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We Have a Long Way to Go

October as a month of access and inclusion dates back to 1945 when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October the “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”  We have come a long way since then but we still have a long way to go as a nation to educate and increase employment access for millions of people with disabilities in this President Bush signing the american with disabilities actcountry.  Only 19.8% of people with disabilities participate in the employment realm compared to 68.7% of those without disabilities.

So while we celebrate the contributions of people with disabilities in employment during this month, we are also reminded about how far we still need to go.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed and signed into law in 1990, President George H.W. Bush expressed a vision that it will provide opportunity for people with disabilities in this country “blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”  Even after the 2008 amendment (ADAAA), the vision is still far from being realized.  Many buildings are still not accessible, many technologies are still not accessible, and the minds of a great number of individuals are still closed to the reality that artificial barriers exist.  Yes, we have come a long way but still have a long way to go.

I was hired as a director of a disability program some years back and a member of my staff is a wheelchair user.  I worked with this great colleague for about five years and found this person to be extremely professional, conscientious, timely, and efficient.  I tried many days to get to work early so I could say I made it to the office first but was only successful at this once.  Out of curiosity, I asked how a typical day would be.  I was informed that the day begins at 4:00 a.m. because it takes that long to get ready and make it to work on time.  When some colleagues would try to get out right at 5 or a bit before, young woman in a wheelchair at a computerthis person would not mind staying behind and closing the doors.  This colleague was not hired because of the visible disability but because of the skill.  However, this colleague felt a great burden to prove that they deserve to keep their job and therefore must do more than others.  This is the reality for many people with disabilities; they feel a need to demonstrate that they deserve the position.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) is well aware of the discouraging figures and has expanded its funding strategy to include employment.  For 25 years, JSF has participated in post-secondary access by providing scholarships to students with disabilities.  The Foundation has invested in both the students as well as in the professionals that work with them at all twelve schools within the State University System of Florida.  Many of these institutions (e.g. Florida State University, Florida A&M University, University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University) create significant events to recognize the diversity that exist on their campuses by honoring the students they serve and those who contribute to the success and access for those students.

Institutions of higher education have done remarkable jobs at ensuring access and inclusion for students.  As a whole, the society needs to go further to giving people with disabilities opportunities to show they can contribute by hiring them and ensuring reasonable and appropriate accommodations.  Foundations also need to invest more in Older man playing with a group of young childrenprograms and projects that increase diversity in the workplace,  ensuring that diversity is not only about race, color, gender, or sexual orientation but also about ability.  Self-sufficiency and sustainable employment is what all Americans long for, it is the same for people with disabilities.  The Johnson Scholarship Foundation welcomes great ideas and innovative projects that focus on employment and self-sufficiency of people with disabilities.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is observed each October. The theme this year is “#InclusionWorks.” In honor of NDEAM, Giving Matters will devote poster for inclusion worksthe month of October to the issue of disability employment.
Employment of people with disabilities has become central to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s mission and strategy. In its early years, the Foundation focused solely on education of people with disabilities. Educators pointed out that unemployment of people with disabilities, even those with college degrees, was much, much higher than for the rest of the population.
Employment of people with disabilities is a civil rights issue. Notwithstanding federal legislation prohibiting discrimination, it has not been well understood by the general public or employers in the past. Employers seem to have avoided hiring people with disabilities because they did not understand that it is good business and adds to the bottom line.
A Louis Harris and Associates survey of 920 American employers revealed that employees with disabilities have about the same productivity levels as employees without disabilities. Some 90 per cent were rated as average or above average in performance of job duties. Nearly 80 per cent of the managers also said that their employees with a disability work as hard as or harder than their employees without a disability (Alberta Human Services). Other surveys have found similar results on performance and also lower than average absenteeidisability graphicsm and job turnover.
The Foundation began to include grants to non-profit organizations that focus on employment of people with disabilities and changed its mission to include employment. Recent grant agreements include Bridges from School to Work and The National Statler Center.
Bridges from School to Work engages employers, schools, community resources, youth and their families to help businesses meet their workforce needs while offering young people with disabilities the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed through employment. It presently serves about one thousand students per year from operations in 9 U.S. cities. Bridges has recently adopted a plan that would expand its locations to new cities and double the number of young people that it serves every year.
The National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service is a program of the Olmsted Center for Sight in Buffalo, New York. It offers two curriculum modules: a ten week program that focuses on customer service in the hospitality industry and a seven week program on customer service for contact centers, financial and medical offices, transportation, and communications industries. Statler’s curriculum was developed in people shaking hands across a tablepartnership with Johnson & Wales University, the world’s premier hospitality educational institution and is a New York State proprietary business school, certified by the state department of education.
Foundation grants to employment focused non-profits include Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities, the National Organization on Disability, Abilities and Gulfstream Goodwill Industries.
We salute our grantees and former grantees and the work that they do. Thanks to their work and others like them, employment of people with disabilities is receiving more attention in recent years. The Federal Rehabilitation Act requires federal employers (this includes contractors who sell goods or services to the federal government) to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities. American businesses, large and small, have taken a public stand and increased the number of people with disabilities in their workforces.
Progress has been made but there is still much to do. Get behind this issue. Spread the word. Donate to the cause or, better yet, hire someone with a disability. You and your business will be better for it!

