Nonprofit Podcast

Incorporating DEI Into Infrastructure with A. Nicole Campbell  (RECAST)

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a critical component in building a robust infrastructure, especially one that both reflects and aims to support various communities throughout the world. This week we’re recasting a very fascinating conversation Nic had with a nonprofit President & CEO about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Throughout their conversation they talked about indicators that show when nonprofits and philanthropies are serious and intentional about DEI. In fact, those lingering thoughts are what inspired this episode! Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a critical component in building a robust infrastructure, especially one that both reflects and aims to support various communities throughout the world.
Have you tried incorporating DEI throughout your organizational infrastructure? If not, why?

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Episode 39:




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Receiving and Managing Significant Grants With Organizational Integrity with A. Nicole Campbell (RECAST)

Do you think your nonprofit infrastructure allows you to seamlessly receive and manage significant grants? We spend a lot of time talking about good grant making, but not as much time talking about good grant “receiving.”

This week we are recasting one of our past episodes discussing how to receive and manage significant grants with organizational integrity.

Having built infrastructure for nonprofits all over the world to receive and manage significant grants, Nic shares her 3 recommendations to design an infrastructure that allows an organization’s values to confidently guide how that organization accepts funding.

How are you managing and receiving grants?

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Episode 42:




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Making the Case for General Support Funding with A. Nicole Campbell

Over the next two weeks on the Nonprofit Build Up, we are making the case for general support funding. This two-part series was originally recorded as a webinar with Angelyn Frazer-Giles, Executive Director of the National Network for Justice. Angelyn was previously featured on the Nonprofit Build Up Episode 9- Increasing Access for Grassroots Organizations.

You will hear us talk a lot about general support funding or flexible funding on the Nonprofit Build Up podcast, including Episode 22 – General Support Funding with A. Nicole Campbell. Many leaders in the nonprofit sector are speaking out about how crucial general support funding is for creating sustainable and effective organizations. And we agree. This series goes a little deeper into discussing why the majority of funding is not general support and what the delays are that slow down general support grants from becoming the default grants of the sector.

Additionally, Nic gets technical and discusses how to request general support grants and how to structure these awards to nonprofits and social-impact entities. Angelyn and Nic also address how to build relationships and trust and redefine risk to effectively transition to general support.

Listen to Part 1:

Listen to Part 2:


Read the podcast transcription below:

Part One

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up podcast. And I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Katy Thompson: Hi, everyone. It’s Katy T., Build Up’s Program Coordinator. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we are making the case for general support funding. This episode was originally recorded as a webinar with Angelyn Frazer-Giles, Executive Director of the National Network for Justice. 

Katy Thompson: Angelyn was previously featured on the Nonprofit Build Up on episode 9, Increasing Access for Grassroots Organizations. You will hear us talk a lot about general support funding or flexible funding on the Nonprofit Build Up podcast, including last week’s episode introducing the importance of general support grants. 

Katy Thompson: Many leaders in the nonprofit sector are speaking out about how crucial general support funding is for creating sustainable and effective organizations. And we agree. This episode goes a little deeper into discussing why the majority of funding is not general support, and what the delays are that slow down general support grants from becoming the default grants of the sector. 

Katy Thompson: And with that, here is Nic’s discussion about general support funding with Angelyn Frazer-Giles. 

Nic Campbell: Thanks so much, Angelyn. It’s my pleasure to be here. And I really love the work that NNJ does. And so, I’m very happy to be having this conversation. When we started to talk about what this conversation would look like and what we would be able to cover, we started to talk about funding, right? And we started this conversation around why can’t we have more flexible funding throughout the sector? What is it that’s preventing funders from just making this a default position? And so, that’s always been my question about why can’t we make the default position within the sector to be general support funding? 

Nic Campbell: And I’ve heard some arguments against doing that. And I think in some instances it just might not work if you’re working with a particular organization and you’re trying to – A university is a great example. If you’re trying to support a school, for example, within the university. Giving general support to the entire university is not what’s intended. But I do think what is intended is flexibility and how that school or the intended grantee uses the funding. And so, this idea around general support is really about flexibility in funding and giving the ability of how to use that funding over to the grantee, right? And what are our steps to get there? 

Nic Campbell: And so, what I want to talk about today is what is general support? I think we use that term a lot. I want to explain what I mean by it. What do we mean when we say project support or project grants? Talk about two concepts; expenditure responsibility and equivalency determination. We’ll talk about when those things come into play. But I do think that we need to talk about them in order to have a real conversation around general support. 

Nic Campbell: Again, I do believe that in the majority of cases, general support is the most effective form of support that funders can provide to nonprofits to support their projects, programs and overall sustainability. This is how we build organizational capacity. You do it with flexible funding, unrestricted funding, and the general support. Yes, of course, you can build an organization that is sustainable through project support funding or project grants. But you want to make sure that the funding you’re providing is as flexible and unrestricted as possible. And I’ll walk through why. 

Nic Campbell: Why aren’t we there, right? This sounds really logical, right? Like, “Okay. Well, Nic, you’ve explained that you want to give flexibility to organizations. You want to get funding.” Why aren’t we there? And in my opinion, I think we’re not there because we have not built trusting relationships, right? And when I say we, I mean, funders and grantees. I think at the base of it, there is a lack of trust and there’s a lack of relationship that’s happening, which is influencing whether or not general support grants are then being made. 

Nic Campbell: And I think that that’s a big statement. And I think people will say, “Well, of course, I trust this organization. Of course, we have a relationship.” But I would actually challenge that and say, “Is it the kind of relationship where you say here is a set of unrestricted funds. Use it as you would like.” And I assured, and I trust that you understand my goals and we understand your goals, and we’re working towards the same aims, right? I think having that conversation and clarifying that relationship is at the core of all of this. And so, we can talk about all these tools. We can talk about giving general support grants, and project support grants, and expenditure responsibility, and how to do that with equivalency determinations and things like that. But to me, those things are tools. And at the core of it, it’s do you have this trusting relationship that will be able to support the use of all of those tools? When we say general operating support, what are we actually talking about? We’re talking about supporting a nonprofit’s mission, right? As opposed to saying, “I’m going to support this line item of a specific project or a program.” 

Nic Campbell: Again, we’ve talked about why funders, grantors should be providing general operating support. One, because it does build strong sustainable infrastructure. You’re not wedded to spending funds on a particular line item or a particular project. You can actually spend it to build capacity. You can help to build out the infrastructure of your organization, build out your governance, build out the way that you’re making grants if you are a grant-making nonprofit. It frees up the time that people are spending on fundraising, because now they don’t say, “Okay. Well, there’s 10 line items in our project. We’ve got two of them funded. Let’s go out and fundraise for the other eight.” Right? 

