As the pandemic inevitably changes the resourcing needs within the charitable sector, we expected and continue to experience changes within the philanthropic sector and its funding priorities. As both a funder ourselves and a recipient of funds from other funders, we operate at the center of the Venn diagram between the two sectors.
As a funder, this has looked like adding flexibility into the ways our funds are dispersed, to allow for greater and more immediate impact. Specifically, YPI schools now have the option to split their $5,000 grant into one, two, or four equal parts (1 x $5,000, 2 x $2500, or 4 x $1250). This option is offered to allow more flexibility in case schools see the need to award funding per semester or quadmester, and it is our hope that this will encourage participation in the program in as many classes as possible throughout the year.
As a recipient of funds, it has meant having honest conversations with our funders. For example, one of our long-time funders reached out to us in 2021 with an explanation as to why they needed to give the money they would have otherwise allocated to YPI students to distribute over the course of an academic year, so that they could help a local charity respond to an urgent need that week. Under a transactional model, we could have disinvested from this funding relationship. Under a scarcity model, we could have responded by feeding into the competition by being more aggressive about building a case for why our need is just as urgent as those organizations that are more proximate to the frontlines of care and service delivery. Instead, we chose to see this less as the loss of a one-time grant, and more as an investment into a much longer-term partnership with this funder. We are proud of having nurtured a relationship in which the funder feels accountable to us in sharing why they allocated their resources in the way that they did, and comfortable sharing their reasons as transparently as they did. While we see the value in our youth-led participatory grant-making model, we can also understand that community needs within the context of a pandemic can be so dire that the most useful thing to do is to get resources out via the fastest channels possible (i.e. direct service organizations). In fact, in the broader scheme of things, this funder’s decision is actually aligned with our values around equity, particularly as it relates to directing limited resources to the places where the need is highest. It reinforces YPI’s founding principle of “Spend down” in which The Toskan Casale foundation decided to share their funds with local social service charities as quickly as possible, but in a way that could still create lasting, meaningful impact. As such, we want to embody these values not just within YPI, but also support their embodiment in the broader ecosystem in which we operate.
In removing the elements of competition and scarcity, we can more easily redirect our attention toward diversifying our funding sources so that we can continue to provide the value that we are uniquely positioned to provide, without taking resources away from essential services. There is space for both.
This exploration is a multi-part look at some adaptations we have made since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a part of our commitment to centering long-term, reciprocal relationship-building:
- Make conscious shifts away from models of relating that are based on transaction (“I choose to be in relationship with you because I’m getting something of equal value in return”) and/or (“I choose to be in relationship with you because it makes me feel good about myself to help you”) SO THAT we can work toward building relationships that center reciprocity rooted in our inherent interdependence (“I choose to be relationship with you because I understand how our lives, livelihoods, and liberation are deeply and intricately intertwined”).
- Allocate time, resources, and energy towards understanding how our fellow collaborators are impacted by massive and/or ongoing shifts within the sectors we work in, SO THAT we can adapt in ways that not only guarantee our survival, but also support their survival and flourishing in an altered landscape.
- Understand where and how we are uniquely positioned to make adaptations in a crisis SO THAT we can leverage our power to support our collaborators to repair and rebuild, while upholding our commitment to cultivating equity, justice, anti-racism, and anti-oppression in all aspects of our work.
- Take time to pinpoint the ways in which we are experiencing strain, tension, and/or pressure as an organization and the sources of that strain, SO THAT we can take steps to relieve this pressure at its roots rather than downloading it onto our collaborators.
- Keep abreast of the consequences of the adaptations that we as an organization make SO THAT we can be accountable and responsive to both the intended and unintended impacts of our actions.
- Adopt an approach to funding (including fundraising and grantmaking) that prioritizes the needs of our organization while also accounting for the most pressing needs within the sectors we work in SO THAT we can respond to changes in funding priorities.