Partnership & Matching Endowments

Our Foundation helps disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We do this through organizations such as schools, universities and non-profits. We chose carefully. We think of ourselves as investors and look for organizations with smart, energetic people, good ideas and alignment of interest. Once we make the decision to invest, these organizations become our partners.

The term “partner” is often used loosely. What do we mean?

The Foundation and its grantee may be in a joint venture to help people, but it is the group photo with a johnson scholarship recipientgrantee that actually does the work. We are mutually dependent. Everything else flows from this simple truism.

So what does this look like? In scholarship programs, partnership often involves building an endowment over a period of years, in addition to student scholarships. Some grant makers will not fund endowments; they prefer more immediate need. We think that endowments are a means to build grantee capacity and ensure that scholarships will continue to be granted after we have moved on. They also provide leverage for Foundation grants. Most of our endowment grants are matched 2, 3 and even 4 to 1 by other donors.

The Foundation has made matching scholarship grants at all of the State Universities in Florida. It has used matching grants to help build endowments at University of Central Florida and its Direct Connect partners, Eastern Florida, Lake Sumter, Seminole and Valencia CollegesUniversity of Florida; University of South Florida; and University of West Florida. It is presently in negotiations with two more state universities in Florida.

people talking at a receptionOutside of Florida, the Foundation has used its matching endowments to build capacity at tribal colleges and universities serving Indigenous Peoples. Two of the Foundation’s largest and most effective scholarship programs operate at tribal colleges that it has not funded for many years, namely Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota and Salish Kootenai College on the Flathead Reservation, Montana. Matching grants have helped to build scholarship endowments at other tribal colleges, the American Indian College Fund, and several universities that serve Indigenous Peoples.

One of our first matching endowments was to endow the City Music
program at Berklee College of Music. City Music is a program that engages, mentors and educates underserved youth in order to encourage them to finish school and pursue post-secondary education. We funded all aspects of this program from its beginning in Boston entrepreneurship scholarship reception group phototo its expansion to other locations. Many years ago we helped Berklee to build a multi-million dollar scholarship endowment for City Music and today the City Music Network has 40 partners in diverse locations, including Canada.

From the examples given above (and numerous others) matching endowment grants have proven an excellent vehicle for partnership between the Foundation and its grantees. It is a reliable strategy to leverage grant money and to help grantees to build capacity. At the end of a successful matching grant, the grantee is stronger and more independent. It has the endowment and, even more important, an enhanced fundraising capacity. It is better equipped to carry on with its work (and thereby advance the Foundation’s mission) and the Foundation is free to move on to other opportunities.



3 Ways to Better Tell Your Organization’s Story

Our Board and staff recently met with Dr. Malia Villegas of the National Congress of American Indians. During our time together, Dr. Villegas discussed the power of narrative. In her extensive work with Indigenous Peoples, she has found that “Storytelling is an essential part of community transformations.” The story that we tell about a place, about a people, about a project, all have the power to either “deepen or constrain [our] impact.”

So what can we do? How can we be sure to honor the people and places with which we work the stories that we tell and the narrative that we weave?

  1. Collect Data

The most impactful stories have their root in accurate information. Prior to weaving a narrative, do the work to collect and analyze data. Data is the first step and gives a point ofman looking towards two younger men at a table reference that can guide your steps further into the heart of the story.

Our grantee partners at the Martin Family Initiative (MFI) are good at letting data begin the story, but not complete it. MFI “seeks to improve elementary and secondary school education outcomes for Aboriginal Canadians through the implementation of specific programs and the application of appropriate research.” They know that 1 in 3 Aboriginal persons has not completed high school. And they understand that only half of Canadians claim any understanding of Aboriginal issues. These data points – and many more – guide the work of MFI. Because of this, they are best able to help the narrative of Aboriginal people in Canada become one of success, resilience and hope.