Nic Campbell: You are now thinking holistically, and it changes the way you start to tell your organization’s story and how you’re trying to say, “Here’s how you can support us.” And the reporting changes as well. Because now you’re giving reports on programs and initiatives throughout the organization and not doing it piecemeal, right? Project by project. I think it does reduce that power imbalance between grant maker and grantee that might exist. Because, again, you’re basing it on a trusting relationship. And this is where it comes from, right? This is where the flexibility comes from. The ability to say you’re going to use the funds the way you determine that you should use them. I think it allows an organization to be innovative and to actually take risks, right? 

Nic Campbell: Like, think of what you would do if you had a safety net, right? Think of what you would do if you had the ability to build your sustainability and your capacity. I think that’s a much different way of looking at things compared to, “Well, we’ve got a line item here. We still have to raise the other seven. How will we do that?” And you’re constantly worrying about how you’re raising funds against line items as opposed to how you’re building an organization. And at the core of all of this, it’s really about how are you giving your non-profit leaders space to lead? How are you giving them space to problem solve? And how are you giving them space to build an organization? I don’t think that once you give the funds, that’s it. 

Nic Campbell: I also think that what a company’s general support should be technical assistance support. You know, a lot of questions have been raised, “Well, if I give a general support award, it’s like writing a blank check. Essentially, how will I be able to find out what’s happened? How will I you know be able to monitor?” And I think, again, once you have that underlying trusting relationship, you can continue to work alongside the organization because of that really strong relationship. And you’re helping to say, “I have networks that I can introduce you to. I have other tools that I can have you use.” Because you’re providing technical assistance along with the money. 

Nic Campbell: I do not think that just providing general support funding is all it takes. I also think you need that additional capacity building support, the technical assistance that comes with it. And what do we mean when we say project or program support? We talk about supporting a specific project, or a specific program, or initiative of the organization. What can it help you do? You can actually respond directly to new and innovative projects. You could help to build out programs focus explicitly on that work that the project grant is funding. You have more control as a funder, right? You’re able to say, “Show me how this particular project has performed, a program has performed, a metric that you have articulated you would be following is doing. And you get into this idea of like not having this heavy reliance on one funding source. 

Nic Campbell: If you’ve got 10-line items and a funder is funding each of those line items, now you’re diversifying funding as a default, as opposed to having one funder giving you general support funding that you’re using any way you’d like. What are some of the limitations? Why do I constantly push for for general support? I really do believe that grantee organizations are the ones doing the work and they’re the ones that actually know the community that they’re serving best. Why not give them the ability to determine how then they want to use those funds, again, along with that technical assistance that’s being provided? 

Nic Campbell: I’ve also found this in my practice over seeing lots of different nonprofit organizations and leaders over the past 16 years, that what happens is you start to write to the grant, right? You start to write and create projects and programs to meet the funding ask, right? You might have an idea in your head where you’re like, “I think this is innovative. And I think this is the way to go.” But instead, what you do is, “Well, I know that there’s a pot of money that is living there for this particular kind of work. Now, let me write to that grant, right? Now, let me make this program fit that mold.” And so, I think that that does happen. 

Nic Campbell: And I think if you’re given piecemeal, you have to think about this, right? You’re giving piecemeal kinds of support and saying, “Okay, well I’m supporting this project or that program.” When you stop supporting a line item or you stop supporting that project, how is it being sustained over time? Because all of the things that you’re putting limits on, like, “Oh, we’re only giving 20% of this. We’re only giving 30% for overhead,” let’s say. Well, people still need desks to do their work, right? You still need electricity to do your work. You need all of those things that constitute infrastructure that we put limits on and we say, “We’re not going to – Our grant is only going to support this percentage of it.” What’s going to happen to the other 70%, the other 80%, that no other funder wants the fund because everyone wants to fund the program, the project, the work so to speak? 

Nic Campbell: What happens then is these projects may not be sustained over time. The project that you’re so interested in, that one might succeed. But what about the others that are not being supported or somebody drops out? Now you have projects being started not being sustained. And the overall effectiveness of the organization is decreasing, right? Just because one program is “succeeding”. If it’s succeeding in an environment that’s not sustainable, it is not succeeding, right? And so, those are some of the limitations that I’ve seen over the years and that I think that project support awards tend to facilitate. 

Nic Campbell: I’m not saying that project support is bad and never ever receive it. I just think that the default, the place we start from should be how do we award unrestricted flexible funding to this organization in order for them to be sustainable and build their capacity while doing the work that we’re interested in supporting. Now, the reason I wanted to talk about expenditure responsibility is because now that we’ve talked through general support and project support, some people might say, “Well, that only works when you’re making a grant to a public charity. When you make a grant to an organization that’s not a public charity, you have to deal with expenditure responsibility.” And this is only if the grant maker is a private foundation. If you’re a public charity and you’re making grants, you don’t have to worry about expenditure responsibility. But private foundations do. 

Nic Campbell: And private foundations then have to comply with all the ER requirements that say you have to do lots of different things. You have to have an agreement. You have to put certain language in the agreement. You have to conduct certain diligence. And you really can’t give a general support grant to an organization that’s not charitable, right? If you think about the example of giving a grant to a for-profit, and the for-profit would say has a really great charitable program, and you say, “Well, Nic said we should always give general support grants. I’m going to give it to this organization.” When you’re giving this general support grant to this for-profit that does for-profit things, you can’t do that as a private foundation because now you’re supporting things that are not charitable. You haven’t really supported that carve out project. That’s the concern when it gets to expenditure responsibility where people will say, “Well, we can’t obviously do general support in that context.” So, it has to be a project support grant, right? 

Nic Campbell: And I agree that you can’t just give the sort of blanket type of support to organizations that are not charitable when you’re dealing with expenditure responsibility. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t build in flexibility, right? It doesn’t mean that when you make that project award, you can build in the maximum amount of flexibility that is allowed under the law. And I don’t see that push to get us to that maximum level of flexibility under the law as much as I would like. 

Nic Campbell: I would love it if the place that we’re starting from is unrestricted flexible funding. And however it shows up, we meet those different situations. If we’re dealing with a for-profit with a charitable program that is carved out, then we give a project support grant that has the maximum amount of flexibility that is allowed in that instance. That’s what I’m saying when I talk about how we should approach funding. I’m not saying in every single instance, general support is appropriate or even legal. But I am saying that there are ways to have it happen. 

Nic Campbell: And so, when someone brings up expenditure responsibility, the thinking here is there’s still ways to do it. And I just want to see us try to get there. Because there’s lots of grassroots organizations that they’re not public charities for whatever reason, right? When we think about innovation, when we think about ways to show up and have social impact, it’s not just the public charity that can have social impact, right? There’s lots of different organizations that are not forprofits, but there are other kinds of entities that would fall under expenditure responsibility. And I don’t think that it’s logical or reasonable to say, “Well, because you’re not a public charity, we can’t possibly give you additional flexibility in this award. And we have to change the way we work or operate.” 

