Shared Gifting

RSF Gives $50,000 to L.A. Arts Non-Profits

February 24, 2015

RSF is pleased to announce that it has allocated $50,000 in grant funding to six arts service organizations in Los Angeles County. The funding shines a light on a pioneering model of grantmaking, called Shared Gifting, as well as indicates the need for continued support of the groups that work backstage to keep art communities vibrant.

Since 2010, RSF has been developing the Shared Gifting model as an alternative to traditional philanthropy, in which foundations typically make grant decisions behind closed doors.

“We created this tool to transform the power dynamics that we saw in philanthropy, so it builds trust and cooperation between the organizations,” says Kelley Buhles, director of the program. “It brings collaboration, transparency, and community wisdom into the grantmaking process.”

In late January, the latest round of recipients—18th Street Arts Center, Arts for LA, California Lawyers for the Arts, Center for Cultural Innovation, LA Stage Alliance, and the Latino Arts Network—came together in Santa Monica for a daylong meeting, called a Shared Gifting Circle, to collectively decide how the grant funding should be allocated among them. The participants reviewed each other’s proposals and made the final recommendations for allocations.

IMG_6684“It was like no other funding process that I’ve been through in the 20 years that I’ve worked in fundraising and development,” says Rebecca Nevarez, executive director of the Latino Arts Network. “The intimate format, with hands-on creative activities and personal stories, allowed us to really get to know each other and encouraged collaborative thinking. It gave us all opportunities to explain the needs of each organization and constituency, and allowed us to act on our gut feelings about the needs of L.A.’s arts community as a whole.”

The L.A. Shared Gifting Circle also seeded collaborations to gain more visibility for the important role of these organizations in the arts community.

“Because we are behind the scenes in the art world, many funders underestimate the significance of the work we do until there is a crisis,” explains Alma Robinson, executive director of California Lawyers for the Arts. “We’ll use our grant to restore the funding for our arts arbitration and mediation services so we can help more artists and arts organizations resolve conflict.”

The work of LA Stage Alliance and 18th Street Arts Center, both borrowers in RSF’s Social Enterprise Loan program, inspired RSF to offer grant funding to arts service organizations because they play a crucial role in supporting artists and arts non-profits, and they often find it challenging to attract funding.

“In the meeting, we heard how important this is—arts services organizations often compete with the non-profits they support,” said Buhles. “It was extremely gratifying to help with funding needs and to expand our support of the arts in L.A.”

Shared Gifting L.A. participants

Shared Gifting L.A. participants

Contact

Kelley Buhles, Director, Philanthropic Services

kelley.buhles@rsfsocialfinance.org

415.561.6152

Strength in Collaboration – A Resource Guide

January 23, 2015

After the stock market crash of 2008 the world was met with a new reality when thinking about economics. One group of Waldorf Schools in the Mid-states region took up the conversation about what this new economic reality would mean for local communities and the non-profit organizations that serve them.

How could communities, non-profits, and small businesses work together to build resilient local economies?

Through these conversations, and the inspiration provided by the Economics of Peace Conference held in 2009, the group decided to develop a guide designed to support conversations and provide resources for building regenerative communities.

The guide titled, “Building Regenerative Communities: Strength in Collaboration” is now available on RSF’s publications page. Below is a note from the authors:

regenerative communities guide imageOur intention in creating the guide is to facilitate conversations which promote deeper understanding, trust and community within and between organizations. We feel that such interaction may lead people to discover ways to collaborate that foster associative endeavors, perhaps discovering ways to share resources to support each other’s work.

The Guide provides a starting point for calling a circle and highlights a variety of tools from which to choose for setting up conversations. It contains several case studies which provide the content to initiate conversation. There are additional web, print and video resources to inspire and urge participants into deep discussion around themes of regenerative communities, associative economics and cultural renewal.

It is given freely and may be shared broadly. It may be posted on websites to encourage its availability.

~ Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber, June 2014

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.

RSF Launches Arts Shared Gifting Circle in Los Angeles

December 5, 2014

In the past four years RSF has been experimenting with a new model of giving called Shared Gifting. Shared Gifting aims to transform the power dynamics in philanthropy by giving the decision making authority for grant funds to the non-profits who will receive them.

Previously RSF has facilitated this process with organizations focused on sustainable food and agriculture. However, in January of 2015 we will be hosting the first Shared Gifting circle focused on the Arts!

