Giving

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

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Mutual Aid Networks – Dane County TimeBank

February 24, 2015

by Kelley Buhles

What would it look like if everyone were doing the work they loved, what they felt called to do?

This is the driving question behind the research and development of Mutual Aid Networks (MANs), a project of Dane County TimeBank which was supported in 2014 by the RSF Seed Fund with a grant of $2,500.

Developed over the last four years, Mutual Aid Networks are a new form of cooperative that utilize many collaborative economic tools, such as timebanking, price-based mutual credit, shared resources, lending pools, and cooperative savings, to create a model that supports people and communities to live and work in a way that allows them to thrive.

This model was created as a solution to some of the most challenging issues we face in the modern economic system. How do we leverage the gifts and talents of ALL people in our communities? Not just those whose skills are valued by our current economic system. How do we make a living while also finding time to pay attention to health, to make time for art and music, and to care for our community? How do we engage communities to work together in mutual support for each other?

Dane County TimeBank's Annual Meeting

Dane County TimeBank’s Annual Meeting

Stephanie Rearick, founder of the Dane County TimeBank and leader in the formation of MANs, has experienced the challenges of our current economic system in a very personal way. As an artist, activist, and small business entrepreneur, she often found it a struggle to do the work she loved, while making ends meet, and trying to create an equitable society. It was this experience that led her to create the Dane County TimeBank and MAN as a way to create cooperative ownership models that would support more equitable, self-sustaining communities and better livelihood for the people in them.

The Mutual Aid Network model creates an infrastructure that empowers people to come together for a common purpose and generate, share, and steward the resources needed to realize their common goal. It leverages current collaborative economic tools, and puts them together into a comprehensive system that allows people meet their own needs, as well as support the needs of others, and their community, through a shared ownership vehicle.

With support from the Seed Fund, among other donors, this project has been able to accomplish much already. The first local version of a MAN, the Allied Community Coop, was created in October in Madison, WI with a focus on building neighborhood wellness and sustainability.

They have also already incorporated a meta-cooperative in Wisconsin called the MainMAN that will support local MAN pilots, such as the Allied Community Coop, with resources and technical assistance. The plan is to launch six more pilot sites across the US that will be experimenting with the MAN model. They have a strong focus on sharing their learning experiences from each of the regional pilot sites so that rapid replication may occur. Stay updated on their progress by following their blog at http://blog.timeftw.org/

RSF is very excited to be among the supporters of this group working to build the next economy!

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

The First Immersion: BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle

January 9, 2015

by Catherine Covington

Consider the following: What questions keep you up at night? What do you dream is possible in the world? What part do you want to play, and what special gifts do you bring?

These questions were just a few of the prompts for the 8-minute personal storytelling presentations given by each participant in the BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle (CFC), an 18-month leadership intensive which launched in early December with its first in-person gathering in Petaluma, CA. The invitational CFC is a natural extension of RSF’s commitment to building the field of social finance and BALLE’s mandate to connect leaders, spread solutions and attract investment for local economies. The CFC grew out of RSF’s initial gathering of community foundation leaders hosted in Phoenix in January 2014. The big take-away from that gathering was a desire to pursue impact investing, even though many of the community foundation leaders lack the knowledge and support to do so. The CFC was created to address this need and is currently comprised of 11 leaders from 9 different community foundations (full list available here) across North America. With over $2 billion in collective assets, the members of the group are working to align their investments with their missions to serve their communities. Leading the group are facilitators Christine Ageton, BALLE’s Chief Program Officer, and Sandy Wiggins, Senior Advisor to RSF Social Finance.

2014-12-10 03.01.29 (2)

Participants of the BALLE-RSF Community Foundation Circle (CFC)

As a community of practice, these pioneering CFC leaders are focused on advancing place-based, mission-aligned investing by their foundations. The immersive program will support the participants to: strengthen their personal effectiveness in overcoming barriers to place-based impact investment; share with and support one another as they learn to bring their personal stories and passion to the forefront; learn from domain experts; and, intentionally create new knowledge and practices. In addition, members of the CFC are devoted to advancing the field and to making their resources and knowledge available to others doing related work.