Nic Campbell: The other one I wanted to talk through is equivalency determination, because the question determination is essentially a process that you go through where you determine that a foreign grantee, a non-US entity, is the equivalent of a US public charity, right? You basically say, “Look, if you were formed in the United States, you would basically be a US public charity. But because you weren’t, we’re going to have to go through a process that makes sure that you’re the equivalent of a US public charity.” Once you go through that process, what it essentially does is it allows you to treat that organization as a US public charity. Otherwise, you’re in expenditure responsibility, right? Because you’re making a grant to an organization that is not a public charity. That’s when expenditure responsibility comes into play in the US and outside the US. 

Nic Campbell: Equivalency determination only comes into play when you’re dealing with organizations that are outside of the US. And so, here, it’s another tool to say, “How do we make sure that we can get you flexible funding?” Right? How do we make sure that we can put you under the general support rubric and give you the amount of funding that you need and have you use it in the way that you see best, again, providing technical assistance along the way? And equivalency determination is a process. So, you want to make sure that you’re supporting the grantee through that, because you’re asking for operations information and finances to essentially get to that point where you’re making that determination about equivalency. 

Nic Campbell: And so, that’s really what I wanted to talk through so that we could set ourselves up for our conversation. And again, like just to start us off or have us think about why is the majority of funding not general support, right? After everything that I’ve talked through, why do we think that we’re still in this space where the majority of the funding that’s awarded is actually not general support? And in fact, when COVID hit last year and started particularly within the United States, we had a lot of conversions, right? We had a lot of grants being converted from project support to general support. Why? Why did it take a pandemic for us to get to that point? And there’s some organizations, there’s some foundations, even after they’ve made that conversion, they’re still gone back to providing project support, right? It’s just like we think this is a crisis. And so, we think you need the flexibility. But in a non-crisis situation, you actually don’t need flexibility, and you’re fine with the project support grant. 

Nic Campbell: I would push us and challenge us to ask ourselves why is that the case? And then what’s slowing us down? What’s making us say why can’t general support grants or that approach of unrestricted flexible funding be the default approach for the sector? Like, what’s slowing us down there? 

Katy Thompson: We are going to pause the conversation here. There’s a lot we have to say about general support funding. Nic raised so many important points and questions to ponder that we wanted to space this discussion out over two episodes. Stay tuned for part two next week.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.


Part Two

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up podcast. And I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Katy Thompson: Hi, everyone, its Katy T., Build Up’s Program Coordinator. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up, we’re continuing our conversation about general support funding. This episode was originally recorded as a webinar with Angelyn Frazer-Giles, Executive Director at the National Network for Justice. 

Katy Thompson: In this episode, Nic gets technical, and discusses how to request general support grants and how to structure these awards to nonprofits and social impact entities. Angelyn and Nic also addressed how to build relationships, and trust and redefine risks to effectively transition to general support. At Build Up, we believe that in the majority of cases. General support is the most effective form of support that funders can provide to nonprofit organizations to support their programs, projects and overall sustainability, which is why we’re dedicating a significant amount of time on the podcast to discuss it. And with that, here is the second and final part of Nic discussion about general support funding with Angelyn Frazer-Giles.

Nic Campbell: And then I also want to turn it on to the nonprofits as well, who are requesting grants. Because, yes, it’s funders that are talking about awarding project support grants. But I also find that as grantees are just asking for project support grants, I think it’s just because this is what we’ve been conditioned to do. So, how do you actually request them? How do you put yourself in a position where you’ve been receiving project grants for years and now you want to say, “No, I actually want to receive general support grants. And I want that technical assistance support so that I can continue to build out the capacity of my organization and become more sustainable.” How do you structure these grants to these innovative entities, right? Entities that are not public charities. They’re just other nonprofits, or they just might be social impact entities? How do we structure those grants to do those things? 

Nic Campbell: And I think most importantly, how do you build relationships and trust and redefine risk? How you’re thinking about risk to effectively transition to general support? Because I do think that without answering that final question, everything else is going to be sort of fits and starts, right? So, you’re going to see a wave of, “Hey, let’s all do general support.” And then you’re going to see it sort of stall. And you’re going to see it start up again. And we’ve seen that already, right? We’ve seen the largest foundation say, “We’re going to focus on general support and providing more flexible awards.” And then there’s kind of been a stop, right? Encouraging other foundations to do the same. But there’s going to stop. 

Nic Campbell: COVID then surfaces. And it’s, “Okay, well, let’s convert to general support. This is great. Let’s give all this generous support so we can provide flexibility to these organizations.” And now there’s sort of a lull. So why do we keep having those lulls? I really think it’s because at the core of it, we need to build those relationships and trust and think about and talk about how we’re defining risk. But I’ve said a lot. And so, I will stop there, Angelyn, and turn it back over to you. 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: No. Great, great information. I’m going to ask, if anyone does have any questions, they could feel free to put it in the Q&A. But I have a couple of questions. And one of them has to do with the slide that talked about equivalency determination? And if you could just go over that a little bit, because I think I missed the first part of the concept in terms of foreign entities and how that relates to the nonprofit that is a US-based nonprofit. Could you just explain that one a little bit more?

Nic Campbell: So, when we talk about general support, and this idea that we’re giving flexible funding, unrestricted funding to organizations, some of the pushback or challenges might be, “Well, you can only do that with a US public charity.” You can only do that with an organization that is designated by the IRS as a public charity. And so, when you start to deal with organizations that are not US public charities, both within the United States and outside the United States, right, because it’s grassroots organizations around the world working within communities, you can’t then make those grants. So, they have to be project support grants. Let’s not even talk about flexibility when it comes to those organizations. 

Nic Campbell: And so, equivalency determination comes in, because it’s a way of saying we find that this organization that is based outside the United States is the equivalent of a US public charity. Once you go through that process to make that determination, now, that organization essentially can be treated just like a US public charity. So, that means that this organization, that before this equivalency determination process was not eligible for this broad general support client where you could support all aspects of the organization’s work necessarily, now they can, because they have been seen and deemed to be the equivalent of a US public charity. 

Nic Campbell: And so, as a result, you’re able to give broad support just like you would give to a US public charity. You can give them a lot of the flexibility and the options that you provide to US public charities. So, there’s another tool to do that. And sometimes it just requires that you’re going line by line through budgets when you’re in expenditure responsibility. So, now you’re making a grant to an organization that’s not a US public charity. It’s also based outside the US. And let’s say you don’t go through the clemency determination process, because for whatever reason, it just doesn’t qualify. And it doesn’t have to be for charitable reasons, but it just doesn’t qualify, you can still award funding in a flexible way to that organization, right? You literally just have to go through budget line by budget line to ensure that its charitable and what you’re supporting would be charitable. But you don’t have to designate it to a particular line item. I think there’s ways to do it. Equivalency determination is one. But also, being creative and how you’re thinking about supporting organizations that are not US public charities both within and outside the United States is another.

