Empowering Individuals to Make Change: One Foundation's Story

In 1996, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) was a fledgling organization with a new vision. Just three years old, with a budget of $250,000, the group was tackling the challenges of low-wage work and other job issues affecting poor and disadvantaged communities by combining community organizing, research, economic analysis and policy advocacy under one roof. That year, the French American Charitable Trust (FACT), one of LAANE’s first funders, gave the group a $30,000 general support grant.

Supporting Visionaries

By 1999, FACT’s annual grant to LAANE was up to $100,000, and the young
organization was on its way to a string of major victories, including legally binding
living wage ordinances and community benefits agreements with developers.

Today, LAANE has a budget of $4 million and a staff of 44. In 2010, in the depths
of the recession, the Port of Los Angeles adopted an agency-wide Construction Careers Program, which guarantees access to port construction jobs to local people through union apprenticeship programs. LAANE worked for years to shape and win acceptance of this program, a centerpiece of its wide-ranging jobs creation and improvement efforts. “Campaigns like this take significant resources: a minimum of four full-time staff each, sometimes more, for multiple years,” said Madeline Janis, LAANE’s co-founder and executive director. “We publish well-researched reports. We have five full-time communicators. We have grassroots organizers in the neighborhoods, and we build broad-based coalitions. We find policy solutions to restructure industry. We take to the streets and go into the boardroom.”

FACT’s Mission

FACT’s mission is empowering individuals to act together to improve their lives. Its method is building the organizational strength that enables LAANE and groups like it to do that work effectively. From its inception, FACT has strategically targeted its resources by choosing a small group of promising grantees, giving them general operating support over the long term, responding to specific needs with appropriate funding, and engaging other funders to support this work.

This report is the story of how FACT, a small family foundation, took on an underfunded sector – community-led organizing and advocacy – and made a difference in a short period of time. FACT leaves behind a group of strong, effective organizations that will continue to thrive. It has also launched RoadMAP, an ongoing version of its carefully crafted capacity building program, so that more groups can benefit from its wealth of expertise, and keep FACT’s mission alive.

Sharing our Lessons

Reflecting on 18 years of grant making, the report seeks to make the case for more
investment in community organizing and advocacy as a strategy to revitalize democracy. Furthermore, it seeks to show that investing in strengthening organizations is good grant making, because strong groups are more effective groups. Finally, this report tells the story of a foundation that decided to have the greatest impact it could by putting its resources into the field quickly and strategically even if it meant terminating its operations in a relatively short time-frame.

FACT hopes that by sharing its lessons, it will be helpful to others in the field – donors, foundation staff, and consultants to donors. For those just starting out or thinking about how to be more strategic, this is the story of one family’s journey.