The content of the CFC gatherings (4 total over the course of 18 months) is designed around four key challenges that community foundation leaders have named as obstacles to shifting their assets toward local investment: culture, strategy, capacity and investment opportunities. This first gathering was dedicated to participant introductions, framing the need for local investment, solidifying the CFC vision and purpose statement, and discussions around cultural challenges faced at the board, staff and community levels.

There is no doubt that culture, defined by RSF’s CEO Don Shaffer as, “connectivity between stakeholders that drives you toward your mission,” is hard to shift, particularly in organizations with decades of history. Marjorie Kelly, author of Democracy Collaborative’s recent report focused on community foundations as hubs of community wealth building, framed the need for change. “When we ask ourselves, where do we find ourselves right now – what time is it? – we begin by recognizing that the multiple and growing problems we face are systemic. It’s not the people who are the problem, it is the system. We need to build a new economy, create pilot projects for the future. And this means blending theory and practice. We need our theories, but we always need to test them in practice.”

Peter Berliner, Managing Director of Mission Investors Exchange, challenged the participants to ask their organizations these questions related to culture: What is your identity? How do you define success? What is the role of your organization in the community? After further discussion, one participant shared a moving revelation, “Mission got lost in the string of promises we made along the way to our donors. We’ve put ourselves in this situation. . . We’ve tied ourselves to a mirror image of a mutual fund.”

A full three days were spent learning about each other’s personal stories and organizational profiles, discussing challenges, sharing case studies and helping each other set goals related to tackling cultural barriers to change. It was a powerful and rich experience as captured in these closing reflections:

“I’m privileged to be a part of this team which is focused on care, assistance and accountability. Never doubt that a small group of citizens can change the world.”

“You can’t do this work without feeling the passion. I appreciate the safe space and the framework for sharing that will serve not just our communities but the world. I feel like we are on the brink of something very big.”

“Let’s demystify, illuminate this work and its potential, weave together our networks and make place-based investing the norm for community foundations everywhere. We have to find a new business attractor and I believe this work is it.”

The next gathering of the CFC will take place in Asheville, NC in mid-April 2015 with a focus on strategy. I have the privilege of representing RSF along with Sandy Wiggins and am very excited about the road ahead. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates!

Catherine Covington is Manager of Client Development at RSF Social Finance.

A Celebration of Giving – Part III

December 30, 2014

Click here for Part II of this series

KelleyBuhles_Books_Large (2)by Kelley Buhles

As RSF Social Finance celebrates its 30th anniversary, we feel deep gratitude for all the supportive relationships that have nurtured, inspired, and challenged RSF to bring associative economic principles into daily practice and expand and deepen how it goes about transforming the way the world works with money.

Over the past few months we have be posting a series of stories about some key catalytic gifts and givers who saw potential within RSF, seeded future possibilities, and in turn, have become part of our destiny.

Transforming the World

As a financial organization, we have a bold purpose statement: to transform the way the world works with money. How does a financial organization fulfill such a purpose? While we offer financial transactions to our clients that provide them with direct and personal relationships in order to transform their own relationship to money, we knew early on that in order to change the world we would need to provide learning activities beyond financial transactions. In support of these kinds of learning opportunities, and in support of our borrowers, RSF housed an Advisory Support Fund.

As part of the next stage of growth and shortly after RSF moved to San Francisco in 1998, we experimented with small events called “Money Matters” that focused on exploring individual’s relationship with money and the role money plays in the social sphere. However, in 2004 we received a number of gifts from key donors that provided us with the resources needed to do field building in a more innovative and sustainable way.

RSF created an informal network called the Transforming Money Collaborative (TMC). This group consisted of other organizations, like The Fetzer Institute and the Marion Institute, as well as individuals such as advisor Charles Terry who worked closely with our staff. The group was an exploration in collaboration, focused on how to transform the way the world works with money towards a more positive and inclusive economy. The goal of the TMC was to bring the transforming money conversation across class, race, age, and gender differences to open new pathways of transparency, trust, and communications in our financial transactions.

