Shortly after our founder sent the announcement that I would be Progressive Multiplier’s new executive director, our Chief Storyteller, Violeta Bermudez, asked me to write a blog about my vision for the organization. Sure, it’s a reasonable request. But vision? My brain is more spreadsheet than blue sky. I am at my best when I’m knee deep in data, trend analysis and rigor. I like to find connections that answer “why” and point to “what” needs to be done.
So, I’m turning Violeta’s assignment into data mining, and more importantly, an opportunity to listen and be accountable to the communities most directly affected by Progressive Multiplier’s work.
Each day for the next week, I’ll add to this blog with questions sent in by our partners across the movement. Have a question you’d like to add? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A QUESTION FROM AARON DORFMAN, president and ceo, NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR RESPONSIBLE PHILANTHROPY:
“Foundations and ultra-high net worth donors play an important role in funding movements and progressive social change organizations. What’s your vision for how Progressive Multiplier will engage with and influence this set of donors?”
If you had asked me this question even five years ago, I would have answered it differently. I grew up professionally as a fundraiser for direct service organizations operating within current power systems, not direct-action movement groups shifting power. So, my vision for great fundraising was one of “donor delight” – connect donors to what they care about and give them the experience they want. Show them their impact and keep them engaged. While that version of donor stewardship is great for revenue, it perpetuates systemic inequity and paves the way for capture of the progressive movement by philanthropy from the frontline.
That being said, fundraising is not an “f” word and I strongly believe its core to the mission of any progressive movement group. Fundraising is a key tactic for mobilizing the mass base, that includes foundations and ultra-high net worth donors.
My responsibility is not to delight donors – it’s to engage them in building progressive scale and power in a way that ensures movement groups have a sufficient foundation of money they generate independently.
That means Progressive Multiplier’s donor engagement is rooted in sharing our grantee partners’ revenue generation projects in context of our value proposition to donors. They can drive their current strategies while making a high leverage investment in movement self-determination, scale and sustainability.
My vision for engaging with and influencing this set of donors is to make an irrefutable data-driven case that investing in independent revenue generation in parallel to organizing and programming is the most efficient and sound way to achieve justice and secure our democracy. A dollar invested by a donor in program and twenty-five cents in revenue generation will yield two dollars to the mission. Our grantee partners are on track to raise $3.80 for every dollar we grant out.
One of our grantee partners turned an $18K grant into $108K in independent revenue and hired an organizer with it. Imagine the scale and progressive power we would build if we funded all 60 affiliates of the same network across 24 states to do the same. That’s what we mean by high leverage.
Check out this and some of our other grantee partners’ stories in our recent articles.
“I’d love to know about how your vision seeks to empower and grow leadership for the up and coming generation of movement leaders and what kind of cultural shifts you’re seeing and working towards to hold young future leaders in this work?”
As we’ve been recruiting for an open position on our team at Progressive Multiplier, this question of growing leadership for the up-and-coming generation has been at the forefront of my mind. We collectively aren’t spending enough resources on purposefully developing holistic movement leaders. I think that’s becoming more recognized and some great programs, like the SOCIAL CHANGE FELLOWSHIPS through THE LEADERSHIP CENTER FOR DEMOCRACY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE, are aiming right at the core of this need for young future leaders.
At Progressive Multiplier, I’m focused on how we can be part of developing cross-discipline movement leaders who are well-versed in revenue generation and how we can directly develop young leaders specializing in independent revenue generation as integral to social change. For the former, we’re partnering with collaborators like THE RESILIENCE INITIATIVE, THE LEADERS TRUST, SOCIAL MOVEMENT TECHNOLOGIES, NEW LEFT ACCELERATOR and others to be part of their broader development offerings that seek to provide well-rounded training opportunities for emerging leaders. This is a good start, but I want to find a way to expand beyond one-and-done trainings and into ongoing development and support. This part of the vision for our enhanced Center of Excellence that we’re hoping to launch in 2022-2023 (working on funding for this as we “speak”).