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Okay. Thank you. Thank you for that clarification. We have a question. And I’m going to allow this person to talk if they want to say the question. I’ll just open up your mic. And if you want to say your question, you’re more than welcome to do so. And if not, I can also just read it. So, whichever you prefer. 

Nic Campbell: Cool. Thank you, Angelyn. Can you hear me okay?

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Yes, we can hear you.

Nic Campbell: Thank you so much. This is really fantastic info. And really appreciate that this is a rare conversation in a lot of these spaces. Thank you, Nic, so much for presenting all of this. My question was around the challenge that I think a lot of smaller nonprofit organizations run into in general, which is, if you’re kind of a small fish, it’s hard to get the attention of foundations at all to fund your work. And so, then asking for general support seems like it’s just out of the question. So, I’m wondering if you find that there is a scale issue or a size issue that goes along with this? And if you have any suggestions for how to navigate that?

Nic Campbell: So, I appreciate the question. And I think what I’ve found – I’m not going to discount the fact that there is a size difference between a lot of the grassroots organizations that I work with and some of the largest funders, some of whom I work with as well. But I will say that scale, I think, is actually perception, right? Because if you were clear about your value add, if you were clear about this is what my organization does. This is our unique value proposition. This is what we’re adding to this ecosystem. This is the kind of impact that we’re having and the problem solving that we’re doing with the community. It doesn’t matter how “small” you are. It’s about your impact. And it’s about how you’re showing up. 

Nic Campbell: And so, when you come to that conversation with a funder to say, Essentially, we’re having this conversation because you’re interested in supporting us. If you’re interested in supporting us, then you’re interested in supporting that impact.” And so, finding a way to, one, be clear about your impact and your unique value prop and what you’re adding. But also, being clear that general support, I don’t think it’s like, “Well, you should start with project and then you get general.” It’s that this is how you invest in this organization. This is how you invest in the people and the capacity in the building of this organization. And this is the way to do it, is through general support grants, is through capacity building grants. It’s not through line item grants. 

Nic Campbell: And I think having that conversation. And again, if you have that relationship, that trusting relationship between whoever you’re talking to at the foundation or the funder, and they have whoever’s talking to them from your organization, that conversation goes a lot easier, right? I think it’s harder when people don’t have the relationship. They also don’t understand the risk. Because at the end of the day, the funder is just thinking in terms of risk, right? You’re thinking, “Is this risky? Will this actually pan out?” And no one really has a shared understanding of what risk means. Risk to them can mean you’re small, right? So, you’re risky. And if that’s the case, then we need to be clear about why that is a risk, as opposed to just being different. Why is it a risk as opposed to being an actual advantage? Because you can now engage with the community in a way that a large organization might not. 

Nic Campbell: I think a lot of these points really just go around how can you establish your impact? How can you make that clear to the funder? You also need a trusting relationship. I know, that’s the hard thing to build. But I think you need a trusting relationship. Because to be honest, even if you get a project support grant and that trusting relationship is not there, you’re going to see it in the monitoring. You’re going to see it in the reporting. You’re going to see it in the way that you’re engaging with each other anyway. So, you need to build that trusting relationship in order for all of those things to come together and see general support as an investment in this organization and getting them closer to the impact that they’re saying that they want. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be having the conversation with you. 

Nic Campbell: And so, that’s how I advise and counsel my clients to approach the conversation. We can talk about ways to be a little more creative. If for some reason the organization might not want to provide general support because sometimes that is the policy of the funder, and if that’s the case, then we think about how do we do this in a creative way as opposed to just saying, “Okay. Well, let’s just default to project support grants.” 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Yeah, it really was. Thank you. In that same vein, I have a question regarding – You talked about when the pandemic hit last year, when everything shut down, and folks were trying to do some of that basic support to communities, right? And after George Floyd, it was the conversation about race. And there was this reckoning for people who, I guess, didn’t feel racism existed in this world. There were all of these shifts, right? Where we saw some of the organizations that we support, they then have to like shift their mission and focus because the funders were then shifting their focus and various guidelines on funding. 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: And you just talked about it slowing down. Like, it opened up. There was some general support. And then it’s starting to slow down a little bit more where they’re now fully re-evaluating, “Okay, where were we a year ago? And how do we continue down that path? Or do we need to structurally change things?” And I’m just curious as to how you’ve been able to talk to folks about not changing their mission to fit that mold that you discussed about the funding that exists and trying to find that one key word that’s in your mission that might be – The one key word that’s in the funding application and really get people to really step back and maybe say, “Well, maybe that’s not a good fit for me. Because if I have to change my mission and my goals, then I’m not being true to what my organization is about.” 

Nic Campbell: It’s a really good question, right? Because I think what it puts into play for me is that a few things. The first is if you’re in an emergency situation as an organization and you have payroll or you have just needs that need to be met immediately, I think, yes, go – If you can pivot easily, pivot easily and get the funding. Because it’s about staying alive at this point. 

I think if you’re in that kind of dire situation, I wouldn’t then say, “Well, no, I’m just going to hold off. And I’m not going to change because of all of these other things,” which are all valid if you’re in that emergency kind of situation. I would say pivot if you can and accept the funds, right? Because you want that lifeline. 

Nic Campbell: If you’re not in that dire of a situation and you’re just saying, “Look, we do need the funds. We need the revenue. How will we do that? Do we need to pivot?” I think you are in a position that is saying a ton about your infrastructure, right? It’s telling me that you are not diversified. It’s telling me that something is missing in that compelling story that you’re telling in order to fundraise, right? It says to me that you might be telling a great story around impact, for example. How you’re working with communities? But you’re not necessarily telling a very good story about your infrastructure, and all of the infrastructure that it takes to get to that impact. 

Nic Campbell: I think that once you get to the point where you’re thinking, “Should I pivot? I need this money. I need the revenue.” It’s actually a time to think about what in your infrastructure is not in place that have put you into this position? I think, one, very easily, could be diversification of revenue. Because there’s a series that I do on Fridays. It’s called fastball Fridays. Just like a few minutes of video, and we talk about infrastructure in each of those episodes. One of them that I put out is can you say no to a grant? Like, are you in the position to say no to a grant because it does not align with the way you want to problem solve alongside the community that you’re serving? And if your answer is, “No, Nic. Actually, I can’t say no to a grant at this point.” Then to me, it’s a signal that we need to work on governance. We need to work on your capacity. We need to work on how you’re doing your fundraising in terms of diversification of funding. Who you are actually reaching out to? 

