2022 Scrivner Award Winner: The Social Equity Collaborative Fund’s Partner-First Approach

This post was originally shared on the Council on Foundations website.

Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties is honored to accept the Council on Foundations’ 2022 Scrivner Award for Creative Grantmaking for the work of the Social Equity Collaborative Fund (SECF). The Social Equity Collaborative Fund is an equity-focused pooled grantmaking fund borne of a shared vision to cede power to historically marginalized, “hard to find or hard to fund” racial justice groups in San Diego and Imperial Counties, California. After seven years and over two million dollars distributed, the creative approach is working in ways we never imagined.

The SECF was established in 2015 to address a collective pain point felt by funders in the Southern California region: despite best intentions, foundation dollars often funnel through paths administratively “doable” to fund (established 501(c)3 organizations, nonprofits with enough built-up internal capacity to receive funds, etc.). These pathways can erase grassroots organizations led by those closest to the communities.

The SECF receives funding from foundations but operates with an entirely independent steering committee composed of subject matter and community experts with direct lived experience. Catalyst connects funders to the work of the SECF and assumes the fundraising burden, freeing the steering committee to focus on fostering trusted relationships with grassroots organizers and ensuring that “knows traditional philanthropy and fundraising” is not a qualification. In fact, the opposite is true, as community partners with knowledge about new ways to fund are driving decisions for these grants. Funders of the SECF (including The California Endowment, The Satterberg Foundation, and San Diego Foundation) and grassroots organizations alike leverage the SECF as a learning lab for how to best collaborate and build trusted relationships and honest dialogue between grassroots organizations and funders.

We have learned (and are still, continuously learning) a lot through adapting this approach to collaboratively funding more than $2 million in grassroots racial equity work in the San Diego region. Beyond structure, the principles and approach that we have found to be most effective includes:

  • Grants stimulate grassroots solutions rather than a philanthropy-dominant approach of “research and determine solutions.”
  • Grantees define success themselves and tell us what they need.
  • Reports reflect whatever the grantee would like to express, in their chosen format.
  • Resident leadership through community power-building.
  • Collaboration, trust-building, shared learning, and cross-cultural healing and understanding by all stakeholders,
  • A productive learning process that includes failure and risk-taking.

We asked three SECF Steering Committee members to share their key takeaways and learnings from the past seven years of trust-building.

  • “One of the shifts that the SECF commits to is to share power with networks that are closest to the harms inflicted on their communities through structural and historic racism. Recognize that funders and grantees can be part of the same ecosystems working for transformational social change and trust that grassroots community partners have a greater understanding of the changes that are needed, and how to get there.” – Steve Eldred, Chair of the Social Equity Collaborative Fund
  • “The lessons have been many, and constant. Show up in the partners’ spaces on the partners’ schedule. Trust Black women. Trust people of color. Have humility and patience, as community partners may need to go through a healing and trust-building process relative to the power and resource disparities they’ve survived.” – Jesse Mills, University of San Diego
  • “The easiest way to deepen healthy relationships with our ‘partners’ is to treat them as partners. Partners don’t demand deliverables, create unnecessary paperwork and hoops to jump through in order to give out money. Partners work with each other. They trust each other. They learn from each other. Relationships with power imbalances are rarely healthy.” – Khalid Alexander, Pillars of the Community

Thank you and congratulations to The Social Equity Collaborative Fund’s past and current Steering Committee members for making this innovative effort possible, including: Jim Bliesner, Center for Urban Economics and Design; Elisabeth Eisner Forbes, San Diego Foundation; Michelle Jaramillo, Latina Giving Circle; Paul Khalid Alexander, San Diego City College; Kyra Greene, Center On Policy Initiatives; Jesse Mills, University of San Diego; Jennifer James, Harder+Company Community Research; and Arcela Nunez-Alvarez, Universidad Popular. To learn more about Catalyst’s Social Equity Collaborative Fund, visit https://catalystsd.org/catalyst-collaborative/social-equity-collaborative-fund/.