A QUESTION FROM ANGELO DUNCAN & GLORIA SANDOVAL, DEVELOPMENT MANAGER AND POLITICAL ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, UNITE OREGON:
“WHAT ARE WAYS YOU ENVISION THE PROGRESSIVE MULTIPLIER AMPLIFYING THE POWER OF BLACK, INDIGENOUS, PEOPLE OF COLOR, IMMIGRANTS, AND REFUGEES IN 2022?”
“You’d think from conversations in progressive philanthropy that we all agree that there are two sources of power in democracies: organized people and organized money. You might also think that progressives’ commitment to engage in self-governance on any semblance of an even playing field is through organizing… under-funding organizing makes the long arc of history towards justice much, much longer. It results in organizations that are less able to focus on community-defined needs, to sustain the capacity that is required to win long-term campaigns, and to build a local power at scale.”
Our founder Phil Radford, wrote this in an article for The Forge and it captures the why and what Progressive Multiplier is doing to build progressive power this year. We fund progressive direct-action groups that run campaigns, organize, litigate, and do civic engagement as well as public education and mobilization to achieve justice for and with marginalized communities.
I don’t believe we amplify the voice or power of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Immigrants, and Refugees. We help multiply the independent financial resources of groups led by and serve them to have even more power, reach and impact. Forty-eight percent of our grantee partners are BIPOC-led movement groups. Those partners are working in immigrant justice, environmental justice, corporate accountability, LGBTQ2S+ justice, mass incarceration, racial justice, economic justice, reproductive rights, and gender justice.
In 2022, I am committed to growing that percentage so that frontline groups have the resources they need to shorten that arc.
A QUESTION FROM Jesse beason, president & ceo, northwest health foundation
“What do foundations often get wrong when it comes to supporting independent resource generation?
The short answer:
Most foundations do not equate generating independent revenue with building power, so they don’t fund it as such.
The long answer:
My partner has an acquired brain injury that permanently impaired his executive function and short-term memory. He’s on long-term medical disability. When I helped him apply seven years ago and during each annual review process, we were asked if he can lift thirty pounds.
Sure, he’s a physically strong retired Marine. He can lift three hundred pounds if you ask. But he won’t remember that you asked unless you stand next to him and remind him to do it until it’s done. The disability insurance system is set up to investigate gross physical injuries, not nuanced cognitive ones.
That’s how I feel when applying to some foundations for independent resource generation (IRG) support. In general, philanthropy doesn’t have a refined understanding of IRG, so foundations are rarely set up to investigate a proposal in a way that will actually demonstrate its effects on the foundation’s mission.
Many foundations that are interested in revenue generation, never start because they’re not clear about what their grantees want or need. Some funders, like Northwest Health Foundation, NEO Philanthropy’s Four Freedoms Fund, and Rosenberg Foundation, have partnered with the Progressive Multiplier to do deep discovery and consultative work with their grantee partners to design grantmaking solutions that included IRG training and strategic assistance specific to what groups need.
Foundations also struggle with where to house and how to support IRG projects from intermediaries like Progressive Multiplier because their portfolios don’t provide an easy fit. Independent resource generation is often housed in capacity-building portfolios or special projects. Both, unfortunately, put financial caps and too early expiration dates on support for projects that strengthen the foundation, scale, and agility of the movement.
Foundation program staff are often given the mandate to solve a societal problem, but are rarely given concrete, due goals of solving an issue and strengthening the organizations and leaders that they fund. This makes getting IRG work funded from program portfolios created to support realizing democracy, restoring the environment and achieving justice inherently difficult. Where we’ve found a home with program portfolio, again, we’ve been able to form strong partnerships in service of movement groups. Program Officers at JPB Foundation and Ford Foundation have made conscious decisions to approach their work with dual goals in mind: making an impact leaving the movement notably stronger in terms of resources that can be deployed as power over time (not only IRG, but people, relationships, capacities, etc) The David and Lucille Packard Foundation is a real bellwether here, both with providing resources to all program officers to fund organizational development work, and with their investments in the Leaders Trust and Resilience Initiative in coordination with their direct grantmaking.