Many initiatives developed as a result of this collaboration including the Money, Race, and Class Conversations and the Economics of Peace Conference.

One catalytic fund that emerged from the TMC in 2004 was the Fund for Complementary Currency. The primary driver for this work was a sense that the financial market would crash and that we would need local economic tools to keep the economy alive. A small group of donors created a donor circle that ended up providing over $800,000 to organizations working to support the development of new and sustainable approaches to economic exchange that would complement the existing financial system. The Fund for Complementary Currency was one of the largest contributors to the growth of complementary currency work in the US.

This fund supported research and development for BerkShares, TimeBanks, Hour Exchange Portland, and Vermont Sustainable Exchange, as well as other innovative research projects.

Another key outcome of the TMC were the Sequoia Principles for Transforming Money which emerged from a series of gatherings of an economically, ethnically, and culturally diverse group of individuals from more than fifty organizations. They came together with a commitment to understand money and to develop a new agreement about principles, values, and guidelines for its use.

This group developed a set of core principles to be used as a tool for transforming the way the world works with money. They imagined a sustainable future that depends upon bringing a broader consciousness and wisdom to our financial practices, money systems, and economic structures. They aim to shift existing financial structures toward a more equitable global system that values local economies, and inspires deeper connections in communities as a basis for a sustainable world.

RSF_30th_purpleToday, RSF’s field building activity is crucial to how we transform the way the world works with money. To make this work more visible, we have assembled a Field Building Collaborative (FBC), a group of individual experts dedicated to research and education around new models of investing, lending, and giving that support regional and local economies. For example, as part of the FBC, we are working in collaboration with with BALLE to convene leaders in the Community Foundation field who are determined to align their individual foundations’ investments with their deep commitment to place.

Through sponsorships, partnerships, and events, RSF supports individuals and organizations in the field of social finance to reflect, collaborate, and grow together in the spirit of co-creation towards building the next economy. It has been wonderful to have donors participate with us in these activities and to share in the learnings that have been experienced.

The Donors

RSF is grateful to all of the donors who supported the Transforming Money Network, and all of the other initiatives listed above.

However, we would like to give special thanks to the catalytic donors whose gifts made the Transforming Money Network possible at the beginning: The AnJel Fund, Carol Newell, along with an anonymous donor. It was the support of these key donors that allowed RSF to begin to prioritize field building as a key part of our work in the world.

Kelley Buhles is Director of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance

Clients in Conversation: Building Community Through Shared Gifting – Part II

December 26, 2014

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

Interview with Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate, Philanthropic Services

Shared Gifting is a collaborative funding model that gives ownership, distribution, and allocation authority for gift money to grantees. Here, Ethan Schaffer of Viva Farms and Rita Ordóñez of Community Action of Skagit County discuss their experience as participants of the Shared Gifting circle held by RSF in Skagit County, Washington and how their organizations are building a sustainable, local food system.

Click here for Part I

Ellie: As two groups working together, and having met with your peers, what does a perfectly coordinated, sustainable food system in Skagit look like for each of you? And, what would be involved in creating that system?

Ethan: I don’t necessarily think of sustainability as an end point. If there’s anything we learn from natural systems, it’s that they’re always in flux and changing, and that’s part of what we’re doing.

It’s also creating those connections, the connections between different people and different organizations that really create resilience. I think it starts from the community, really. It starts from process, like even the shared gifting process, where we’re coming together and figuring out, what are the high priority needs in our community, and how can we address them? And those will change over time. So, having those processes of connecting with each other in place is how you get yourself prepared to address the different food systems issues.

And then I think really trying to make a space at the table for all of the different interests involved, and understanding the interdependence between them. For example, we’re an agricultural community with just a lot of big farm businesses, family-owned businesses and corporate farm businesses as well, but we also have a huge farm worker population as well. We’re in the second year of a labor strike and a boycott that’s been going on with one of the big berry producers up here.