  1. Listen Beyond the Data

Research indicates that first generation college students graduate with college degrees at a drastically lower rate than their peers. But theses statistics are not the story.

To go beyond the data, the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program (MFOS) has spent good time listening the first-generation students and understanding the challengesgroup photo at a reception they face throughout their college education. No piece of data can encapsu
late the guilt a first-generation student might feel when leave home to go to school or what it must be like to have no frame of reference when it comes to signing up for classes. By listening to these pieces of information, MFOS has created a program that truly meets the needs of students, rewriting their story and instilling in them that they deserve a college education.

  1. Recognize the Larger Story

The Marriot Bridges from School to Work program works diligently to place qualified people with disabilities in successful work environments. The national unemployment rate among youth ages 16-24 stands at 16%; factor in disability and young adults are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled peers. Bridges recognizes that young man in a kitchenpeople with disabilities only represent a small fraction of the unemployment narrative. The larger story of the problem lies within inaccessible systems that prevent proper accommodations and success in the workplace in addition to unqualified workers. Understanding this has allowed Bridges to engage with both employers and potential employees in a manner that allows everyone to achieve success.

Everyone has a story to tell. As Dr. Villegas teaches us, how we tell it and how we share it will either “deepen or constrain your impact.” What story will you tell?


The Importance of Partnerships and Sustainability

As a Grant writer and Development professional I’m an avid consumer of industry journals, webinars, TED Talks, and all types of professional development literature. Apart from my own nerdy interest in the non-profit sector, I’ve found that keeping a finger on the pulse of trends and changes in development and fundraising makes me a more effective advocate for the Olmsted Center for Sight, and aids me in writing more impactful grant prtwo women shaking hands across a tableoposals for the agency’s many programs.

In recent months one of the most reoccurring themes I’ve come across is the need to efficiently articulate your agency’s sustainability when applying for grant funding. While financial sustainability is typically what comes to mind, budget sheets and revenue statements never completely encapsulate the health and longevity of an organization or program. Foundations and grantors often want to know about:

  • The role your Board of Directors plays in the agency
  • How the agency retains talented staff and executives
  • How the agency utilizes volunteers
  • If the agency has a strategic plan and how they use it
  • The agency’s relationships with other organizations (both non-profit and for-profit)

That last one (relationships) is of particular importance. Successful non-profit organizations are often the ones that find ways to align themselves with other organizations in their community, whether it be co-sponsoring a program or something more long-term like a merger or alignment. The Olmsted Center for Sight works collaboratively with several organizations in Buffalo and Western New York, which apart graphic of two hands shakingfrom strengthening the particular program(s), also helps illustrate to funders that our organization is sustainable.

The Olmsted Center for Sight is formally partnered with the Central Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CABVI), in which we share work contracts and procurements.

Contracts secured through this relationship provide full-time employment to blind and visually impaired individuals in Olmsted’s Contact Center and Manufacturing division. The Olmsted Center has also been formally partnered with the Buffalo VA Medical Center for over 20 years, in which the agency provides full staffing for the Call Center and Switchboard operations in Buffalo and Erie, PA. Through our partnership with Veterans One-stop Center of Western New York, Inc., the National Statler Center (Olmsted’s career training program) waives the tuition of one disabled veteran per class.

If you’re a successful non-profit, chances are you’re already engaged in some sort of relationship or alignment effort; your job as a grant-seeker is to be knowledgeable about your organization’s relationships and  to be able to convey them in an impactful way when seeking funds.

Why do Foundations Use Data?

Research from the Center for Effective Philanthropy, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and others suggest three reasons: accountability, learning, and communication.

  • Accountability: Most commonly, grant partners are held accountable to grant objectives or outcomes. Less frequently, foundations use data to hold themselves accountable to their mission or goals.
  • Learning: This includes learning about what strategies should work (e.g., during planning), and what strategies did or did not work (e.g., during implementation).
  • Communication: Some foundations use data to communicate needs, progress, or impacts to stakeholders or to the community. Carefully chosen data points can make communications much more powerful.

Unfortunately, recent research also documented that foundations find generating meaninggraphic of data being processed from a server to a laptopful information to be challenging. By considering four factors, however, foundations can generate meaningful information effectively and efficiently.

