we would like to deeply thank the participants of the Skagit meeting for demonstrating an effective and beautiful example of the Shared Gifting experiment.

Shared gifting

Solving Local Hunger Together: Manna Food Center & Farm to Freezer

October 3, 2013

by Ellie Lanphier

Today, 1 in 6 Americans go hungry while 6 billion pounds of produce goes unharvested or unsold every year. In Gaithersburg, MD, a local non-profit has teamed up with a new for-profit social enterprise to solve this problem together.  RSF proudly supported this partnership through a 2013 Seed Fund grant.

Manna Food Center collects and distributes 3 million pounds of food annually to food-insecure clients in the Washington D.C. area. In 2012, Manna joined forces with Farm to Freezer to prevent food waste, nourish the hungry, support local farmers, and provide job training. Manna receives a generous donation of unsold surplus fresh produce from local farms and farmers markets during the growing season. Farm to Freezer prepares and freezes a portion of surplus produce to supplement the shelf stable items provided to the center’s clients during the winter months. So far this year, Manna and Farm to Freezer have rescued 36,849 pounds of produce from the compost heap. This “rescued food” is still fresh, but is nearing peak ripeness. Often, produce goes unharvested due to cosmetic imperfections alone.

Carrots_Onions_PotatoesIn 2013, Manna Food Center received a Seed Fund grant from RSF to further develop their innovative partnership with Farm to Freezer. Traditionally, food banks measure their success by “food in food out”, but Manna has begun the transition to placing an equal amount of importance on food quality and nutrition. The Seed Fund grant was made to help fund the development of an educational component to Manna’s Farm to Food Bank program so that clients are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate frozen local produce into healthier meals.  Beyond tackling food waste and hunger, Manna sets itself to transform how their community views its role in reducing hunger and poverty by connecting multiple agencies, partners, and community members, to identify a common goal and solve problems together.

Farm to Freezer cofounder Cheryl Kollin says, “by tapping the synergy of collaboration within our local food system, we provide more local, nutritious food to Manna Food Center’s clients in need, provide vocational training in kitchen skills to vulnerable populations, and support farmers by purchasing their surplus produce and thereby strengthening our local food economy. I believe in the power of business to do good in the community. I believe that we can make a difference without competing for scarce public and philanthropic funding.” Hear more of what Cheryl has to say in this video from TedXManhattan on the creation and work of Farm to Freezer.

“We believe that we are setting a great example of involving all levels of the community in solving local hunger,” says Mark Foraker, Director of Development at Manna Food Center. “We are working to better educate donors (individuals as well as businesses) on what foods are most in need and why.  Our Farm to Food Bank initiative is a good example of connecting food produced by local farmers to those experiencing hunger. There is a lot of talk about suburban poverty, food rescue and hunger alleviation.  It is our hope that the conversations will remain collaborative as this is a community-wide issue requiring community-wide solutions.”

Manna_Food_Center

Find out more about Manna Food Center’s work on their website. If you happen to be reading this from the Gaithersburg area, check out how you can be a part of the hunger solution through volunteer opportunities with Manna and Farm to Freezer.

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