Strengthening the Field

FACT’s staff felt strongly that part of their work included strengthening the field of social justice funding and advocacy as a whole. Their close relationships with grantees in different geographical areas gave them a bird’s-eye view of the field, enabling them to identify common trends and problems, and groups of their grantees came together to form networks that crossed geographical boundaries. The decision not to accept unsolicited proposals freed them to spend more time with colleagues in philanthropy organizations, advocating for more funding for community organizing groups and promoting effective strategies, such as general support, long-term funding, integrated voter engagement and capacity building.

Renee Fazzari, the Colorado program officer at the General Service Foundation, said that FACT’s example helped her foundation change its strategy. “In 2005, the General Service Foundation board was looking for answers about how to build a progressive base in this country,” Fazzari said. “We realized that we needed to look at working locally rather than nationally. FACT helped the foundation understand what community organizing was about. We had a more policy orientation, and FACT helped us get grounded in what it meant to do base-building work.”

Leading the Way with Fellow Funders

Integrated Voter Engagement In addition to helping colleagues understand the power of grassroots organizing, another accomplishment was to promote the concept of integrated voter engagement. “Having a voter engagement (voter education, registration and get out the vote) program enables an organization to build the power necessary to be taken seriously by public officials,” said FACT senior program officer Laura Livoti. “Research conducted during the 2000 election cycle suggested that the most effective voter engagement activity was done door-to-door, face-to-face, by trusted messengers in the community. That research was one of the bases for the concept of integrated voter engagement.” In the past, most voter engagement programs involved large organizations based outside the community targeting key constituencies and “parachuting in” to get out the vote (GOTV) for particular elections. The large sums of money invested in this model of GOTV did not leave the targeted communities with an infrastructure to hold elected officials accountable or pursue public policy goals. Integrated voter engagement offers another model that has been proven effective at turning out the vote and also builds the long-term capacity of local organizations by investing in grassroots groups that will continue to be active in the community after an election. GOTV is all about turning out high numbers of people, requiring many shallow contacts with voters. This contrasts with the deep leadership development and education work that is the heart of how community organizing groups work. Gearing up for voter engagement often requires community groups to seek a larger volunteer pool, teach more of its core leaders supervisory skills, and ramp up technological and communications capacity. When voter engagement funds are invested in local grassroots groups, all of these capacities continue to serve their organizing and policy work. Moreover, building voter engagement capacity in grassroots groups can expand the electorate, since it has been shown that these groups are better at turning out low income and people of color voters.

Through participation in the Funders Committee on Civic Participation, FACT helped make the case for the integrated voter engagement approach.
“Laura took a leadership role and pushed the value that smaller community organizing groups can bring,” said Molly Schultz Hafid, program officer at the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock. “She made integrated voter engagement part of the language used for civic engagement. As a result, other foundations are more open to supporting community organizing groups. FACT opened the door.” Geri Mannion, of Carnegie Corporation of New York, agreed. “Our dilemma as funders is that we’re interested in policy change, but we often don’t have the grassroots,” she said. “FACT was always cognizant of having the grassroots — it took me a long time to realize that any successful issue work has to have good policy advocacy, the civic engagement that engages voters and holds people accountable, and organizing. If it doesn’t have all three, it doesn’t work.”
Mannion said she considered FACT an integral partner. “They didn’t have huge resources, but they were pivotal in what they funded. They were good partners. They figured out ways that we could fund things together — we funded national nonpartisan voter education aimed at those most unlikely to vote; they funded at the local level — which is important, since no one has enough money to do everything.”