6 Ways Funders Can Support Visionary Freedom

The following article is co-authored by Manuela Arciniegas, Director of AFF, Bryan Perlmutter and Jessica Pierce of Piece by Piece Strategies. Manuela is also a Philanthropic Partner of the Visionary Freedom Fund, an AFF initiative that seeks to ensure that frontline communities have the resources, capacities, supports, infrastructure and relationships they need to develop and implement inspiring long-term strategies that will transform the youth justice system. Bryan and Jess serve as Project Coordinators for the Visionary Freedom Fund.

How funders can challenge white supremacy, shift power and follow the lead of youth organizers and BIPOC communities

Society is battling threats on multiple fronts: The pandemic, ongoing police brutality and anti-Black violence, rapid climate change — and the cascading effects are falling squarely on the shoulders of Black, brown and Indigenous youth and their communities.

Despite facing mounting challenges, young people and community organizing groups are articulating solutions and realizing substantial wins — and have been doing so for decades.

Youth-led organizers have championed the call for divesting from prisons, defunding the police and investing more in education, housing and social services. They have helped elevate these demands to the mainstream dialogue, contributing to momentum behind a new federal bill called the BREATHE Act and some public schools ending their contracts with police.

Grantee partner Young Women’s Freedom Center. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

We in philanthropy who work closely with young leaders know that resourcing youth organizing groups is part of the formula for social change. Yet, foundations give roughly $200 million per year to youth organizing — a drop in the bucket compared to $1.8 billion in funding for youth development. And few funders give youth a direct say over where and how these funds should be deployed.

So why aren’t more funders giving youth organizers more grants over the long haul? Why are we afraid to follow the leadership of young people and cede decision-making power?

White supremacy is holding funders back
Philanthropic refusal to listen to grantees and, beyond soliciting advice, formally committing to position directly impacted people at the decision-making table, is our largest deficiency as a sector. For far too long, too many funders have talked about sharing power with grantee partners, only to end up stalled in the land of theory and no action.

Communities would rightfully pull our grant and refuse to fund us ever again were the power dynamic to be reversed. Yet, while we have seen a number of participatory grantmaking models in action, most foundations have delayed creating formal mechanisms that give communities a direct say over grants.

A large reason why is the continued influence and power of white supremacy.

Inherent to white supremacy is that Black, Latinx, Asian American and Indigenous youth and their communities are unequal to white communities and unworthy of equal power, access and economic investment. White supremacy has excluded BIPOC communities and their intellectual powers from the mainstream narratives and closed doors to the rooms where decision-making happens, treating them as incapable of managing their own economic and political power.

Philanthropy, much like our national identity and economy, was originally constructed on a foundation of white supremacy. Like it or not, it has and continues to shape how foundations work. Most philanthropic institutions fund organizations that they believe have the best ideas, strategies and shots at success. Often, their confidence is rooted in the false narrative that wealth equals expertise and that, as a result, some community-based nonprofits, especially in BIPOC communities, can’t possibly have better solutions than their foundation colleagues.

However, what would happen if we widely practiced a philanthropic model that requires funders to resource organizations that movement groups believe are best positioned to lead and deserve resources?

What would happen if we acknowledged the white supremacist elephant in the room, let alone do something about it?

The opportunity to build aligned, lasting power
The question of stewardship of resources and decision-making power is where philanthropy can contest white supremacy. In reflecting on philanthropy’s practices, funders have the opportunity to transform themselves from the inside out.

Grantee partner FCYO’S 2020 Youth Organizing Snapshot: A Field Poised to Lead.

In doing so, they can transfer power to directly impacted youth and build long-term power for BIPOC communities. More importantly, we can ensure that resources are deployed precisely where they are needed most — from the perspective of communities who carry the burden and live the impact.

6 steps toward visionary freedom

Here are 6 steps funders can take to challenge white supremacy, shift power to communities and support youth-designed transformative, visionary freedom:

1. Reckon with racism, white supremacy and power.

Funders must make time to do the personal work of learning about and undoing racism, white supremacy and power.

There is a wide gap between the lived experiences of those with more access to wealth and low-income, BIPOC communities, which is evident in the family philanthropy sector. To bridge this gap, trustees and staff must commit to education and set aside the time to become anti-racist.

Board and staff must take this learning journey together to understand, identify and actively change the policies, behaviors and beliefs that perpetuate racism. This will help heal the harm caused by institutional and generational racism often shouldered by communities and staff of color.