I think if we were able to find a way to get everybody at the table and talking about what the different needs are, we’d see that interdependence. The big farms really need a stable, good, reliable, well-skilled workforce. The workers really need businesses to be profitable, and they need the business model and the overall business environment to work for the businesses, so that they can make money. And we need a public policy infrastructure that makes that possible as well.

I think right now, immigration is the biggest thing that’s causing problems in labor. Without a sane immigration system, both the big farms and the workers are having trouble. Somehow, bringing all of those entities to understand their interests, I think would be crucial for the sustainable food systems.

Rita: From our perspective, the distribution factor is huge—making sure that all folks have access at different places within the county or the community. How do we get food to the people, and how do we create a more coordinated system for doing that? Part of my vision of a more ideal, robust, sustainable agriculture system would involve more of the food that we grow within the county staying in the county.

The other piece that I think that we’re trying to figure out is how to bring to the table the voice of the low-income consumer, and gleaning from them what they feel that they need, and what they would like to see. Having that voice represented when we’re having these conversations could radically change the way things look.

The youth voice is also increasingly important. We’re seeing that the youth voice is very powerful, with solutions and ideas that, again, those of us that have been sitting around the table are not bringing. These are new and exciting ideas.

I’m excited by the prospect of continuing this work and trying things out, and seeing how we can make things better little by little. Viva is a strong partner for us in doing that, and I look forward to continuing these conversations and this work, to move the dial for our low-income community members.

I’m thankful that RSF was there to move us forward, from talking about it to actually doing something—doing something small, and trying it out.

Ethan: Rita, just getting to work more with Community Action and all of your work is going to be really valuable for me—understanding more in meetings and with clients, and the people within the low-income communities in Skagit. Realizing really how pervasive issues of hunger, malnutrition, or different health issues like diabetes are, and we’ve seen it in even our farm worker family community. That’s been very eye-opening to me, and it just makes me realize how the connections between our different missions are so important.

Because being in such a rich agricultural valley, nobody should go hungry or be malnourished. It seems like that’s a problem that can be solved.

Rita: Yes. And, I think it’s just the marrying between providing the access, along with providing the conversation, the education, and the sharing of ideas. Because I think that’s where small changes that make big impacts on people’s health, happen. Making those opportunities available for that kind of exchange to go on is super powerful.

Ethan: Yeah, it’s so much more than just handing out food.

Rita: It’s great that we have the RSF process. It helped us move this into action. I’m just hopeful that we can figure out ways to continue to have action, without a dedicated funding source to prompt it or to move it forward. I hope that we can continue to have these conversations with the folks that were around the table and others. Because for me, that’s what I think makes the most difference. That some opportunity for change or improvement happens.

Ethan: Absolutely.

Ellie: Thank you both for your participation and insights.

Rita Ordóñez lives in the Skagit Valley with her husband, landscape painter, Ron Farrell, and their two children, Roland and Olivia.  She has been a local food activist since 2004, working on healthy food access for low income families at food banks, farmers markets, and schools across the State of Washington.  Rita is currently the Community Food Access Manager for Community Action of Skagit County.  She has a BA in Geography from Western Washington University and a MA in Geography from the University of Washington.

Ethan Schaffer is the co-founder of Viva Farms, a 33-acre bilingual farm incubator program in the Skagit Valley. The program helps beginning and Latino farmers transition to farm ownership. Viva Farms won the Green Washington Award, placed first at the Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and has received coverage in national press, including in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. Ethan holds an MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Clients in Conversation: Building Community Through Shared Gifting – Part I

December 23, 2014

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

Interview with Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate, Philanthropic Services

Shared Gifting is a collaborative funding model that gives ownership, distribution, and allocation authority for gift money to grantees. Here, Ethan Schaffer of Viva Farms and Rita Ordóñez of Community Action of Skagit County discuss their experience as participants of the Shared Gifting circle held by RSF in Skagit County, Washington and how their organizations are building a sustainable, local food system.

Ellie: What were your key takeaways from the Shared Gifting experience? How did your participation change how you’re working with related organizations in your region?