Nic Campbell: There’s a lot of infrastructure pieces that I think that we should delve into that will actually strengthen your organization and put you in a much better place than you having to think about should I have to take this money or not? I think if you are at that stage and you have some space to at least say, “Look, it’d be nice to have, of course. But we actually don’t need it right now.” I would spend some time thinking about my infrastructure. I’m thinking about your board’s engagement and involvement oversight and accountability within the organization. How your capacity looks within your team, within your systems, your processes? Because something has gotten you to the point where you are now thinking of pivoting, changing your mission. You’re not talking about kind of a tweak. We’re talking about you changing your mission the way you work. I would say that you are almost at that stage of being really in dire condition. It’s a signal to me to start to focus on the infrastructure a lot more. 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Wow! Thank you. Thank you so much for. That’s really telling. Because I think we’re all in the position of having to look at our organizations and determine whether or not what we’re doing for the infrastructure is working. And is it sustainable over time? And asking yourself that question, can you turn down a grant? Because I think a lot of folks are also looking at situations where someone may be a great – Willing to offer you some money. But maybe it doesn’t fit in with your heart strength. So, it may be what their mission is, is really not necessarily what you want to align yourself with. Especially being able to step back and look at that situation and say, “Well, maybe that is what we shouldn’t do. Maybe we keep looking.” Do you have any advice for looking at foundational grants versus more uh corporate type grants? And that goes along with what I was just talking about. Making sure that whatever the mission is of that corporation fits in with your model or your vision. Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how to look at those? 

Nic Campbell: Yeah, I think when it comes to fundraising and development, the work that I do around infrastructure necessarily touches on it, right? Because you want to make sure that you’re strong enough to actually take funds, to actually go out and ask for funds. And so, when I hear – When I ask organizations about donors. Who are they receiving money from? Who’s in their donor base? And when it comes to fundraising and development, the work that I do around infrastructure necessarily touches on it, right? Because you want to make sure that you’re strong enough to actually take funds. To actually go out and ask for funds. 

Nic Campbell: And so, when I ask um organizations about donors. Who are they receiving money from? Who’s in their donor base? And when I hear it’s just all foundations. All private foundations. I like the fact that it’s diversified and it’s not like two foundations or one foundation. But I always want to ask about what about corporations? What about individuals? What about high-net-worth individuals? How about individuals that want to do sort of crowd sourcing, crowd funding types of contributions? 

Nic Campbell: And if they have a strategic response to that to say, “Oh, actually, here’s why corporations are not necessarily interested. Or here’s why they’re making up 2% of our donor um base.” I think that’s fine. But I want to make sure that we’ve had the conversation and I’ve asked the question. Because you need to know who your ideal donor is. And you make sure you’re as diversified as possible. I also think that we need to consider and explore earned income options and models as well. And again, it’s not to say that it is for everyone. But again, I want to make sure that you ask the question and you have a conversation as to why it’s not. 

Nic Campbell: And what I find a lot is that we start off from a place of we are just going after foundation grants. And I think that there’s a lot of other types of donors out there that might be interested in the work that you’re doing and the impact that you’re having that are not foundations. And so, it’s a matter of having that strategic conversation around does it make sense to have a campaign around corporations? Around individuals? Around different types of social impact entities that might be interested in the work that we’re doing? And again, you may not come out saying yes to all of those things. But at least you have the conversation and you’ve raised the question. 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much for that. I have one other – It’s really not a question. It’s just a statement for you to, first of all, say thank you so much for you being a partner with National Network for Justice. You have helped a couple of our members in their infrastructure and their strategic planning. And everybody loves you and thinks that you just are able to just put your thumb on the issue and really help aboard and help the staff work through whatever the issues are that they’re dealing with. So, I want to thank you for that. And please tell people how they can get in touch with you. Any type of service that you want to say that you are here for, that you are doing for folks. I know you are very, very busy. And so, you taking the time out to do this for us is really, really appreciated. And just want to give you the opportunity to talk about – 

Nic Campbell: I really appreciate that, Angelyn. And as I mentioned at the the top of our conversation, I do enjoy the work that we’re doing together and all that NNJ is doing for its members and for the community generally. If people want to be in touch, I would love it if you would be. We have a podcast. It’s called the Nonprofit Build Up. And so, it’d be great if you could take a listen to our episodes and also subscribe, because we would love to have you share all of the new episodes that are coming out. We have conversations with leaders and problem solvers within the sector about how to build infrastructure, fundraising and development. The same kinds of questions that we’ve talked through around do we pivot if we need the money? What does that say about our message and about our organization and sustainability? That’s definitely one way. 

Nic Campbell: Another is to please sign up for our newsletter. We send it out weekly. And we share lots of tips and resources within it. And you can just do that at our website, which is buildupadvisory.com. And you can sign up right there on the website. And right before you sign up, it’d be great if you could take a governance assessment, right? And so, we offer a free governance assessment where you can go on to the assessment and you go through it, answer questions about your board. You can have your colleagues take it as well if there’s more people on staff within your organization. And what we do is we take the information and then we come back with a governance assessment for you to give you an idea of where your organization is in terms of its governance and in terms of its development. Please pop on over to buildupadvisory.com. Take the assessment and also sign up for our newsletter. 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: Sounds great. I get the newsletter. NNJ was featured in the newsletter a couple times. So, thank you. 

Nic Campbell: That’s right. 

Angelyn Frazer-Giles: So, we appreciate that. But – 

Katy Thompson: And that concludes this week’s episode. As you heard, general support allows nonprofits to have long-term vision while flexibly and easily addressing their immediate needs, which is particularly relevant in crises as we saw when many funders quickly converted their project support grants to general support grants in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are curious to know how you are thinking about general support funding as either a nonprofit or a funder. Send us your answers and infrastructure comments and questions to hello@buildupadvisory.com.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Legal Capacity as Capacity Building with A. Nicole Campbell Solocast

During this week and next at the Nonprofit Build Up, a two-part series solocast by Build Up Companies’ CEO and Managing Attorney, A. Nicole Campbell is a reflective and thought-provoking perspective on what it means for organizations, philanthropies, and grassroots movements to have “Legal Capacity as Capacity Building.”

Recent events such as the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the mass shootings across America, and other recent tragedies have shown the importance of institutions needing to have the capacity to build bravely. In this episode, Nic dives into the direct role that legal capacity has to build an organization in a way that lasts. You won’t want to miss it.

