Funder Perspective: Opportunity Fund Connecting to the Movement Ecosystem through Native Voices Rising
Opportunity Fund is a seven year-old foundation based in Pittsburgh, PA, with a dual arts and social and economic justice mission. The foundation was established upon the death of Gerri Kay to continue her life’s work as an advocate for civil rights, social justice and the arts. At the end of 2021 the foundation had additional funding to distribute, which they allocated to their regular nonprofit partners in the Pittsburgh region. But, they also wanted to use the opportunity to push further, infusing their values in their work and connecting to more national movement work.
The Opportunity Fund team wanted to learn what they could do as a locally-focused foundation to repair historical and ongoing harm and extraction from Black and Indigenous communities, especially knowing that philanthropy has been part of that harm and extraction. The foundation was beginning to focus more on respite and repair in Black communities. Its work with Indigenous communities was more nascent.
Funding Native-led Work with Intention
“When the discussion came up of what national entities to support, everyone agreed right away that we needed to give to Indigenous-led organizations,” shared Tiffany Wilhelm, program officer at Opportunity Fund. “Land acknowledgment has been part of our practice for a long time, but we know that isn’t an end. We wanted to continue moving toward deeper action. We are in the process of analyzing our grants data and can see that we have yet to support Native-led work in a significant way.”
Tiffany and their team looked for pooled funds and efforts underway. By joining an existing pooled fund they would benefit from the learning across many nonprofits and other funders, and deepen understanding of their staff and board about Native-led work. A pooled fund also meant they could contribute resources sooner, and minimize the burden on organizations. The team identified a pooled-fund, Native Voices Rising, that could meet Opportunity Fund’s goals of supporting Indigenous-led change.
“When the discussion came up of what national entities to support, everyone agreed right away that we needed to give to Indigenous-led organizations. Land acknowledgment has been part of our practice for a long time, but we know that isn’t an end. We wanted to continue moving toward deeper action.Tiffany Wilhelm, program officer at Opportunity Fund
Tiffany connected with Josh Delfin, program officer at Common Counsel Foundation, through the Justice Funders Harmony Initiative. Josh works on the Native Voices Rising national funder collaborative between Common Counsel Foundation and Native Americans in Philanthropy. After hearing more about Native Voices Rising from Josh, they learned that Native Voices Rising was a Native-led participatory grantmaking approach and funds Native-led organizing, advocacy, and civic engagement in American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities. Since 2013, Native Voices Rising has supported organizations that are rooted in a Native community, led by Native people, and hold a vision for change that improves the lives of Native community members.
It made sense for the foundation to join Native Voices Rising. Opportunity Fund would be able to take immediate action through this ten-year-old pooled fund – and begin to learn along the way.
Why Native-led work and organizing?
The total philanthropic dollars dedicated to causes that benefit Native communities – let alone Native-led efforts – hovers at 0.4% of all grantmaking by philanthropic institutions. Native Voices Rising seeks to remedy the historic and enduring underfunding of Native led social change efforts by facilitating a process for non-Native donors and institutions to learn from and build relationships with Native grassroots leaders and to support Native-led organizing and advocacy.
For Opportunity Fund, Tiffany shared, “It seems like such a given. The lack of foundation support for Native-led organizations is clear. We are continually feeling for the next edge of our work, where we haven’t been doing enough to live into our social justice, economic justice, and racial justice commitments. When it comes to giving to Native-led work, we haven’t taken enough action.”
What recommendations do you have for funders interested in funding Native-led work or who are new to the space?
“The dominant culture in philanthropy and throughout our society – that is rooted in interlocking systems of oppression – expects us to know and to do it right. There’s still a desire for “experts.” In contrast, many of us who are newer to philanthropy recognize that knowing that we don’t know, that we can’t know, is important. It’s more about a constant state of not knowing and feeling into what is the next best action. One of my favorite resources about how we can shift ways of being towards generative settler-Indigenous relationships is by Elwood Jimmy and Vanessa Andreotti, Towards Braiding.”
“Something that rings true is what my colleague yvette shipman included at the end of the trailer video about our Respite for Black Women initiative: the rest is unknown. I think that’s important to hold onto in this work.”
Opportunity Fund’s Evolving Giving Focus
Opportunity Fund has recently supported a number of Black-led efforts in addition to Native Voices Rising. Respite for Black Women (#r4Blw), is a new Opportunity Fund initiative that has been underway since spring of 2022. Inspired by local activists, Opportunity Fund board and staff invited a multiracial, multicultural, intergenerational group of local, national, and international individuals to ask questions, explore, and dream with Opportunity Fund about what it could mean for philanthropy to provide resources that fund respite and rest to Black women, in the full gender expression of that term. To be continued!