  1. Consider the relative importance your foundation places on the three main uses of data – accountability, learning, and communication. For example, a foundation with a focus on accountability might focus evaluation resources on tracking quantitative outcomes and ensuring grant partners have the capacity to generate valid and reliable data. A foundation with an emphasis on using evaluation for learning might focus evaluation resources on qualitative data using interviews, facilitated discussions, and written reports to generate lessons learned. A foundation with an emphasis on communication might use either approach, depending on the target audience. For example, quantitative data would be needed to share the success of a particular approach with other funders while qualitative data on areas for improvement would be helpful for grantees.
  1. Think about your data and evaluation goals. Will you use data to support your planning processes, provide feedback on implementation, track progress towards strategic goals, or inform resource allocation or board decisions? Or all of the above? Data to support a planning process might include needs assessments, looking for what interventions have evidence of effectiveness or what innovative approaches have not been tried. Data used to inform board decisions might include needs, solutions, and past performance.
  1. Consider how data and evaluation results will be used internally and externally. What decisions are to be made, when, and by whom? The answer to these questions will determine when data are collected and will drive processes around how data and evaluation results are packaged and shared.
  1. Identify technical issues. Most people start here, but the last item is to work through technical issues, such as determining evaluation procedures by level of investment and aggregation; who should be involved in evaluation and when; expectations around rigor; what level of information is required (client vs. program); and capacity – yours and your partners’ – around staffing, expertise, and systems.

With this information in hand, you can implement a data and evaluation system to support your mission. Start with thinking through the four factors before settling on an approach or a methodology so that you can generate meaningful information effectively and efficiently.

Getting to the Heart of Healthy Funder-Grantee Relationships

This week we repost Getting to the Heart of Healthy Funder-Grantee Relationships by Amanda Broun and Katie Jones of Independent Sector. It is part of the series Putting the Grantee at the Center of Philanthropy, a collaboration between Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and the Stanford Social Innovation Review that “tells the story of why and how grantee inclusion is key to effective philanthropy, from both the funder and nonprofit perspectives.” This post searches for ways to mitigate an inherent power imbalance between grantor and grantee – an issue central to effective philanthropy. We commend this to grantors and grantees alike and welcome your comments, insights and suggestions.

– Malcolm

In 2014, Independent Sector (IS)—a leadership network for nonprofits, foundations, and corporations committed to advancing the common good—began to outline a new strategic vision. We convened an advisory panel of experts, engaged consultants at Monitor Deloitte to facilitate the process, and ultimately identified nine trends that will impact the nonprofit and philanthropic sector over the next two decades. The panel then asked a series of questions, including: What are the impediments to organizations meeting their missions in light of these trends? What must we do now and in the future to prepare the social sector for what lies ahead?

This led us to organize a year-long, cross-country “conversation tour” called Threads. As an illustration of a person standing on the shoulders of another person who is holding up a red light bulbpart of Threads, IS and 80 partners held 15 different community town halls to hear directly from nonprofit and philanthropic leaders about, among other things, barriers to meeting mission. One impediment to meeting mission people consistently raised was strained relationships between grantees and funders, an issue we labeled as “power dynamic.”

Given such a robust topic, IS sought to understand the nature of grantee-funder relationships when they go well. We wondered, would anyone be willing to talk to us about their relationships? Would they be honest? What was it about successful grantee-grantmaker relationships that led to a positive power dynamic and results?

To our delight, we were able to identify 20 pairs of grantees and funders who mutually believed they had a healthy relationship. We conducted 40 qualitative phone interviews (individuals were interviewed separately) to answer these questions:

  • What are the factors that contribute to healthy relationships? Is it a shared vision? Shared metrics? Something else?
  • Do the grantees and funders engage in shared behaviors and practices? Are there underlying conditions that support those practices? If so, could others adopt them?
  • And, most importantly, if a grantee and a funder have a healthy relationship, does it make a difference in the communities they serve?

The conversations were fascinating. In our interviews with Denise Joines, senior program officer for The Wilburforce Foundation, and David Houghton, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association, for example, both mentioned the “bad coffee” they drink in their work together—a term they use to describe the importance of cultivating relationships and ensuring community buy-in for lasting impact, which often means going to many small, local establishments and drinking several cups of bad coffee. As we spoke about their vision of success, a shared hurdle they needed to overcome together, and where they saw their relationship in 10 years, it became more and more apparent they were aligned.