Listen to the podcasts here:

Part 1:

Part 2:


Read the podcast transcription below:

Part One

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast. I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with non-profits and philanthropies and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Stef Wong: Hi, everyone. It’s Stef. Build Up’s Executive Portfolio Liaison. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up is two-part series, solo cast presentation by Build Up’s CEO, A. Nicole Campbell, where she reflects and provides a thought-provoking perspective on what it means for organizations, philanthropies and grassroots movements to have legal capacity as capacity building. Recent events, such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the mass shootings across America, and other recent historic tragedies have shown the importance of institutions needing to have the capacity to build bravely.

Stef Wong: In this episode, Nic dives into the direct role that legal capacity has, to build in a way that lasts, you won’t want to miss it. With that, here’s part one of legal capacity as capacity building with A. Nicole Campbell.

Nic Campbell: Hi, everyone, it’s Nic. I’m doing a solo cast. So, it’s just going to be me today. I hope that everyone is doing the best they can, in these very interesting times. Very scary times, in which we find ourselves. We are dealing with mass shootings, mass killings in the United States, in particular, and the world we live in, as we know, it has significantly changed, right? We have just most recently, Roe v. Wade, the overturning of that decision, and the list really goes on and on. So, I hope that everyone is finding ways to do their best to work in these very challenging times. Because it’s more important than ever, how we show up to each other, to ourselves, and to the communities that we’re serving.

Nic Campbell: I think that we all can agree that we have to be strong, we have to be stronger than we’ve ever been, particularly now, us as people, as individuals, as groups, as communities, our institutions need to be stronger. And when we talk about institutions, we’re definitely talking about nonprofits, philanthropies, those within the sector. And when I think about how do we make organizations stronger? How do we build them to withstand all the things that we are facing right now, and that will come in the future? I think about capacity building, right? How are we set up to do our very best work? Do we have the capacity to do our very best work so that when these kinds of crises, keep reoccurring, or come up again, and we know that they will, right? It’s just a matter of time. How are we set up to do our very best work, and to be our very best selves, right? I’m talking about organizations and the people within them. The systems within them as well.

Nic Campbell: Now, here’s the problem. Leaders of these organizations are burnt out. We talk about it with ourselves, we talk about it amongst ourselves, we talk about it in the communities that we’re working in, that the leaders of these organizations that are doing incredible work. They’re supporting vulnerable, marginalized communities. They are burned out. They’re being overworked. They don’t have enough funding to do their work. So, they are taking on multiple jobs at once. They’re wearing all kinds of hats. We joke around about leaders wearing 15 different hats, and they’re switching off these hats. They’re playing CEO and CFO and CEO, all kinds of leadership roles, their own assistance. They’re just providing so much support and leverage to others. But they also have to provide to themselves. So, they are understandably burnt out.

Nic Campbell: Leaders of color are even more burnt out, right? We’ve seen the data. We’ve seen the reports come out that leaders of color are burnt out or even higher rates than leaders that are not of color that are within the sector. So, we can agree that the leaders of these organizations, of these institutions that we need these organizations themselves to be strong. The leaders that are running them, that are leading them, that are taking them to the next level are burnt out themselves. So, they don’t even have the capacity to do their best work often.

Nic Campbell: The systems in which these leaders are operating, that these organizations have within them, they’re sometimes nonexistent. There are often no systems. People are just doing what they’re doing, because again, they’re trying to get by with the little resources that they have. So, they often don’t have that time, the space, the money or the resources to develop systems and frameworks of how they want to act within these organizations. A lot of times, what we’re seeing is that these systems are nonexistent, they’re not around. So, imagine having to create and lift to provide leverage to do all these things, when each and every day is probably different, because you have no system in place. And if you do have a system in place, there’s lots of work that has to be done, in order for it to function at a level that makes sense to help folks, teams within the organization, individuals within organization to do their best work.

Nic Campbell: When we take a look at the governance structures within these organizations, a lot of boards are disengaged, right? Even if the board members are engaged, sometimes they don’t really understand what it means to be an effective board member for the organization at that stage of this development. It’s not that folks don’t know how to help leaders, or that they’re not passionate about the work, it’s that they don’t necessarily know how to provide the best kind of capacity or leverage to those leaders at that particular time. All that organizations development in existence.

Nic Campbell: So, we have all of these things coming to their leaders being burnt out, systems being not existing or not working optimally, boards being disengaged, or not necessarily having the tools that they need to provide the right kind of oversight and accountability that the organization needs. When we step out of the organization, and we look at the networks, that leaders might have, that the organization itself might have built, these networks also tapped out, they’re exhausted. Because all of the organizations within these networks are also feeling the same things that I just described.

Nic Campbell: So, this is the problem, that we understand that we need capacity building, we need to have capacity to do our best work. But then we look around and we realize the places and the people from which we would get that capacity is not there. So, what’s the solution? What do we need to do? We’re in the super challenging times, we know we need the capacity, we can’t necessarily tap the places that we think we can tap. So, what do we do? The solution, you hear a lot is capacity building. There’s lots of different capacity building programs and I love to see it. Every time I hear about a capacity building program, I get excited, because I want to hear how funders, how nonprofits are thinking about capacity, how they’re thinking about building it, how they’re thinking about maintaining it, providing additional leverage. I love to hear all of it.

Nic Campbell: So, when I hear these programs, and they’re talking about capacity building, I think about program support. I see a lot of capacity building programs. How do we strengthen your program strategy? How do we help you with your strategic planning? I think that’s amazing. There’s leadership support now that’s coming out, like how do we support leaders in smaller organizations that may not have the team there to provide additional leverage. So, how do we provide you with that capacity? How do we help you build your team? How do we just provide you some support so that you’re not feeling so burnt out?

Nic Campbell: Again, when I see these programs, I’m like, “This is great. We’re getting at the root of a lot of these issues around capacity.” Here are the builder companies, we focus on infrastructure. So, I love to see those programs. I think they are essential, they are critical in how organizations are being built up. I also want to hear how we’re building capacity in terms of infrastructure. When we talk about infrastructure, we’re talking about governance. We’re talking about grant making processes and systems, and we’re talking about how organizations are structured. Their compliance, needs, what is their compliance capacity to meet those compliance needs, or they set up in their right vehicle to do their best work. All those kinds of questions, those are the kinds of things that come to mind when we start thinking about infrastructure.

Nic Campbell: I like to see capacity building programs focused on how are we building up that structure, that framework of organization in addition to the programmatic strategy, and in addition to the support that we’re giving to leadership. Because if we’re not also focused on the infrastructure and the frameworks, that’s not really building capacity. So, within build up companies, we use different vehicles, when we think about infrastructure, because we understand that there are different parts of infrastructure and different ways to go about it. So, we talk a lot about Build Up Advisory Group, which is our advisory firm that works for brave nonprofits and philanthropies, and really is focused on strengthening capacity within infrastructure. So, within governance grantmaking, structuring of organizations themselves, and really going in and working alongside leaders to say, this is how we’re going to build up this infrastructure within the organization.