Rita: One thing that was really powerful for me was just the sharing aspect—who we are as people and how we came to this event. I don’t think about that often in any meeting or experience. It was great to get the chance to actually know who we were sitting with. It was also interesting to be at the table with folks that we had not worked with previously. We were able to create some relationships that weren’t present before.

Ethan: For me, the community aspect was really powerful—having the opportunity to see all of these programs within our region, and to think about how we can spread the resources that we have amongst our peers. It was a very different way of thinking about our organizations, how they relate to each other, and how we are all funded. It made us think more about what our priorities are as a community.

Rita: Yes, suddenly we had these new people to be able to reach out to, and from that we have been able to explore new opportunities together. The experience made a different sort of work available, one that is shared among several organizations.

Ethan: We’ve been partnering with Rita and Community Action on a number of things like Fresh Fridays Farm Stand. The purpose of that collaboration was to prototype something in which we could help local low-income residents understand where they can get access to healthy, fresh local food, and learn about resources to pay for it. And then also, to learn how to prepare some of these foods, some of the odd varieties and different things that people haven’t tried before, and pull that all into this event –basically kind of a mini-farmers market, hosted right at Skagit Community Action.

Community Action is really the main provider of social services in Skagit County. They do services from A to Z. They issue WIC checks, and provide mobile food bank services. Really, they have the deepest access and reach into communities of need in the county.

It’s a great collaboration with Viva and other farmers markets to be able to go right where people are already used to going. So, on the days when WIC checks are being issued we set up a Fresh Friday resource fair, to connect with people who had maybe never been to a farmers market and didn’t realize they could get a bundle of checks to use exclusively for local products.

Rita: One of the interesting things I heard at the end of last week was from a farmer who was there. He thought the event was great and really important to get word about it out to the Latino community. Even as a farmer, he had never eaten kale before. He learned three ways to prepare it at the fair and was really excited to take that home to his family.

Some of the positive things that happened were things that we didn’t even expect. These lessons just come from bringing people together in this way around healthy, locally-grown food—there’s just so much information that passes between people.

Ethan: At Viva, we’re in an exciting place. We have a few years under our belt now. We’ve had four growing seasons, and we’re starting to see some of our farmers get more established. I think they are ready to expand, and so we’re starting to try to figure out what will it take to help them grow to mid-sized businesses that can be sustainable on their own.

It’s especially great right now, because there have been a lot of issues within the farm worker community up here. To have a few success stories, of farm workers who’ve made the transition to farm ownership, is particularly inspiring for other farm workers right now.

Rita: That’s great, Ethan. We just did a purchase yesterday from Sal [Viva Farms farmer], and he had almost 300 pounds of these beautiful green beans that he harvested. He and I talked about his own personal health journey and his own eating habits changing. Again, I think it’s these things that you don’t expect to come from some of the work that you’ve done or the information you’ve provided that changes their lives. He’s a great success story.

Ellie: After the Shared Gifting experience, did you have any thoughts about how more direct, transparent funding could help your organization and your region be more successful?

Ethan: I would love for the USDA to start doing a transparent shared gifting process.

Rita: I think it would be amazing for anybody to offer it. Most of the time, we send these grant proposals to the “Great Oz”. We have no real idea about what shakes out or what comes after. The thought of being together in a group and having that conversation – like Ethan said earlier, about setting priorities and looking at our community – would be such a powerful model that would really help. If we had a process in place across these different grants that we apply for, it really could help us to realize success and come up with some other ways of looking at how to fund what we’re doing.

Just having space where you can have those conversations is a huge step forward, and then having it tied to a funder being open to looking at what the community values adds an empowering dimension. How are we going to decide how they want to split this money? It’s really transformative for the work that we’re trying to do, and for the hope and the help that we’re trying to give to people.

Ethan: You know, it was interesting – I felt kind of nervous going into the meeting a little bit. I just didn’t know what the process would be like, and what the results would be – if everybody would play nicely, or even worse, if they weren’t honest and open with each other. And even right after the process, it took time to sink in before I started realizing really what was happening there. It was a very powerful experience, to feel accountable to our peers.