It will also open foundations to a culture of not just listening but acting accountably. It can widen the entry way for traditionally overlooked and excluded youth and communities to participate democratically and begin the accountability and healing process required to truly end the harm caused by racism.

2. Bring youth and communities to the table.

Sometimes funders believe it’s not possible to include youth voices in decision-making. But in reality, there are several funder collaboratives that closely engage BIPOC youth organizing groups so that those closest to the problem inform funding to their communities.

These models build relationships and skills for youth and funders and root decisions in the lived experiences and realities of those who will directly benefit from the change being funded.

The Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, Grantmakers for Girls of Color and the Communities for Just Schools Fund are exemplars of how to consult, involve and value the voices of youth organizers.

The Native Voices Rising Fund has committees of youth and community members who actively direct grantmaking. The abundance of investment opportunities shows that we only need to unlock the willingness to share capital with communities in poverty.

3. Nurture and fund interdependence.

We must prioritize funding in intersectional, interconnected and collaborative ways, and support networks of organizations to steward resources together.

This approach promotes interdependence and collective problem-solving. The California Funders for Boys and Men of Color aligns resources and networks held by the CEOs from the state’s leading philanthropic institutions to support a constellation of groups serving BIPOC men and boys, helping lessen competition and support collaborative approaches.

Justice Funders have developed a Resonance Framework to support foundations in democratizing power and shifting economic control to communities while reducing extraction and promoting a just transition.

4. Be accountable to communities.

In practice, the threshold for movement leaders to be deemed expert enough to sit on philanthropic advisory boards is inequitable, by far surpassing the requirements to sit on family philanthropy boards.

If philanthropy wants to catalyze change beyond grant life cycles, it must be willing to cede decision-making power to those directly impacted by how those dollars will flow to youth-led work. The Decolonizing Wealth Project regularly educates donors on the imperative of shifting power and returning resources to communities as a path towards collective healing.

Electing directly impacted youth community board members, building funding advisory councils and moving resources to participatory grantmaking vehicles are just some of the necessary commitments that would proactively support youth leadership.

Hiring staff from the organizations and communities they fund and creating leadership pipelines for young people for these positions would not only provide additional support, but also help increase foundations’ accountability to communities and the movements that sustain them.

5. Engage in solidarity philanthropy.

Funding visionary work requires a deep level of trust, and the burden is on funders and trustees to extend trust to their partners — especially young people.

Many of the antiquated rules funders follow slow grantees and funders down. Part with these practices! Trust-based philanthropy outlines a set of six principles that we can collectively use. We must create diverse learning and action spaces dedicated to building solidarity relationships with movements, like the Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) or Funders for Justice.

To follow the lead of directly impacted communities and learn how they are networked and collaborate, funders must build authentic relationships with those communities and examine biases against youth leadership. Foundation staff should do the heavy lifting.

6. Join the Visionary Freedom Fund learning community.

The Andrus Family Fund’s recently-launched Visionary Freedom Fund (VFF) is an example of participatory grantmaking that moves decision-making power to young people directly impacted by the youth justice system. VFF’s Power Table has convened 8 youth organizers with a broad vision of what their communities need to thrive, 4 adult movement leaders and 11 funders to collaboratively determine where the $2.6 million initiative should distribute its resources.

As we embark on this experiment to design new grantmaking structures rooted in collectivism, interdependence, transferring power, right relationship and creative visioning, we invite other funders to join the VFF Learning Community. Together, we can learn and act toward transformative change for youth and their communities.

This article was originally published on Medium by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. 

AFF Board Member & AFF Consultant Develop A Racial Justice Curriculum for Family Foundations

The National Center for Family Philanthropy has launched the Racial Justice Learning and Action Network to deepen engagement with issues of race in philanthropy. NCFP fellows conducted community interviews to explore the reasons why trustees wanted to engage in racial justice learning. Former AFF board member Lindsey Griffith contributed to the interviews, while AFF consultant/trainer Bari Katz and AFF Board member Edgar Villanueva have been chosen to guide the curriculum design with the trustees who will participate in the network.

Read more about their impactful work here.

Nothing About Us Without Us: AFF Welcomes Movement Partner Advisory Council

“Nothing about us without us.”
James Charlton, Disability Rights Movement Author

Dear Community,

After 20 years of philanthropic work, AFF is excited to announce the launch of the inaugural cohort of Movement Partner Advisory Council (MPAC). AFF welcomes 2021 with the goal of entering into a more accountable philanthropic practice, deeply grounded in collaborative relationship with movement organizations, following their lead and transferring power to frontline communities.

