Almost 20 years ago, I began a journey in philanthropy. I wanted to figure out how my family could best give away the $40 million in our family foundation. What would be most meaningful to us? What could have an impact? What was the best way to go about doing it? I spent several months investigating. I talked to experts and friends. I read and learned by looking at the experiences of others. All of this was enormously valuable in creating our grant making program in two countries.
As FACT prepares for its final months before closing its U.S. program, I offer this report in the hope that our experience will provide the same kind of help and inspiration to others. I urge the new donors, colleagues, and others reading this report to think about the principles that became central to our grant making, principles that enabled our small foundation to have a big impact in a short time. Our key approach: Giving More.
We chose community organizing as our niche, because empowering the people directly affected by social, economic and environmental injustice to speak for themselves and make change seemed like the most strategic way to use the funds we had to address poverty and injustice. We selected a small number of organizations that had strong leadership, skills and vision, and we gave them long-term general operating support. Strengthening these organizations was our top priority, so we devised an innovative and effective combination of capacity building programs for them. We wanted to put more money into our groups, and decided to spend out the foundation in a short time frame in order to do so.
These four basic tenets of FACT’s strategy are at the core of our foundation’s impact.
Here is an example of how one of our grantees had an impact on a very current issue. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition helped defeat Nashville’s “English-only” ordinance when its members — refugees from Somalia, Kurdistan and Sudan — testified before the city council, helping elected officials understand the negative effect such a policy would have on all immigrants in Nashville and on its image as a welcoming and world-class city. This wouldn’t have been possible if TIRRC had not been a strong presence in the community, giving its members a voice and a platform to be heard. This is just one success among the many that our grantees have had over the years.
We leave behind a group of organizations that are stronger and better equipped to bring the voice and power of their members to tackling ongoing challenges – local, regional, and national – like toxic neighborhoods, racial and other forms of discrimination, and economic inequality.
In this report, you’ll find details of what we did and how we did it. We describe our strategies and show how our funds directly enabled our grantees to make change. We profile four of our grantees, two in writing and two on video. We share what worked and what didn’t, and offer suggestions for those who are embarking on their own journey into philanthropy.
To us, Giving More means giving more strategically, giving more money, and giving more leadership. This approach helped FACT make a difference even with a relatively small endowment. We found that community organizing, a severely underfunded field, was an enormously powerful way to help people become strong leaders in their communities and in society, and eminently worthy of support. Whatever niche you choose, I hope our example will demonstrate how this kind of focused approach creates meaningful change.
We sincerely hope that this report will be useful to donors new and old alike. It has been a tremendously rewarding journey. Our giving as a family ends when FACT closes its doors, but not our commitment to working for a more just society.
President, FACT Services for the French American Charitable Trust