It quickly became apparent that a lot of power is rooted in great institutional philanthropy. But I’ve also noticed the growing number of intermediaries – mission-driven organizations designed to connect donors with community organizations that need support. These include public foundations like The Solutions Project, community foundations, donor-advised funds, giving circles, and tax-sponsored mutual funds.
I also began to understand that not all intermediaries are the same. For example, some intermediaries are beholden to wealthy donors and institutional philanthropy, who are frequently the founders of these entities. Other intermediaries are beholden to the movements for social justice.
I’m a newbie in philanthropy, and I’m certainly still learning. But I am clear that I am responsible to movements led by Black, Indigenous, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Latinx, LGBTQ and non-binary people, women and other communities of color. .
Under my leadership, SCOPE was one of the first beneficiaries of The Solutions Project. I was recruited to the board of directors of The Solutions Project, where I helped lead, strengthen and anchor an equitable and community-centered program. Because of this work and my vision, I was recruited to be CEO. And I’m 100% sure that we remain accountable to the social justice movements we support, and we honor our donors who understand and appreciate our movement-building approach.
Protect our core values
My story echoes those of others who lead intermediaries accountable to social justice movements. They are often led by people of color – and especially women of color – who come from community organizing and empowerment and remain accountable to frontline communities.
It’s no surprise, then, that many of the growing and transformative grantmaking trends in philanthropy have started on the streets. It was grassroots organizations that first spoke about the need for six-figure, multi-year general operational support. I first heard about the idea from my mentor and SCOPE predecessor, Anthony Thigpenn, in 2004 when I was an intern. The Solutions Project now calls these “self-determination grants”.
Grassroots organizations were also the first to talk about the need for funding community organizing and empowerment – a case I often brought up while fundraising for SCOPE. This impact-based perspective and analysis is driven by leaders in philanthropy responsible for the movement, many of whom are leading intermediaries.
Today, a growing debate on intermediaries continues. On the one hand, endowed foundations see us as marginal because our budgets are smaller and we have to raise funds. On the other hand, frontline organizations – in which mainstream philanthropy has divested for decades – raise justified concerns about intermediaries as gatekeepers, preventing resources from reaching communities on the ground.
These tensions call on us to examine our approach to relationships and to transform power dynamics at the source. Those of us leading the intermediaries responsible for the movement must tell our own stories, shape the analysis and influence the discussion. Most importantly, we need to be clear in our innovations compared to traditional philanthropy and our added value to the movements we fund. Our institutions have a clear purpose within the framework of the philanthropic movement and ecosystems, which are constantly evolving due to our learning and responsibility to frontline communities.
Intermediaries responsible for the movement led by people of color are starting to come together to share our stories and organize in one, collective voice. As equity commitments grow in philanthropy, it is our responsibility to advance these core values embedded in community organizing.
We all know the end of the game is getting the most dollars and resources for the communities most affected and who are leading and winning transformative change. Intermediaries like ours play an essential role in achieving this goal: models of self-determination and democratization, redistributing wealth and resources in the communities from which we come.
Gloria Walton is President and CEO of The Solutions Project, a national non-profit organization that promotes climate justice by providing grants and amplifying the stories of frontline community leaders in the media. The organization seeks to accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy and equitable access to healthy air, water and soils by supporting climate justice organizations, especially those led by women of color.