Our staff is an all-women-of-color team, and we are deeply aware that accountability to frontline, directly impacted communities must be more than a soapbox talking point. The absence of a dedicated structure to bring community to the table is a promise — not an actionable plan.

The AFF board seeks to change that. As a result, we decided to formally create the MPAC. The Council is an intergenerational, geographically diverse table of movement partners from across youth justice, child welfare, immigrant rights and gender justice organizations. MPAC members are also intermediaries, organizing policy and/or advocacy partners. They all have deep expertise and proven track records building power in communities, changing policy and practices that impact the youth and communities AFF serves.

The goal of the MPAC is to serve as a strategic partner that will provide guidance to the AFF staff and board in how we meet the AFF mission, vision and strategic plan. The MPAC will also inform our grantmaking, capacity-building and philanthropic organizing endeavors. As AFF continues to strengthen our accountability to the field and deepen our commitment to sharing power with frontline communities, we’re very excited about formalizing a vehicle to deepen relationships and commit to the regular practice of following the lead of movements.

Our vision is that the MPAC serve as a council of wise movement building experts who can inform our philanthropic strategy and practice, ensure staff and board are in lockstep with movements and maximize our resources, efforts, and time to improve outcomes for the youth we serve and the organizations we partner with.

In 2021, MPAC members will sit at the table alongside the AFF board in our strategic planning process, providing valuable insight into the revamping of our application and reporting processes, capacity building programing, communications and grantmaking strategies, and philanthropic organizing efforts. Together, we will articulate a collective vision and plan for how to better serve the young people we serve.

Please welcome the outstanding members of the inaugural MPAC — all AFF grantee partner leaders on the frontlines of fighting for Black, Brown, and Indigenous youth impacted by youth justice, child welfare and other disruptive systems. We are beyond honored to work together with our brilliant grantee leaders to deepen authentic, collaborative partnerships between philanthropy and movements.

Manuela Arciniegas
Andrus Family Fund

CC Gardner-Gleser
Chair of the Board
Andrus Family Fund

A Letter to Foundation Trustees: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Show Up For Racial Justice

The year 2020 holds challenges for us all — a triple-layered challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the police killings and resulting uprisings calling out racial injustice and an economic recession. The upcoming shift in the political landscape provides hope, but the election also highlighted a known rift in a country that has not reckoned with its racist history. Arguably, the work and organizations funded by the Andrus Family Fund (AFF) are more critical than ever.  

This year also marks AFF’s 20th anniversary, which provided an opportunity for reflection and radical visioning. Our grantee partners have shown incredible resilience and serve as a source of inspiration in building power among like-minded groups, with an urgency that philanthropy isn’t used to. We understand that philanthropy is steeped in dominant culture and centers itself over the needs of community. We can no longer operate at this slower pace; we must be responsive. It is essential that change at the board level follows the pace of movement building or we will lose this moment. The building of this moment has happened over time; now is the time to trust community, listen to community and lean in. 

As we reflect on our role as a learning board and family fund, we commit to the hard work of organizing our peers — trustees. AFF board members, comprised of both family and community board members ages 25-45, have put together five recommendations to fellow trustees in family philanthropy to meet the current moment, all of which are rooted in action. These ideas are not new, but we want to lift them up resoundingly because we are on the journey to committing to bringing these recommendations to life.

We center two commitments above all else in our work as board members: (i) to create just and sustainable change rooted in a commitment to racial and social justice and (ii) to learn and commit to using our knowledge to bring about change — in ourselves, in our board rooms and in our communities. These values are reflected in the recommendations below:

1. Practice Trust-Based Philanthropy

  • The brilliance lives in the field and with the practice of our partners, not within foundation walls. Directly impacted communities hold the ideas and need resources to carry them out. 
  • Trustees are to trust in staff, and in turn, staff are to trust in grantee partners. Forgo the need to understand all strategies before trusting partners on-the-ground to experiment, innovate and lead with action.  
  • Shift the focus from transactional grant-making to deep, authentic relationship-building. Ask yourselves: how are we in service to our partners? Re-assess both strategic and operational aspects of the grant-making process to make sure it leads with deep care for movement organizations and their staff. 
  • Be careful not to center board members in this process. Ask not what board members want or need and instead center community. An explicit focus on social and racial justice will continue to shift the focus back to community.


