How Funding Intermediaries Fuels Social Change

Movements for justice are inextricably linked. Some in philanthropy tend to put issues in boxes, but doing that can perpetuate false solutions and lift up some while hurting others. For generations, activists across issue areas have worked together in formal and informal networks and coalitions, in solidarity against structural oppression. The message funders are hearing from grantee partners is loud and clear: one, move money to groups led by and for people who are disproportionately harmed (mostly low-income communities of color), two, do so in trusting relationships, and three, cut all the unnecessary red tape, fast. 

The growing role of intermediaries to meet this moment might seem new to many funders, but at its core it’s not new to social movements. Communities in need have always worked together to redistribute resources, share power, and create opportunities for frontline organizations to collaborate. 

That’s why The Libra Foundation is funding an additional $10M to 14 community-accountable intermediaries with unrestricted and multiyear grants that are unsolicited and require no administrative burdens. 

Exactly what is an intermediary? Here’s our definition:

  • Public foundations that raise the funds they grant/spend;
  • Nonprofit organizations and formations that either exclusively regrant or regrant a majority of resources raised; and
  • Pooled funds, initiatives, and alliances that are multi-stakeholder, fiscally sponsored, community-accountable, and/or practice participatory grantmaking 

As funders, we must recognize that institutional philanthropy is too often out of touch with the reality of marginalized peoples’ lives. We need guidance from trusted partners to get money to where it needs to go in ways that work for frontline communities – not the way it works for us.

We are following the lead of allies, including movement-accountable public foundations and grassroots-centric intermediaries. Here’s our latest thinking on why Libra supports intermediaries and the criteria we prioritize:

  • Support for frontline communities, across issue areas & geographies

Libra prioritizes intermediaries that work in and alongside communities, have strong ties to organizations that lead local movements, and have the trust and experience to get money where it needs to go. These intermediaries reach people across issue areas and across geographies, building on deep partnership and collaboration. They center those disproportionately affected by oppression and are led by and for BIPOC communities facing adversities due to systemic and institutionalized racism.

Comprising more than 200 organizations across five states, the relationships that make up Gulf South for a Green New Deal (GS4GND) have existed for decades. These bonds were strengthened through community responses to catastrophes like Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, and voter suppression. Members participated in a collective, bottom-up process to develop a shared platform rooted in the values and priorities of the most impacted, facilitated by Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. The regional formation uplifts grassroots policies that actualize just transition, by instilling those values into every aspect of its work and prioritizing the frontlines. Reflecting its deep commitment to self-determination, GS4GND’s governance council, representing frontline organizations across all five Gulf South states, allocates resources through a participatory process.

  • Infrastructure and opportunities for collaboration

Intermediaries can provide necessary financial structures (such as fiscal sponsorship) or even make grants directly to individuals and organizations that don’t have their own nonprofit status. This allows them to be more nimble and responsive to the needs of their community partners. We’re inspired by the ways intermediaries have worked with one another to bring communities together, so that no one is left behind. 

Dedicated to Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination and the sovereignty of Native nations, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples is an example of moving resources into the hands of those who come from the community they serve. Through three different funds as well as fiscal sponsorship, Seventh Generation is funding critical projects that are preserving tradition, fostering healing, and fighting corporate power. This summer, the Fund teamed up with Grantmakers for Girls of Color, a Black-led philanthropic serving organization, to launch the New Songs Rising Initiative to support projects led by and for Black, Brown, and Indigenous girls.

  • Trust and commitment to relationships

It’s not just what you fund, it’s how you do it. Libra is on an ongoing journey to be a better funder ally, and we’ve learned our practices from the nimble funders whose work we admire. The intermediaries we partner with practice trust-based grantmaking, which means fewer administrative burdens, multi-year funding, support beyond the check, mindfulness around power dynamics, and dedication to combating systemic racism and other forms of oppression. Our partners teach us about the importance of non-extractive organizational practices, like compensation, acknowledgement, and respect for movement experts’ wisdom. 

For example, Trans Justice Funding Project (TJFP) makes its grant decisions by convening a panel of trans justice activists who rely on their experiences with “racism, economic injustice, transmisogyny, ableism, immigration, incarceration, and other intersecting oppressions” (see its 2020 annual report). TJFP requires no reporting, provides unrestricted funding, supports projects with budgets less than $250K, and does not take grantees’ time for site visits. Last year, it also instituted something new – the “ReUp” is a no-hassle way for grantees to annually reapply for funding without submitting new materials, leaving more time for grantees to focus on what’s most important – trans liberation. This is trust in action.

Intermediaries are reflecting back to us what’s possible when we come together and prioritize trusting, collaborative relationships. Historically, philanthropy has not made it easy for small organizations to work with one another. Often unconsciously, funders have put groups that ought to be in partnership in competition with each other because of the paternalistic nature of our grantmaking strategies. Thanks to intermediaries’ work to combat these regressive practices, we’re seeing more coordinated donor organizing efforts, accountability initiatives, space for tough conversations, and more loving organizational cultures.

At Libra, we regularly fund many different types of intermediaries whose work shines light on the cascading crises frontline communities are facing, and therefore the solutions put forth are inherently holistic. We’re excited to see a growing interest in intermediaries in social justice philanthropy.

Angie Chen is the Director of Programs at The Libra Foundation.