Aligning our approach with movement needs

In our more than 70-year history, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation has consistently adhered to values and priorities that address the country’s most challenging social problems. We’ve changed as the world has changed, but we’ve never wavered in our commitment to equity and justice. Even as we continue to live through a national reckoning with injustice and white supremacy coupled with a global pandemic and threat to democracy, we have a responsibility to act and repair hundreds of years of harm and discrimination to Black and Indigenous people and people of color. As funders, we must reverse and address the overwhelming underinvestment in these communities from the philanthropic sector.

While we will continue to evolve our approach to meet the needs of movements, I’m excited to share several strategic shifts that we’ve started to make based on feedback from the field to better support our grantees.

  • Fund intersectional organizing
    While we have always funded grassroots organizations led by the people most impacted by injustices — particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color — as they have the lived experience of being disenfranchised by unjust systems and have the clearest view of solutions, we had for many years done so in a siloed way. As of 2019, we began to fund intersectional organizing — organizing on multiple fronts, not single-issue programmatic silos — to advance racial justice and gender justice. We also expanded our focus to include a grantmaking budget specifically for Indigenous-led groups.
  • Shift to place-based grantmaking
    We are also beginning to concentrate the impact of our grants by working in partnership with communities in a limited number of geographic locations, particularly New York and Mississippi. Since our founding, we have been supporting partners in New York City where the foundation is based, and now we have expanded beyond New York City to support the robust ecosystem of statewide grassroots organizing efforts. Philanthropy has historically overlooked and under-resourced the US South, and we are beginning to more deliberately funnel resources to this region. We are also working with a select group of national partners who support the work of place-based partners through building the capacity of local leaders, fostering cross-state collaborations, and bridging the organizing work at the state and local levels into regional and national movement infrastructure.
  • Provide larger, multi-year grants
    Historically, we have supported our partners year after year, but we are being more intentional in providing multi-year support while also exploring ways to increase our grant amounts. At the end of 2020, our Board approved an increased payout to double our grantmaking budget to $4 million to better support partners to fulfill their missions over the long term.
  • Couple grants with investment capital
    For the first time, we leveraged our broader endowment to provide a grantee partner, Higher Purpose, with a $100,000 loan guarantee to unlock capital from Hope Credit Union to support Black women entrepreneurs in Mississippi. Through these efforts, we provided an integrated stream of resources to priority places not just through grantmaking, but also with investment capital. We believe that we need to leverage all of our resources to support the work of our grantee partners.
  • Support the broader movement ecosystem, grantee-driven capacity support, and healing justice. 
    In response to the ongoing needs of partners, we will launch a $500,000 flexible grantmaking mechanism in Spring 2021 to support emerging and unforeseen opportunities for new and existing partners, including grantee-driven capacity support and healing justice as a way to aid partners in confronting trauma and centering well-being. This new part of our work was informed by our COVID-19 emergency relief rapid response grants to nearly three-quarters of our existing grantee partners in 2020. We have also earmarked a portion of our core grantmaking to specifically support Black and Indigenous-led networks and coalitions to strengthen the ecosystem of movements advancing racial justice and Indigenous sovereignty.

While we have made some important changes, we will continue to grow and learn in community with you all. Thank you for being a part of our journey to become a stronger and more effective organization — a journey that builds on the strength of our past and is full of opportunity for the future. As Amanda Gorman said in her inaugural poem, “For while we have our eyes on the future, history has its eyes on us. This is the era of just redemption.”

In solidarity,

Rini Banerjee