2. Commit Long Term to Becoming Anti-Racist and Eradicating Anti-Blackness in our Institutions

  • AFF and Surdna recently made a commitment to become a fully inclusive, anti-racist organization. Our vision is an institution within a wider community that has overcome systemic racism and all other forms of oppression, with full participation and shared power from diverse racial, cultural and economic groups. We are humbly at the beginning of this journey.
  • Require both institutional and personal commitments. Individual commitments are necessary to examine internal bias, as well as to sit in the discomfort and do the work.
  • Work to build anti-racist cultures and processes across all levels of the institution. Learn about anti-racist practices and implement these practices throughout all corners of your foundation.  
  • Break up all-white spaces and ensure members across all identity groups are participants in decisions that shape an institution. Recognize where, why and how all-white spaces appear. In family philanthropy, this may be across all levels of an organization, or at the board and senior leadership level.  
  • Recognize that much of this work rests on the shoulders of white people. Without a commitment to anti-racism and fighting anti-blackness from white people, we become the barriers to progress.


3. Fight Complacency and Transcend Fatigue

  • Silence is violence — speak up about racism and anti-blackness on every level to hold both people and systems accountable. As Ibram X. Kendi has taught us, one must be actively anti-racist and not complacent to counter the forces of racism. Center anti-racism and social justice in your personal life and family relationships. Lean into vulnerability; there will be discomfort in this process — find your support team, regroup and keep at it!  
  • Cultivate a learning culture. Learning has been central to AFF’s evolution — from topics such as power, privilege and white supremacy to abolitionist strategies. Education with historical context is key, and helps prevent claims of ignorance or unawareness.  
  • Do not rely on staff — particularly BIPOC professionals — to “teach” board members; there is a balance between leveraging resources and expertise versus consuming the time and energy of staff.  
  • Reframe the concept of risk to promote action. What does it mean for a young, Black person on the front lines to bear risk? What does it mean for a white person close to resources, power and privilege to bear risk?


4. Take Bold Action

  • Ask questions and push for bold action as board members, including diversifying boards and exploring increased spending. 
  • Building on several of the themes listed above, family foundation boards should be encouraged to diversify boards by bringing on non-family and/or community board members. AFF embarked on this journey several years ago, recognizing the importance of living our values by extending the opportunity for board service to the broader community and bringing professionals with expertise and lived experience into decision-making roles. Today, AFF proudly has a community member serving as Chair of the board and a standing commitment to have three community board members. 
  • Institutions should also wrestle with the question of further supporting a well-funded endowment versus supporting communities in need. If not now, then when? Throughout 2020, AFF advocated for more dollars to flow to grantee partners. In the words of Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of the Highlander Research and Education Center, “fund us like you want us to win.” Grantees are on the frontlines and we want more dollars to be directed more quickly to critical movements supporting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. We want them to win!


5. Leverage Relationships and Power

  • Educate and organize within your own communities. Have conversations with family members, friends and acquaintances. Make a personal commitment to do so long-term.  
  • Explore fundraising ideas and ask people you have relationships with for money. Look to partner organizations and directly impacted communities to inform how resources should be allocated, and follow their lead. Build on the themes around trust-based philanthropy, quickly removing barriers to access grants. Make it as easy and labor-free as possible to move resources.


This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather highlight areas where a family foundation board has uncovered small wins in responding to the current moment. Grounded in our commitment to learning, we welcome continued conversation around what other family foundation trustees are doing to advance social and racial justice. If you’d like to sign on to this pledge, or request support in holding conversations around these ideas to your board, please reach out to us at info@affund.org.

The AFF Board

The Andrus Family Fund Announces New Board Leadership

The Andrus Family Fund, a program and sub fund of the Surdna Foundation,  is pleased to announce our new board chair: C’Ardiss “CC” Gardner Gleser. CC is the first community member to serve as Chair of the AFF Board, and continues to make visible the influential leadership of Black women in social justice philanthropy. 

CCCC is currently the inaugural Director of Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the Satterberg Foundation, where she has resourced a number of BIPOC-led organizations advancing racial and environmental justice. She was a recipient of the YaleWomen Award for Excellence in 2019, the highest award bestowed to Yale alumni who are exceptional advocates for justice, equality and access for women. CC was also a Connecting Leaders Fellow at the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE). Her deep commitment to elevating and centering the voices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color led her to establish the first-of-its-kind Seattle Equity Summit, which is an annual cross-sector dialogue (bringing together community, non-profit, philanthropy, corporate, government and education) designed to solve some of the most pressing issues plaguing Seattle through a racial justice lens.  

