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Co-Design Blog Post #3: Montgomery and Birmingham, AL

Monday, September 09, 2019 8:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Alabama, July, 2019
By Paula Liang, Catalist Chair 

                This third in-person meeting of the Co-Design team was different, more personal, more emotional than the first two. As a team, we have been grappling, in the aftermath of our field-wide convening in April, with how strong a values statement we wanted to make to undergird the work. The question we were asked a lot in Seattle was: More #GivingCircles in service of what?  

It’s easy to say that hate is not welcome and if you fund terrorists, we won’t provide support. But the real issue is, do we go further and make a strong statement about equity and justice as common values, knowing those words might not be commonly understood among potential founders or funders, and off-putting to some.

                Our friend and colleague Marsha Morgan, Chair of Community Investment Network which supports African American giving circles invited us to Birmingham for our Summer meeting so that we could meet with her Pastor, Bishop Van Moody who supported the First Step Act, and has been hosting panel discussions about Race and Reconciliation in their community. Several of us decided to fly down a day early so we could visit Montgomery as well, to see the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Justice and Peace, sometimes referred to as the Lynching Museum, in advance of our meeting.

                We visited the Memorial first. The primary structure is an L-shaped pavilion cut into a square of grassy knoll on a hill, a bit reminiscent of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. It is beautiful and haunting and exquisitely done.  The sculptures outside the pavilion are arresting and heartbreaking. Inside the pavilion, each of the 400 counties in the US in which the Equal Justice Initiative could verify one or more lynchings has an 8-foot Corten steel monument into which the names of the individual, when known, and the date of the lynching are cut. On some, there are just one or two names in large, easily legible letters. On others, there are two columns of tiny names. There is a 45-minute path you walk through this experience, starting with green lawn, some sculptures and explanatory signage. Then you enter the L-shaped pavilion.  At first, the monuments are on the ground and you walk among them, reading names and counties, as if they were people.  But soon you start to walk down hill, and the monuments are suspended, a little bit at first, and progressively higher every few yards. By the time you turn the corner and reach the end of the building, the 400th monument, you can only see the name of the county on the bottom of the monument, because they are fully hung above you. That’s where I found the monument for Duval County, Florida, my adopted home town.  There were 7 lynchings in Duval from 1909 to 1925. The name of the first and last human beings who were lynched are not known, which is heartbreaking. As Marsha pointed out, it is as if those lives simply didn’t matter. 

The vertical monuments inside the pavilion seem to be arranged in a totally random manner.  Outside, there is another set of identical but horizontal monuments arranged, like coffins, alphabetically by state and county. It had just rained, and they shone as if they were bronze. I was able to find the Duval monument and the other 45 Florida monuments (Florida has 67 counties, so at least 22 have something to be proud of here) and read the names and dates I could not see from below. This set of monuments is available to be claimed by Counties who want to start the process of reconciling their past with their present. I don’t have a ton of hope that my community will take this on, but I do have a Tweetstorm in mind as soon as my desk is clear.

                In a very subdued car, we headed next to the Legacy Museum, which is also run by the Equal Justice Initiative, and which traces the slow but inexorable crawl from slavery to mass incarceration. Through photos, statistics, primary source quotes, original signage from buildings, video and other media the interactive exhibits make a full-throated and undeniable case for systemic racism as the backdrop to mass incarceration, the wealth disparity between families of color and white families, and pretty much every other disparity. There are also rows and rows of huge jars of multi-colored dirt, with the names and dates of Alabama’s lynching victims; the product of a project to send students and other volunteers around the state to collect earth from the sites of the documented sites of Alabama lynchings. The walls and walls of these enormous jars make quite a statement.

                Some Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream atop blackberry cobbler at a spot chosen by Marsha along the route to Birmingham picked up our spirits a bit. Liz Fisher, ED of Amplifier, which supports giving circles inspired by Jewish values, opined that this might suffice for dinner, but we all managed to eat later at the hotel.  Also, there may have been wine. 

We gathered the next morning to see what our consultants had come up with since we met last:  a growth model, a financial model and a business model. What we heard was energizing, and gives us a roadmap for the future, pending funding. Here’s a broad outline:

  • A 5-year Campaign, as yet unnamed, to be housed at Global Impact, a 60-year-old philanthropic organization that has provided administrative support and fiscal hosting for scores of other big, ambitious philanthropic efforts over the course of its existence. You can learn about them here. Global Impact is also the home of Growfund for Giving Circles, which provides a no-minimum Donor Advised  Fund and an online platform for Giving Circles, which will provide the basis for the website for the Campaign. They are already working on tools, architecture, etc.
  • With Global Impact providing legal, finance, admin, tech and marketing support,  5YC will only need 3-4 staff members to get operational; an ED for a start, who will then decide based on their strengths and needs what other slots to fill, but likely a program director, one admin role, a community coordinator and a development director
  • The Mission of 5YC is to catalyze and connect the giving circle movement and to democratize and diversify philanthropy.
  • The activities of 5YC will do this through 4 core strategies: Showcase, Scale, Sustain and Strengthen.
  • Showcase will include things like a broad awareness campaign (imagine, if you will, never having to explain to anyone, ever again, what your organization does!), as well as special targeting to underserved populations; retirement communities, perhaps, or communities of color, and a HUGE marketing push
  • Scale will likely include online toolkits as well as incubators that work across many models as well as consulting with philanthropic partners and corporations to build giving circle networks within their organizations, and supporting new networks for affinities not currently networked (i.e., LGBTQ)
  • The Strengthen strategy will involve an annual field-wide convening and other network-weaving activities. There is also an opportunity to use research and reporting to aggregate the work of the entire field
  • Sustain efforts will involve communities of practice, donor education, webinars, micro-grants for Networks in formation and back end technology infrastructure for networks who would like that assistance. 

Sounds expensive, right? To do it well, to provide resources for the entire field, we believe it will cost $8+Million over 5 years.  But we also believe, based on a model created by Jason Franklin, who knows a thing or two about #GivingCircles, that it will result in @2025:

  • 3000 Giving Circles or Collective Giving Organizations: choose your own adventure. Also
  • 350,000 total individuals engaged and
  • $1B in community impact from 2020-2025.
  • To provide some context, the entire movement from 1998 to 2016 funneled $1.29B into their communities, according to the same researchers.

And I don’t know anything about how to calculate ROI, but I’m pretty sure that if a bunch of funders invest $8M in from 2020-2025 and the 5-year return on that is $1Billion, we’re all going to find a way to celebrate that as huge success.

We have been given approval to apply to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a three-year grant to kick this off, and should know by November if we will be in the business of hiring an ED. The Co-Design team has decided to stay attached to the project through the end of Calendar 2019 to continue to fundraise and hire the ED. 

And one final note: This isn’t the only values statement we landed on, but perhaps the one we will plant our flag on, and one I am particularly proud to have been a part of crafting:

 “We believe the powerful act of giving in community should be an opportunity open to all — especially those traditionally under-represented in philanthropy. Our work is committed to providing equitable opportunities to create a just and fair society. We know that communities are their own best experts and so we listen deeply, respect different opinions, and value all voices — all donors and all grantees.”

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