These interviews and others show there are some very healthy grantee-funder relationships out there. We’ve also seen that many of the organizations who are in these relationships engage in specific practices and behaviors that are mutually reinforcing and respectful, and draw on the strengths each partner brings to the table. Some of the themes we’re seeing are:

  • Partnerships based in learning: A mutual commitment to learning and piloting new approaches. Several interviewees spoke about how performance metrics were often considered a baseline for learning, rather than a punitive aspect of the relationship.
  • Shared vision of success: A clear and mutual articulation of what success looks like, agreed on at the onset of a project, was useful when adapting strategies and tactics. In fact, three-fourths of people we interviewed said a shared vision was critical to navigating unexpected hurdles.
  • Co-development of plan/program: A plan or project developed together often makes it more comfortable for each partner to proactively offer feedback or elevate challenges. Grantees and funders alike shared how they set the mutual expectation that things will inevitably go wrong in the work, so determining how to diagnose, identify, and act to address those challenges together was always a core element of the relationship.

This fall, IS will release eight case studies that detail more of these healthy practices, behaviors, and supporting conditions across grantee-funder pairs, and highlight several organizations that execute them well. We will also share a synopsis of learnings across all 40 organizations, and pilot a number of related tools at our upcoming conference.

We believe strengthening relationships between grantees and funders is an important part of preparing the nonprofit and philanthropic sector for the challenges it will face over the next two decades. IS’s goal in this work is to help grantees and funders engage in healthier relationships so that organizations fulfill their missions and strengthen the communities they serve.


How We Learn: 7 Ways We Keep Up with the Fields We Fund

We often liken our grant making to investing. We seek a social return (rather than a financial one) and this differentiates us from mainstream investors. However the rest of the process is similar. We must find good ideas and organizations in which to invest. We frequently ask ourselves how we can be better informed and more knowledgeable about the areas that we fund. We have a number of sources. All of them are necessary. None are sufficient.woman writing in a journal surrounded by other people

  1. Institutional expertise

We try to attract and recruit Board members who have specialized knowledge. Our mission is education and we have several career educators on our Board and some are experts in the specialized areas of our grant making for people with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples and the underserved. We employ consultants with expertise in the area that we fund. The Foundation also retains specialized knowledge from 25 years of experience as a grant maker in education.

  1. Continuing education

We regularly attend meetings and conferences, review literature and seek out and listen to experts in the field of philanthropy and education. We belong to or follow organizations such as The Center for Effective Philanthropy, Florida Philanthropic Network, Exponent Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Education, all of which provide us with rich and excellent content. We discuss and write about what we have learned.

  1. Listening to grantees and prospective grantees

We ask people what they need rather than tell them. A decision to make a grant to an organization implies trust and alignment of interest. Our grantees actually do the work of serving students. It follows that they are usually in a better position to understand what is needed than we are.

  1. Building and valuing relationships

We view the philanthropic enterprise as a partnership and we employ a personal and businesslike approach. We go to see our grantees and their students and spend time people at a graduation receptiontalking to them. We tend to make multi-year grants, which allows us to know them better. We negotiate written grant agreements, which spell out the Foundation’s obligations in addition to those of its grantees. All of this is intended to level the playing field between the Foundation and its grantees and to engender mutual respect and trust.

  1. Evaluation

Useful evaluation is elusive and definitive evaluation is a myth. But try we must. We ask grantees to report annually and to link their results to Foundation mission and strategy. Grants are frequently reviewed by third party evaluators. Each evaluation is unique and we use different third party evaluators depending upon the subject. For example, we use First Nations Development Institute when evaluating grants serving Indigenous Peoples. Sometimes an evaluation is performed by our grantee under the guidance of a third party. For example in 2014 An Ounce of Prevention Fund of Florida designed and oversaw a process for The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind to conduct an evaluation of each of its programs funded by the Foundation. Evaluation is meant to help our grantees to improve and promote their programs and to enable us to gauge the effectiveness of our grant making and inform future grant decisions.

  1. Communication

We use a comprehensive website and social media to reach grantees and potential grantees. Our Facebook (please visit and like us if you haven’t already) highlights grantee news and achievements and the news and achievements of others in the field. We alsostudent standing and speaking to other people
produce a newsletter and a blog, in which we advocate for the Foundation’s mission and
discuss our grantees’ work and the issues of the day. Foundation grantees such as Eye to Eye and the American Indian College Fund are regulars on Facebook and have been published on our Blog. By facilitating and engaging in these conversations we increase our connection to the field and therefore our knowledge of it.