Nic Campbell: So, we not only assess it, but then we go in and say, “Now that we’ve assessed it, now, let’s help you build.” So, we’re working hand in hand in doing that. We also have Build Up Inc., which is our non-profit capacity builder that provides fiscal sponsorship. We work with women lead, and bipoc led projects and initiatives and organizations, literally, around the globe are doing such brave work. Working with vulnerable and marginalized communities to make sure that their voices are being heard and they’re not being invisibilized. So, these projects really run the gamut. But essentially, we’re trying to build the capacity of these projects, particularly, grass roots, community led initiatives and projects. How do we give them the capacity to do their best work? So, that’s what Build Up Inc., the nonprofit is focused on.

Nic Campbell: We also have the Campbell Law Firm, which is a law firm that works with brave social impact entrepreneurs and philanthropists, nonprofits and philanthropies in order to be their trusted legal advisor and thought partner, and we take those phrases, those subscriptions very seriously. As a law firm, we really try to show up differently. You might automatically be thinking, or at this point, be thinking, “Wait a minute, we’re talking about infrastructure. I get Build Up Advisory Group, I get Build Up Inc., we’re talking about an advisory firm, we’re talking about a fiscal sponsor, that is all about capacity building. Why are we talking about the law firm? And that’s why I want to focus on today.

Nic Campbell: I want to focus on legal capacity as part of capacity building, right? The way we hold it at the Build Up companies, is that capacity building is a very big phrase, right? It can encompass so many different things. As I mentioned, a lot of times we hear about strategic planning, programmatic support, leadership support, we want to hear about financial support, we want to hear about financial capacity building, building financial systems. And we really wanted to focus on governance, grant making and structuring. The legal piece of this touches on all of that, and it also gets into how do you build your capacity when your organization that has no legal capacity? Could you imagine being an organization, you’re doing all this capacity building, and you have no legal team that is helping you with your risk management, your legal compliance, the legal questions that are coming up, helping you be proactive. How are you able to say we have built capacity?

Nic Campbell: So, the position that we take at Build Up is that legal capacity is a critical component of capacity building. What kind of legal support do you have to make your organization stronger? How are you using your legal resources to build the capacity of your leadership, of your organization itself, of your infrastructure? And if you haven’t thought about these questions, I want you to use this time to really think about it. Because I think it’s an often-overlooked part of capacity building. Think about it. You don’t really hear folks talking about legal support as part of capacity building programs. When you hear capacity building, you hear a lot of consultants, sort of coming in and helping to build out your capacity. Like I said, they’re working with you on strategic planning and working with you on leadership. You might see a coach talked about here and there. It’s very rare, and I have not yet seen it, where lawyers are actually being included as part of that capacity building.

Nic Campbell: But we, at Build Up, have thought about this for years now, and that is how we hold capacity building. We think that when you have really strong legal capacity, we’re talking about quality thought partnership, where you can pick up the phone and talk to your counsel, to the lawyer for your organization and say, “I have a problem that I want to think through with you.” That is thought partnership. How often are folks doing that? Or thinking about that as part of capacity building?

Nic Campbell: When you have strong legal capacity, you have an advisor, and a problem solver, someone who is coming to help you solve problems, they just happen to have legal expertise and experience, right? They’re coming to help guide the conversation based on that expertise and experience. We’re also talking about how you have built up legal systems within your organization’s frameworks. How do people work? When you have the compliance needs within a 501(c)(3) organization, have you set up systems within your organization so that people understand, “Okay, well, when I engage in this kind of transaction, or do this kind of work, I need to think about A, B, and C. And if I don’t, or I have these questions, I can raise them with this person, or I should have these kinds of questions if this thing happens.” That is the beauty of having strong legal systems and frameworks, and that is part of your capacity building, right? That then leads into being really proactive.

Nic Campbell: What does that mean? Do you have templates? Are those templates vetted? They’re not templates that were created 10 years ago, after looking at some other organization’s templates, and you decided, “Oh, I guess I’ll use that as my consulting agreement.” Right? Or I’ll guess I’ll use that as my vendor agreement. Or I’ll take whatever agreements are coming my way, because I just don’t understand the value of having a strong vetted template. Why? This all comes down to risk management. The more you use your own templates, and the stronger they are, the lower your risk and exposure in different transactions. You’re able to better manage risk.

Nic Campbell: So, templates are not just, “I’ll just use a template”, right? There’s thought behind that, and when you have strong legal capacity, this is when it comes to throughout the organization, about the importance of templates and making sure that they’re vetted and that they actually reflect the organization itself. Do you have a legal partner that allows your work, your templates, your agreements to be values aligned? So, it’s not just, “Oh, do you have the legal agreement? Do you have this template?” No. Is it aligned with the organization’s values? The way you contract, the way you negotiate is that values aligned? That’s what it means to have a legal advisor, a thought partner who’s working alongside you and saying, “This is how we’re going to contract in a way that aligns with organization’s values.”

Nic Campbell: Now, we have another podcast about what values-based contracting looks like, and you should definitely take a look at that. We will listen to that. We will put the link to that podcast in the episode notes so you’ll have easy access to it. But realize that contracts are not just documents that you’re just putting out there. All those provisions that folks call boilerplate, they’re saying something about the way you want to engage with the other party to that transaction or to that agreement. So, you want to make sure that you have someone in your corner, who is able to say, “I understand this organization’s values and I know how they want to show up with their partners. This is how you know you’re going to engage with other party. This is the language you’re going to use. These are the terms we’re going to agree to, and these are things we cannot agree to.” If you don’t have somebody in your corner that can do that, you need to think about, “Okay, well, how are we using this contract as a tool to help us as an organization advance our mission?” Because if you can’t answer that, you’re actually decreasing the leverage that you have, and the capacity that you actually can build, with entering into agreements with other parties.

Nic Campbell: So, at the end of the day, realize that legal capacity, having legal capacity, increasing your legal capacity, is actually increasing your organization’s capacity. It is part of capacity building, and that’s what I wanted to talk with you all about today. Let’s start thinking about legal capacity as part of capacity building. It is not something that happens within the sector currently. But I really think it’s so important to start holding legal advisors, your counsel to that standard. You are part of my capacity, and so if you’re not providing that kind of leverage to my organization, I don’t see how we are helping to build the capacity of the organization. So, you need to seek out partners and advisors who can do that.