I realized that there are so many cool benefits that came out of this as sort of a one-time deal. But what would happen if we did this every year? What if we started delivering grant reports in different ways, and check-ins to our peer network and the other organizations that we’re working with? How would that change how we work with each other?

I really think it could transform the social sector and community. I’d love to test it out – that if you really went for it and said, we’re going to do this every year for ten years, you’d have a completely different result that could be totally transformative.

Click here for Part II

Rita Ordóñez lives in the Skagit Valley with her husband, landscape painter, Ron Farrell, and their two children, Roland and Olivia.  She has been a local food activist since 2004, working on healthy food access for low income families at food banks, farmers markets, and schools across the State of Washington.  Rita is currently the Community Food Access Manager for Community Action of Skagit County.  She has a BA in Geography from Western Washington University and a MA in Geography from the University of Washington.

Ethan Schaffer is the co-founder of Viva Farms, a 33-acre bilingual farm incubator program in the Skagit Valley. The program helps beginning and Latino farmers transition to farm ownership. Viva Farms won the Green Washington Award, placed first at the Seattle Social Innovation Fast Pitch, and has received coverage in national press, including in the New York Times and Christian Science Monitor. Ethan holds an MBA from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Seeding Economic, Social and Environmental Change

December 18, 2014

Recently, a handful of RSF activities were highlighted on a new site that offers online tools and community resources for people looking to challenge the status quo of Philanthropy. The site, called Indie Philanthropy Initiative, features RSF’s Shared Gifting program, the RSF Seed Fund, and our Social Investment Fund amongst many other organizations that offer inspiring stories for creative grantmaking and collaborative funding models.

The below article about the RSF Seed Fund was originally published by the Indie Philanthropy Initiative and Kindle Project.

 

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How do you do your funding? Please describe your organization’s approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.

The RSF Seed Fund is a small grant making program which funds new initiatives that further the field of social finance, or address issues within our focus areas of Education & the Arts, Food & Agriculture, and Ecological Stewardship.The process we follow is similar to conventional philanthropy, in that we have grant guidelines and review proposals, but what is different is that we are looking for new and emerging ideas without requiring “proof of concept” or commitments to and reporting on metrics of success. We try to keep the grant process simple because we know grantees have to jump through a lot of hoops to get funding, and we want to leave them flexible to explore and experiment in their early stages of growth. Another aspect that sets this fund apart is our rotating staff review committee. Each year, we invite RSF staff to be a part of this decision making process by selecting three to four interested people from different departments to join the philanthropic services team in reviewing the grant proposals.

What made you realize this funding style would be important for what you were trying to achieve?

One of the reasons we have this small grantmaking program, with $250 to $5,000 sized grants, is that we don’t have any other unsolicited grant programs. We want to have an opening so that new ideas, organizations, or people can become visible to RSF.

How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?

Funding new ideas that need initial grant funding gives us the opportunity to support work at the beginning of its growth. It’s the beginning of a spectrum of funding we call ‘integrated capital,’ which is the coordinated and collaborative use of different forms of capital, including grants, direct investments, and loans, to support enterprises working to solve complex social and environmental problems. With these grant dollars we are willing to take risks with projects that may not have a demonstrated track record.

One of our 2009 Seed Fund grantees was People’s Grocery in Oakland. They then went on to participate in our first Shared Gifting circle and we have made an investment in their Direct Public Offering for People’s Community Market. It’s been incredible to see how we can support people and projects throughout the arc of their growth.

What is the most important insight you gained specifically through funding in this way? What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a funder curious about doing something similar?

The nature of gifts and gifting is something we talk about a lot at RSF. We ask ourselves, “what are gifts best suited for? what can they make possible in the world?” Gifts are a different kind of transaction than say purchase or lending transactions. Our insight is that gift money is best suited for risks and for researching innovation.

My advice to other funders would be to understand the importance of funding new ideas. You have to be open to failure, and you have to be open to trust in the people and projects.

In addition, giving our staff members the experience of being a part of a grantmaking process is really powerful. As I said before, we invite new staff to participate in the Seed Fund process and it’s made a huge impact on people.