  1. We encourage and entertain unsolicited grant inquiries

We learn a lot from grant inquiries and proposals, even those that we do not accept. Regularly we are pleasantly surprised to learn of an organization that is doing great work in an area within the Foundation’s mission and strategy. For example, Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, Providence St. Mel School and the Statler Center at the Olmsted Center for Sight all do excellent work that is closely aligned with the Foundation’s mission and strategies. Each of them came to be Foundation grantees through unsolicited inquiries.

Nova Scotia Beckons

Native Women: Leading the Way

There are some great things happening in Indian Country – the Indigenous communities in the United States. And Native women are leading the way, especially when it comes to business and entrepreneurship, asset building, credit and finance, and the creative economy. Tanya Fiddler, Elsie Meeks, Tawney Brunsch, and Lori Pourier represent a small sample of brilliant, long-time Native leaders working on some of the hardest issues – and in some of the most difficult locations – and finding success.

For 25 years, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) has invested in the efforts of Indigenous communities in the U.S. to develop their economies. JSF’s strategy is to focus primarily on education – in the case of Native communities, in entrepreneurship and business education at tribal colleges and universities and Native-serving education institutions.  We also invest in Native leadership by supporting the efforts of Native non-profits working in economic development.

As it so happens, JSF has invested in the organizations led by these awesome women – and has seen positive change as a result.

JSF supported the efforts of Tanya Fiddler when she was the Executive Director of the Four Bands Community Loan Fund on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Through Four Bands, Tanya helped to support business creation, financial education, and Man with baseball cap reviewing paperwork with a woman assisting himasset building on one of the poorest counties in the US.  And when she recently took the lead at the Native CDFI Network, JSF provided support for the work of this relatively new group that organizes and supports the increasing number of Community Development Financial Institutions in Native communities.

Elsie Meeks has been instrumental in the Native CDFI movement from the start as the one-time executive director of the Lakota Fund (now the Lakota Funds), the head of the First Nations Oweesta Corporation, and now back as the chairperson of the Lakota Funds. two women speaking at a conference boothElsie took her knowledge and experience to lead many national efforts and represent
Indigenous peoples on the U.S. Human Rights Commission, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Northwest Area Foundation, and now with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. JSF provided support at a critical time for the Lakota Fund.

The Lakota Funds is now led by Tawney Brunsch, a no-nonsense leader focused primarily on her community, the Pine Ridge Tawney BrunschIndian Reservation in South Dakota – and state/regional issues that affect her community. She also founded the Lakota Federal Credit Union (LCFU) four years ago and now serves as
the chair of the board. The Lakota Federal Credit Union has served the Pine Ridge community – again, one of the poorest in the U.S. – for more than 30 years and continues to make a difference in this community through business lending, business and financial education, credit repair, savings, and now working on housing. JSF provided an equity grant to the LFCU helping to provide consumer credit capital for this community – LFCU now has more than 2500 members.

Lori Pourier heads First Peoples Fund (FPF), a 17 year old national Native non-profit Lori Pourierworking with culture bearers and artists in Indigenous communities. Lori is a leader in the field – not just for Native arts and culture – but arts and culture period. She is the go-to person for the “creative economy” in Indian Country. FPF provides professional training workshops for Native artists and works with NCDFIs to train business coaches on how to work with Native artists. FPF also provides fellowship for Native artists to help them grow and improve their businesses. JSF supported FPF to expand their efforts to work with Native artists.

One of the many attributes I admire about these amazing leaders is their collaboration and partnership efforts. They all work together on many initiatives and recognize that supporting one another with their communities, with the tribal/state/federal government, with other partners, and with funders elevates all of their efforts. Tanya, Elsie and Tawney all work together on the South Dakota Native American Housing Coalition to provide not only much needed housing on reservations but helping to create jobs in housing construction. Lori and Tawney are currently working to expand training and financial products to Native artists – and expand financial services to the community – through a “Rolling Rez Arts” van that also serves as a mobile bank.

Having worked in philanthropy for many years now, I know that many foundations do not have experience in Native communities, feel that it is too risky, or do not fund “special population groups.” These four women have worked for many years on some of the riskiest ventures, in some of the most difficult communities – and have been successful. They are having an impact not only in their communities but across Indigenous communities – and beyond. Investing in their leadership and their organizations is a good bet.

We at JSF would be happy to talk with other funders interested in funding Indigenous communities and share our experiences with you.