Under CC’s leadership as board chair, AFF family and community board members will continue to advance trust-based philanthropic practices, racial equity and social justice grantmaking led by youth impacted by the Child Welfare, Youth Justice and other systems. “The time is now. It’s more critical than ever for philanthropy to show up as a partner that trusts the communities it serves rather than continuing to apply traditional and outdated models of philanthropy,” said CC. “I commit to modeling what it looks like for philanthropy to listen and learn from young people and allied adults with direct lived experiences of racial discrimination, economic and social exclusion, and systemic barriers.” 

KaitlinAs board chair, CC will partner closely with Kaitlin Miles, newly appointed Vice Chair, based in Austin, TX.  Kaitlin is currently an Investment Manager at the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, helping provide pension benefits to over 1.6 million public school teachers and public education employees and retirees. “My goal is to be a great support system for our staff and board chair. In this role I pledge to champion the impactful work of our grantee partner leaders. Together, we will continue to push AFF and philanthropy to give even more support to youth, invest in Black leadership, and make bolder moves to center the voices of community,” said Kaitlin. Both CC and Kaitlin, in partnership with the Surdna Foundation, look forward to creating more opportunities for building power in communities by following the leadership of directly impacted young people.

Joining CC and Kaitlin on the AFF Executive Board are Emily Klass as Secretary and Julia Voorhees as Treasurer.

We say her name: BREONNA TAYLOR

The following is a statement co-signed by our Director, Manuela Arciniegas, who serves as the co-chair of Funders for Justice.

There is no accountability in the same system that murdered Breonna. It will not give her justice, and it will not get us free.

We are enraged at the verdict that has been issued in Louisville, KY in the aftermath of 120 days of protest following the murder of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman (and nurse) who was killed by 3 police officers while she lay in her bed, in her apartment, asleep.

The fact that only one officer was charged, and that the charge was endangerment to property and neighbors, but not to Breonna Taylor, is not accountability. It does nothing to build the public trust in elected officials or public servants, in the justice system, in the law. The announcement is yet another reminder that the justice system was never meant to protect us or to give us justice. The people of Louisville are rising up against well-funded systems of state violence, risking their lives in the streets. We must fund local organizers like we want them to win. Fund them like you believe their safety is dependent on abolishing the police. Because it is. #DefundThePolice

As philanthropy, we must support the community power-building and transformative work to abolish the systems that killed Breonna Taylor. That is where justice will be found. We urge all funders to mobilize resources to support on the ground efforts and uplift the demands of BLM Louisville / Invest/Divest Louisville. These demands are critical policy changes that would immediately hold police and elected officials accountable to the public — especially to Black people rising up in protest; these are real policy demands that are designed in an abolitionist vision.

Support the on-the-ground organizers building power and demanding accountability.

And support your grantee partners and communities with advancing the healing justice approaches needed to weather the grief and sorrow at the fact that Black women’s lives are taken with impunity. Countless mothers have never received justice, but the organizers won’t stop until the community does. Not one more Black Life.

We’re gathering information from local movement folks and will follow up soon with recommendations on where to donate.

In Struggle,
Funders for Justice

Rest in Power: Remembering the Legacy of Allison Brown


It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of our beloved colleague and friend Allison Brown, the founder and executive director of Communities for Just Schools Fund, an AFF grantee partner and co-convener for our biennial grantee conference, Education Anew: Shifting Justice. Allison passed away from cancer on Saturday night after a long battle, leaving behind two children — Zora (14) and Massai (17) — and many movement leaders who will eternally remember her legacy as deeply compassionate, kind, regal and no nonsense.

Allison worked consistently for education justice, starting her career defending children’s rights in the deep South. She also worked tirelessly to move philanthropic resources to education organizing groups nationwide. Among her many moments of triumph was the recent plenary she facilitated focusing on education and youth justice in Jackson, Mississippi as part of our 2020 EASJ convening. Team AFF salutes our co-conspirator and comrade Allison, and wishes our sister fund CJSF (Jaime Koppel, Thena Robinson Mock, Alexis Smith, Allie McCullen, Cierra Kaler-Jones and the crew) our deepest sympathies and condolences.

The Andrus Family Fund is committed to the fight for education justice and ensuring that we continue to support the work Allison started. Please consider making a donation in her name to the Education Anew Fund, housed within CJSF and New Venture Fund here.

Rest in power and light beloved warrior.