I think the other critical point in time for funders to consider is leaving the movement notably stronger in terms of capacity is when they are planning to spend down or limited initiatives. This kind of thinking is one of the reasons Progressive Multiplier exists today – the civic participation Action Fund’s spend down grant funded our first grants as an intermediary. Wallace Global Fund has shown similar vision early in its spend down. We also recently partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center to support their Vote Your Voice partners. In year two of this ten-year program, SPLC has engaged us to make sure when the VYV program ends in 2033, participating movement groups can make the money they need to continue voter outreach and civic engagement in the Deep South.
I’d love to see funders engage intermediaries more around revenue generation support like SPLC has. When movement groups are directly funded to do IRG projects by their existing funders, they struggle because they don’t have the strategic or technical assistance they need to execute and grant funds are rarely flexible enough to hire fro that expert support. Intermediares like Accelerate Change, the Progressive Multiplier, and others are doing phenomenal work to help groups build sustainable capacity.
I firmly believe that what’s “wrong” now when it comes to how foundations support independent resource generation is rooted in caution. IRG is a newer discipline for the movement, it exists to build power and that usually means multi-entity tactics, it’s really hard to measure direct mission impact during a single-year rant term, etc.
Part of Progressive Multiplier’s job, or more specifically my job, is to advocate for a shift in how philanthropy invests in power building through IRG. It is THE linchpin for sustaining the capacity required to win long campaigns and building community power at scale. Alex Gomez co-executive director of LUCHA said recently at our 22 briefing, “… rev gen is allowing us to build an agenda to thrive while a lot of our funding focuses on how to defend.” That’s the pivot we need to make to address what some foundations are getting wrong – prioritize (in your systems, support, funding, and measurement) what it takes for movement groups to thrive.
A QUESTION FROM paula morris, director, resilience initiative:
“What ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT WHEN YOU SEE HOW FUNDRAISING/RESOURCE MOBILIZING IS EVOLVING. Particularly for justice and movement organizations. wHAT ARE YOU MOST CONCERNED ABOUT?”
I start almost every public revenue generation presentation I do with a poll. The answer choices are anonymous direct quotes from some of our grantee partners
How much do you dislike fundraising on a scale of 1 to 4?
1. Fundraising IS mobilizing!
2. Fundraising is what it is, just part of the job.
3. I don’t mind picking the pockets of the wealthy.
4. It’s gross that we have to beg for the spoils of colonization.
When I started at Progressive Multiplier. I’d say the average poll score was 2.5. I’d say now we’re at a solid 1.5. The progressive culture change around rev gen excites me the most!
Our grantee partner CASA, is on a great evolution when it comes to considering fundraising as donor organizing. Senior Director of Development Jesse Steele said, “There can be a temptation among movement organizations to think of donors and other organizations as externalities. We encounter so many well-meaning and dedicated folks every day in our work – we ask them to be ‘supporters’ but the only way they can support is another donation. Over time, this can tempt movement organizations into thinking of their development shops as a necessary distraction and their donors as simply ATMs. But the truth is everyone we encounter in our work is valuable to the struggle: whether they are potential members, potential allies, or potential external partners. At CASA, our members and their dreams, struggles, and ambitions are the sole focus of our work, but understanding that we have the capacity (and maybe even the duty) to organize these non-members as well – whether with us as allies or in coalition with us as partners – means that we can build power across new dimensions we might have interested in donors. We’re interested in donors. We’re interested in organizing lifelong allies who will show up in solidarity with our members. That re-framing has sparked change organization-wide.”
What’s better than that?!
Though I’m concerned that Philanthropy and intermediaries aren’t evolving quickly in how they support this culture shift as movement groups need them to. As groups embrace independent revenue generation as part of building power, they are deploying multi-entity strategies. Funding and technical/strategic assistance needed to support multi-entity work and not just be limited to c3 only.
A question from erika oseguera, director of planning, grants, and administration, the education trust-west
“What is one of the challenges that you foresee nonprofits facing over the next year where philanthropic partners/donors can play a key role addressing?”
