Doing Philanthropy Differently

Hi everybody. Part of the mission of the Trans Justice Funding Project is to do things differently than most grantmakers. But what does that really mean? Here is a little more about our process so we can all start off on the same page!

First off, we want to make sure that all the groups we fund meet our criteria. This means that when you read an application, you should be able to answer yes to almost all of these questions:

• Is the group lead by and for trans people?

• Do they support and encourage trans leadership?

• Are they guided by a commitment to trans justice and anti-oppression work? Is this clear in their materials?

• Does the group center trans people organizing around their experiences with racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, or other intersecting oppressions?

• Do they collaborate with other local groups and think of themselves as part of a bigger picture of trans-led work that seeks dignity and justice for all people?

• Are they meeting the needs of their local communities? Are they using organizing and/or providing services to help bring people together?

If you feel like a group meets our criteria, you should vote either yes or maybe on Submittable. Only vote no if you feel like they have really missed the mark. Read more about how to use Submittable here.

But now what? Most groups will meet our criteria. Here are some other important things to consider:

1. We give unrestricted funds.

That means we don’t tell our grantees what to do with the money or put any conditions on it. So when you read about a group’s plans for their grant money, keep in mind that we’re here to help them not only with exciting program expenses but also with boring stuff like the cost of meeting space, electricity bills, buying a new computer, paying staff, helping a group that feels isolated go to a conference. In fact, we are especially excited about funding the boring stuff!

2. We know that trans justice work can take many forms. So the way people organize may look very different across different communities.

For example, if you are from a big city with lots of services, a support group might not seem like a radical or interesting thing to fund. But, as one of our applicants reminded us last year, if you are in a small town in Iowa, the fact that a support group just exists may already be a radical success. What matters to us is that communities are organizing themselves and setting priorities based on what feels most urgent to them.

3. The way people talk about their work can also look very different.

Keep in mind that not everyone will use the same political language to describe their work—or to describe themselves. A lot of things factor into the way a grant application reads, including: where the writer is from, their communities, their class and education background, and their experiences with intersecting oppressions. Sometimes it’s easy to be most swayed by an application that reads the same way you would say it. But we don’t want our decisions to be based on who is the best writer or who has access to the most current political thinking. Try to look past the writing and vocabulary and make a decision based on what the group is actually doing.

4. We aim to keep our grant process as simple, easy, and quick as possible.

Our grant application is only a few pages. We don’t have site visits. We don’t require reports. People just fill out our form online and that’s it. Why? Because we know these groups have more important work to do than spending all their time trying to romance us. We believe that a short application—and a wise and experienced activist panel to read it—is all it takes to make informed funding decisions.

5. We want to be sure to support groups across the country, not just in the big cities on the coasts. We especially want to have a balance between rural and urban, small town and big city, and to keep in mind that groups in more isolated areas also often have less access to funding.

6. Providing services can be an important part of organizing.

Some grantmakers, especially more social-justice oriented funds, see organizing as separate from providing services. But we’ve seen how providing services can sometimes be an important step in bringing communities together. Providing services can also make it possible for folks to participate who might otherwise be unable to because they are busy meeting their survival needs.

7. There is more than one way to define success.

A lot of funders see grantmaking as an investment. And the return on their investment is their grantees’ success. They want tangible results from their grantees (like big numbers or big policy changes) so that they can prove they made a good investment.

But we know that grassroots social justice movements are messy. Endless. Complicated. That tangible results may be the flower at the end of a long process, but you don’t expect to see a flower when you are looking at the roots. Movements need sustainable groups that will be there for the long-run, and they also need short term, kitchen table groups that may only be around for a year or two. And a group that may look like a “failure” to some funders may have in fact trained a crucial future leader, provided important resources in the moment, or done inspiring work that others will build on. So try to take the long view of the movement as you read and remember that there is more than one way to define success in grassroots organizing.

8. We fund groups that aren’t incorporated.

This means that even if a group is not a 501c3 non-profit and does not have a fiscal sponsor, even if they don’t have a bank account in their group’s name, we can still fund them. Sometimes it makes sense for a group to be incorporated, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on what their goals are. All that matters to us is: are they doing good work?

9. We reject the idea that grantees should be accountable to funders. We think funders need to be accountable to grantees.

Above all, we believe that grantees must be accountable to the communities they serve, especially to those who are most affected by oppression.

10. We are here to provide resources, not to pit everyone against each other in the thunderdome.

Funding in the non-profit world usually turns us all into competing activist-gladiators, fighting each other for scarce resources. But right now, try to read these applications as a friend. As someone who is shepherding resources to nurture a growing movement and to nurture the people and the communities that are making that movement happen.