Shared Gifting

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)

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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

Barn Dance Raises the Sustainable Food Movement

September 19, 2011

By Kelley Buhles

On the side of Highway 1, in an old Redwood Barn, members of the Bay Area’s local sustainable food movement, along with RSF, gathered in July to strategize about the future of their work and to celebrate their amazing achievements thus far.  Attendees contributed to a potluck of local foods and a DJ played bangara, hip-hop, latin, and soul to a lively crowd.

But this barn dance wasn’t just for fun. The genesis of this event was at the first meeting of the RSF Food and Agriculture Shared Gifting Fund. This program is working to transform the way philanthropic dollars flow to charitable projects in the world by having the grantees themselves determine how funds are directed. Seven organizations from around the Bay Area were selected to participate in a day long meeting where they shared their stories and needs. It culminated in them collectively deciding how to best use a grant of $50,000. To read more about this meeting check out this newsletter article.

During the granting process the participants decided to grant money to support another convening along with partners, collaborators, friends and family to discuss transforming the food system followed by a celebratory potluck and barn dance. Pie Ranch, one of the participants, offered to host this event on their educational and sustainable farm. Movement Generation, another participant, was requested by the group to facilitate the conversation on transforming the food system.

Approximately 30 participants joined the conversation consisting of the original seven non-profit organizations, as well as partners they invited to join. The group was a great representation of all of the people working in the sustainable food movement in the Bay Area including farmers, development directors, activists, teachers, volunteers, and community organizers.  The facilitators from Movement Generation helped us to define the roles we play, the tools we use, and to strategize about how we can transform the current food system into a healthy sustainable system. While it was apparent from the conversation that there is still a lot of work to do, the meeting helped to connect a larger group of people, organizations, and approaches that are working towards the same goals and identify our commonalities.

After the conversation, the potluck and barn dance began! Michelle from Movement Generation started off the dancing by leading everyone in some traditional Bhangra dancing. Oscar Grande then took over playing a great mix of world music, hip-hop, latin, and of course Michael Jackson. Oscar works with PODER (People Organized to Demand Economic and Environmental Rights) and leads a DJ collective/co-op as part of PODER’s grassroots economy work.

Although we didn’t walk away with a clear strategy on how to transform our food system, we were all made aware of the need to think about new ways of coming together, building community, and talking about sustainable food issues. It was also a great symbol of the uniting of urban and rural and of reclaiming the land. I like to think of the community barn dance as a vision for what a sustainable food movement could look like.

Kelley Buhles is Philanthropic Services Manager at RSF Social Finance.

Shared Gifting

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