Some of the challenges nonprofits face today are universal, and some are very specific to certain sectors. Each organization we work with as a grantee partner felt the hallmarks of the two years – the pandemic, uprising for racial justice, and threats to our democracy – differently. But the universal challenge that I believe philanthropic partners and donors need to support nonprofits in facing is The Great resignation.
Nonprofits aren’t immune to the current labor shortage . According to the National Council of Nonprofits, the sector is down about 500K employees over the last two years. This is not a time when the sector charged with providing for our society’s social safety net and safeguarding our democracy and restoring the environment can afford to shrink.
Groups need to be able to offer competitive compensation and benefits, in addition to safe and supportive workplaces and a path for career growth. Nonprofits being “scrappy” or hand-to-mouth can’t be a source of chagrined pride for our sector – under-resourced just won’t cut it anymore if we want progress for society. These staff members are doing valuable work and groups need general operating support from all donors to create better employee experiences.
Our people aren’t “overhead”. They are the ones who deliver our mission and there is no more important investment.
A QUESTION FROM George cheung, director, more equitable democracy:
“IN DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH A PROGRAM OFFICER, HOW DO YOU BALANCE YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD WITH BEING HONEST ABOUT CHALLENGES IN DOING THE WORK?”
This is one of the few areas where having no professional background in institutional philanthropy before joining Progressive Multiplier actually helps me! I worked at large fundraising and marketing agencies supporting nonprofit clients for the last ten years. Every client had a contract that made very clear their investment level, the results they expected from me and my team as well as the assumptions baked into the results to which we committed.
While this is far more transactional than our relationship with funder partners,I’ve approached building relationships in a related way. The key for us has been the upfront conversations about the assumptions that the results of our proposed project are predicated on – we have to either have a good sense from movement groups of what they need, or we have to include a request for resources to discover them in our proposal.
Once the project is underway, I report back on results but also on which assumptions are holding and which aren’t. Grounding in the data this way takes a lot of the anxiety out of the conversation because I can point to why something didn’t work and what we’re doing to follow where the results data tells us to go. This is the same approach we take with our grantee partners as well. As long as we fail forward and the project gives us the data to know where to invest the next dollar to advance the mission, I think we’ve been ethical stewards of the money and partnership.
A QUESTION FROM VIOLETA BERMUDEZ, CHIEF STORYTELLER, PROGRESSIVE MULTIPLIER
“AS YOU STEP INTO THIS ROLE, WHAT DOES YOUR DREAM TEAM LOOK LIKE? WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR LEADING AN AUTHENTIC TEAM THAT SHOWS UP EVERY DAY TO LIFT UP GRANTEE VOICES AND HELP THEM SCALE?”
There are many scholars and human resource experts I could reference here abut what makes a high functioning team. But I’m an unabashed Shonda Rhimes fan. Any self-described chubby geeky introverted child who grows up to build an empire that ensures someone sees people who looks like them and loves like them in mainstream media that lifts up stories so everyone can recognize themselves in people who don’t look like or love like them? YES!
In her book, Year of Yes, Shonda said, “I am smart, I am talented, I take advantage of the opportunities that come my way and I work really, really hard. Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass”
My dream team is made up of badasses who want to build progressive power so that injustice can be realized for all people.
Everyone on my dream team shows up human, every day. They have blunt conversations with our partners about the white supremacist legacy of ‘donor delight’. They try to answer with our grantee partners how one can be an anti-capitalist fundraiser. They acknowledge that we’re a three-year-old organization working imperfectly through our equity statement and how to be real and not performative when it comes to JEDI. They fail forward – as teammates, as storytellers, as grant makers and grant seekers. They bring drive, collaboration, and a “figure it out-ness” to the work at hand, every day. They honor the amazing opportunity we have to be part of a sea change in philanthropy and to grow progressive power.
This dream is being fulfilled. We have a couple of new badasses joining us to focus ono building partnerships across the movement and scaling our programs for groups. We’ll be introducing them in just a few weeks, stay tuned to meet them