In order to determine where to host Shared Gifting circles, RSF looks to our borrowers who are our partners in the field. RSF supports two wonderful borrowers in Los Angeles; LA Stage Alliance and 18th Street Arts Center. We worked with both of these organizations, as well as our community of grantees, donors, borrowers, and investors, to identify great non-profits working to provide services to the arts community in Los Angeles.

We are excited to announce the participants of Shared Gifting Los Angeles:

Representatives from these organizations will participate in a full day meeting to distribute $50,000 in grant funding through a collaborative process in which the grantees will become grantors to each other. To learn more about the Shared Gifting process please visit our website at: http://rsfsocialfinance.org/services/donors/shared-gifting/

We are excited to be working with these organizations and look forward to sharing our experiences from the Shared Gifting meeting!

Shared Gifting in Philadelphia, the Third Experiment

November 4, 2014

by Ellie Lanphier

“In a community of human beings working together, the well-being of the community will be the greater, the less the individual claims for himself the proceeds of the work he has himself done.” – Rudolf Steiner

This quote was read at the beginning of the third Shared Gifting meeting of RSF held in Philadehlpia, PA. RSF sought the time and expertise of two of our borrowers, Common Market and Fair Food Philly to bring the Shared Gifting model to organizations working to create a more sustainable and just local food system in the Philadelphia region. With their guidance and input, and the valuable nominations received from RSF clients in the area, RSF invited twelve non-profit organizations to participate in the third Shared Gifting circle convened in mid-September 2014 at the Philadelphia Impact Hub. (click here for a full list of participating organizations)

DSC_0185

Shared Gifting gives ownership and allocation authority of gift money to the participants of the circle, leveraging the knowledge and experience of each participant to insure grant funding reaches the areas it is needed most. RSF asks that each Shared Gifting participant bring an open heart and mind to the experience. We also ask for participants to help us explore this new model of grant making in co-creation.

With each Shared Gifting circle, there are many different variables that might come into play – different needs, organization sizes, and varying focus of work. We acknowledge and appreciate the risk these participants took to spend their day with us and their peers examining the intersection of each organizations work, how collaborating can strengthen their work, and for stepping outside the traditional confines of philanthropy.

Before the collaborative distribution of grant funding commenced, the participants shared their hopes and expectations for the day ahead. They looked forward to learning more deeply about the other organizations, they shared that they were humbled by reading each other’s grant proposals, they looked forward to connecting their work more, to build each others capacity, and sought to deepen relationships and partnerships by tearing down silos and building a culture of real trust and collaboration.

DSC_0167For these organizations, $100,200 was made available from the RSF Local Initiatives Fund to distribute in support of each other’s work. A highlight from the day was that this particular group demonstrated a deep interest in collaborating and fully embraced the innovative nature of the model. Half way through the day the group started a conversation to dig deeper into questions of how it would look to work together more collaboratively. The group even suggested a process change to RSF – innovating on the spot!

Another highlight of the gifting process was the energy and support shown to Friends of Farmworkers, a newer and smaller organization in Philadelphia. By providing legal services, education, and advocacy, Friends of Farmworkers strives to improve the living and working conditions of vulnerable, low wage food and farmworkers in Pennsylvania. In response to this showing of support, Friends of Farmworkers staff attorney Stephanie Dorenbosch committed to providing community education opportunities to all meeting participants and their organizations on the legal rights for migrant and immigrant workers throughout the Commonwealth. This exemplified an important component of a successful Shared Gifting experience – resource sharing. Shared Gifting seeks to make space for these opportunities to emerge, for the recipients to create mutually beneficial relationship-based collaborations typically not seen in competitive models.

We have found that Shared Gifting creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate, leverages community wisdom, and creates accountability among the participants. During the meeting, this inspiring group set aside a small portion of the total grant funding available with the intention of creating future opportunities for collaboration. How they will leverage the funds remains to be seen. We look forward to witnessing their success, learning and innovation in the coming year, and sharing it with you.

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Click here to learn more about the history and process of Shared Gifting

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

RSF to host 3rd Shared Gifting Circle in Philadelphia

August 28, 2014

RSF is excited to announce that we will host our third Shared Gifting circle working with organizations focused on building socially and ecologically sustainable regional food systems in Philadelphia.

The participants, listed below, were nominated by RSF’s community of grantees, borrowers, investors, and donors. We also worked closely with RSF borrowers Fair Food and Common Market, to help identify non-profits doing great work in the city.

Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that RSF has been experimenting with for the past four years. This model gives ownership and allocation authority for gift money to the participants of the circle and shifts the power dynamic inherent in traditional philanthropy by giving grantees decision making authority. We have found that this process creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate, leverages community wisdom, and creates accountability among the participants.

One representative from each organization will meet in Philadelphia on September 16th to share proposals with each other and determine how to distribute grant funds in support of each other’s work.

The Philadelphia participants are:

We are really excited to be working with all of these wonderful organizations and look forward to sharing our experiences from the Shared Gifting meeting!

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

Local Initiatives Fund: Integrating Capital for Impact

September 26, 2013

Kelley Buhles RSF Social Finance

This article was originally published in the 2012 Annual Report.

By Kelley Buhles

How does innovation happen at RSF? Where do great new ideas come from? In 2012, an extraordinary thing happened that reminded us all how innovation is truly a co-creative process.

Working in collaboration with donors, the RSF philanthropic services and lending teams launched the Local Initiatives Fund. With a focus on building socially and ecologically sustainable regional food systems, this fund utilizes an integrated approach to investment through the deployment of philanthropic dollars allowing us to leverage our expertise across two disciplines, grantmaking and lending.

One of the exciting things about this fund is how it was created. A donor approached us early in the year expressing their admiration for our work and their trust in our values. They asked us, “How can you put our philanthropic money to work to build local, resilient economies?” What was special was not the question, but rather the donor’s willingness to release the gift – we were freed to think creatively about how we could best use these philanthropic funds to create more impact. The spirit of the free gift created the space for innovation.

We recognized that our lending team needed philanthropic funds to better leverage their work financing local sustainable food systems. In the past few years, the social finance field has seen that social entrepreneurs, those trying to make positive social and environmental impact, need different types of financing than those offered in the traditional financial market. Because most social entrepreneurs work carefully to preserve or restore natural resources and provide fair working conditions for their employees, they often do not see the high level of returns that are expected in the traditional marketplace. As a mission aligned partner, we are able to provide the different types of capital needed by these organization to support their growth in a way that most lenders cannot.

Using the philanthropic funds as guarantees, the lending team is now able to make loans to younger and slightly higher risk organizations that have the potential for great impact, but do not yet meet the financial requirements of our Social Enterprise Lending program. The lending team is also able to recommend charitable grants to non-profit borrowers who need extra support for infrastructure or capacity building. Using these different forms of capital, we’re able to deploy the right form of money, for the right purpose, at the right time for an organization.

A portion of the Local Initiatives Fund has also been designated for the Shared Gifting program. In this model, RSF facilitates a process in which grantees work together to allocate grants to each other. The goal is to move the decision making power of philanthropic funds into the community. The process encourages grantees to collaborate and share resources to meet their collective goals. In 2013, we will lead a Shared Gifting circle in Skagit County, WA.

At this stage, the Local Initiatives Fund is a pilot. We look forward to evaluating and sharing what we have accomplished over the next year.

As we look to the future, we now see more possibilities than ever before for how we can use money in new ways and work with our clients in different capacities to create more impact in the world.

Kelley Buhles is Senior Program Manager of Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Shared Gifting Skagit County, WA

June 17, 2013

RSF is excited to announce the participants of the next Shared Gifting circle focused on sustainable food and agriculture organizations in Skagit County. The participants, listed below, were nominated by RSF’s community of investors, donors, borrowers, and grantees. In addition, we worked with RSF borrower Viva Farms, to identify key non-profit organizations working the Skagit region.

Shared Gifting is a new model of grantmaking that allows grantees to determine how grant funds should be distributed. This model shifts the power dynamic inherent in traditional philanthropy by giving the grantees the decision making authority of the funds. The process creates opportunities for grantees to collaborate as well as leverages their knowledge of the needs in the community.

Representatives from these groups will gather together in Skagit County in the second half of 2013 to share proposals with each other and determine how to distribute grant funds for support of each other’s work.

This process has already fostered collaborations in the region as two of the non-profits teamed up to create a collaborative project supporting all of the Farmer’s Markets in Skagit. This collaboration is an example of how the grantmaking process can build collaboration, rather than competition, amongst grantee organizations.

The participants are:

Catholic Housing Services

Community Action of Skagit County

Community to Community Development

Latino Business Retention and Expansion Program

Skagit Valley Farmers Market Coalition

Northwest Agriculture Business Center

Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland

Viva Farms

Shared Gifting

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