Finally, sometimes you need to let go of all the impact assessment and analysis to determine if grant funds are being effective. We talk about something called intuitive grantmaking. It is okay to trust your instincts about how the money can flow into the world.

Why does Indie Philanthropy matter to you?

This particular program fits under our Philanthropic Services purpose, which is to cultivate giving as the source of economic life. We want to transform gifts into being seen as an important part of the economic process. We understand gifts to be at the beginning of the economic process. Personally, that idea of intuitive grantmaking got me more interested in Indie Philanthropy. My experience with the RSF Seed Fund led me to explore the field and ultimately sparked the creation of our RSF Shared Gifting program, which exists to transform the power dynamic present in philanthropy. The RSF Seed Fund ignited that interest in me.

View the original article here

 

 About the Indie Philanthropy Initiative

Indie Philanthropy is a creative disruption to the status quo of funding that gives a common name to decentralized, daring alternatives poised to reshape the field of philanthropy. The Indie Philanthropy Initiative includes the launch of a suite of new online tools and offline community resources to help curious funders looking for dynamic grantmaking practices and allies. www.indiephilanthropy.org

Seed Fund Grantee Highlight: Green Meadow Waldorf School

December 16, 2014

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Green Meadow Waldorf School (GMWS) received a $1,000 Seed Fund grant to support Open Saturdays, a free tutoring program brought by GMWS faculty, staff, parents, and students to children in struggling local public schools during the 2014-15 school year. GMWS is located in Chestnut Ridge, New York in the East Ramapo School District where more than 48 percent of students are eligible for free school lunches, and an additional 14 percent are eligible for reduced price meals. The district has faced significant budget deficits in recent years, exceeding $7 million in the 2012-13 school year, resulting in extensive cuts to programming. Last spring, more than 80 district teachers and staff members were laid off, including arts faculty, librarians, and security personnel, and full-day kindergarten has been eliminated district-wide, as has music and art, athletics, and AP and ESL coursework.

gmws2Student Testimonial:

“To be honest, I was very skeptical about [Open Saturdays] because it was free of charge. I was reluctant to wake up early every Saturday, but I…brought my math folder, tests, and homework and expected the worst. At first I worked with a student named Sabine, and she really got me comfortable with the environment here. After a few more sessions, I started to work with Mr. Madsen. He was a great help and he definitely helped me increase my scores in math.” –Julian

Open Saturdays is a way for Green Meadow to reach out to students in this severely under-resourced school district. The program was designed and is coordinated by Green Meadow’s Diversity Committee, a standing group that includes representatives from diverse backgrounds from the faculty, staff, and parent body. The Committee contacted guidance counselors and administrators in local schools during the fall of 2013 to gauge needs and interest in a tutoring program, and based on this input from partners in the district, GMWS moved forward with a pilot program immediately. Open Saturdays, launched in January 2014, provides free tutoring in mathematics, science, and English to local public school students enrolled at Chestnut Ridge Middle School and other middle and high schools in the district. The tutors are GMWS middle and high school teachers, staff, parents, and high school students, who volunteer their time.

gmws3Student Testimonials:

“In the time that I have been coming here, I have had an amazing experience. I was tutored by several different people. My grades went up and my homework was completed more efficiently.” –Elijah

“With these Saturday sessions, I have gotten to understand my work better and meet incredible people. At the beginning, my grades were not where they should be, but with your [GMWS tutor] help my grades have improved dramatically.” –Alexis

 “When I first [started], I had a lot of trouble with the subject Math. I was at the point where I was failing bad. Then I met a teacher named Mr. Madsen. Once I worked with him, he made math a lot easier for me.” –Taron

The principal outcomes for the program are learning improvements by students, evidenced through increased competence with the material, as observed by tutors. GMWS also hopes that the program will promote a culture of service in their community and support an overarching goal to build bridges between their school and the larger community while providing tangible, meaningful services to their neighbors. You can read more about the program in an interview with Vicki Larson, Green Meadow Waldorf School’s Director of Communication and Marketing in their March/April 2014 newsletter.

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