Nic Campbell: Think about the counsel that you’re working with now. I wanted to share some questions with you about how do we actually build the capacity? How are we actually building the capacity of organizations? You think about your counsel that you’re working with now, the lawyers that you’re working with now. How often do you call them? How often are you speaking with them? When do you call them? Are you only calling them when there’s a transaction? There’s an agreement to be reviewed? Are you calling them when you have an issue that you want to think through? And you’re really seeing them as thought partners? Are they problem solving with you? When you get on the phone, when you get on the email, do you think that problem solving is actually happening? Or are you just kind of reciting the facts and just saying, “Hey, do this contract. Give the review”, and raising the comments that you have? Right? What does that engagement look like? Do they know your organization? Have you shared information about your organization, with your legal team?

Nic Campbell: I mean, this is about weekly team meetings, things that have come up that way, strategy conversations, so not just, “Hey, here’s our website and here’s our vision and mission”, but what are you doing on a weekly basis? What are the big plans that you have? Are you sharing that information? Do they know that information? Do they know who’s on your team? Do they know whether your team members need to be trained in certain areas of the law? Because they’re being exposed to it repeatedly. These are the questions we have to ask ourselves. How familiar is my legal team with my organization? With the people that work within it? With a vision that we have? Our own short-term strategy over the next couple of years, and a longer-term strategy.

Nic Campbell: So, you want to ask those questions, but also think, are you sharing that information? If you’re not, why not? You have someone on your team that you want to help you answer a legal question, a legal issue a legal problem, and you have not shared any of this information with them. We have to think about that. What does that mean? What does is that telling you about how you are engaging with your legal team? Or how you’re seeing legal capacity as part of your organizational capacity building? And do you find that you explain, every time you get on the call, or every time you have to ask for a contract or an agreement review to be reviewed, are you explaining what your organization does? Are you explaining sort of the fundamental ways in which you work over and over and over? Because again, you have to think about how is that helping the way you engage with your legal team. What does that saying about the way you engage?

Nic Campbell: Because all these questions are really key, because they impact your capacity building, right? They impact your organization’s strengths, the way it can show up to serve and support the vulnerable and marginalized communities that you’re working with. Don’t think that legal is off by itself, doing its own thing. This is the kind of messaging that I’ve seen throughout the sector in many ways. Where it’s sort of this idea of like, “Well, we just have this contract, we’re going to get it reviewed”, and you send it off to a lawyer, and then you get the comments back, and we share it and that’s not necessarily how you can build capacity within your organization. This may not actually be the best way. The best way may be something that looks entirely different. But because they then can impact how you negotiate your grant agreements, your grant awards, your funding, the responsibilities that you take on as part of these agreements, the commitments that you make, should you be making them? Do you know why you’re making them? Are they aligned with what you want your organization to be doing or saying?

Nic Campbell: These are the critical questions we have to be asking ourselves, because this can add to or detract from our capacity. If you’re doing things that you really should not be doing as an organization, as a leadership team. You’re stepping into spaces that you really should not be in and you’re over committing yourself. You are reducing the capacity that you have as a leadership team, as an organization, to then show up for those communities that you’re serving. So, when you enter into an agreement, or you’re working with your legal team on an agreement, you have to ask yourself these questions, because it ultimately impacts your capacity.

Stef Wong: That concludes part one of the series. Next week, Nic will go in more depth regarding legal capacity as capacity building. Additionally, if you’re interested in partnering with a law firm that leverages a global network of experienced attorneys with decades of legal training and practical experience, and focuses on social impact organizations to serve as an outsourced general counsel and thought partner, then schedule a discovery call with the Campbell Law Firm today. The Campbell Law Firm works with brave non-profits, philanthropists, ultra-high net worth individuals and movements, offering high-touch counsel to social impact entrepreneurs and organizations around the world. We would love to hear more about your brave mission to change the world.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the non-profit sector. Keep building bravely.

Part Two

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast. I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with non-profits and philanthropies and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Stef Wong: Hi, everyone. It’s Stef. Build Up’s Executive Portfolio Liaison. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up is part two of a two-part series, solo cast presentation by Build Up’s CEO, A. Nicole Campbell, as she reflects and provides a thought-provoking perspective on what it means for organizations, philanthropies and grassroots movements to have legal capacity as capacity building. You can jump back to part one of the conversation to learn more about legal capacity as capacity building. With that, let’s dive into the second part of Nic’s reflections, where she continues to elaborate on the direct role about legal capacity build, in ways that lasts.

Nic Campbell: Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, Nic, I don’t have a general counsel team. I don’t have a general counsel within my organization. I don’t have a counsel team. I don’t have any of that.” And I will say to that, as a result, you are missing critical elements of capacity building. You are doing your organization a disservice, if you do not have a team of folks that you can rely on to provide critical legal capacity. And all your other capacity building is being compromised as a result.

Nic Campbell: That’s harsh, right? That sounds like – wait, I thought you’re going to say something completely different. No, that’s what I’m saying to you. If you do not have a general counsel team, a team of lawyers, a team of legal folks that you can rely on, to help provide additional capacity, legal capacity to your organization, and to help you think through these critical questions that come up in your work and help you be proactive in those areas, you are compromising your capacity building. You are leaving these really critical questions, these huge questions in some instances when we’ve gotten involved, right? Where we have worked with organizations that may not have had counsel today. And they’ve been working with someone on a team who is smart and maybe has been exposed to different questions before, and they’ve been playing lawyer.

Nic Campbell: Well, we’ve realized this, wow, you’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities, you’ve agreed to things that you should not have, you’ve overcommitted yourself, you’ve agreed to responsibilities that you should not have. In some instances, we get into, well actually, are we actually being compliant as an organization? You don’t want to be there. Because not as now we’re in cleanup mode. We’re still in a much better position than never having half the conversation, but you want to make sure that you’re being proactive, right? That these conversations are happening at the front end, not after a transaction has already happened.

Nic Campbell: So, don’t leave it up to folks who are not that counsel team to tell you about compliance, potential legal issues, problems. That’s scary. That is detracting from your capacity building efforts. So, if anyone is listening to this, and you are an organization, and you’re saying I don’t have a general counsel, I don’t have a general counsel team. I don’t have lawyers that I can rely on. This can be pro bono attorneys. This can be attorneys that you’re paying on a fee basis. I just mean someone who has the ability to provide legal capacity to your organization. If you do not have that team of folks or that person, you are missing a critical element of your capacity building efforts, and you are compromising your organization’s mission.

Nic Campbell: I have to say that out loud, because it came to me just over the past few weeks just having conversations with folks and looking around the sector and realizing, “Wait a minute, we don’t talk about legal capacity as part of capacity building. We kind of ignore it. We don’t see it as part of this overall conversation, or just general conversation about capacity building, when in fact, it is a very fundamental piece of it.” So, think about what other parts of your organization, would you do this? Or would you say, “You know what, we don’t need this person heading up this particular area. We’ll just use folks who might have heard of this thing before and will get by, because we just don’t have the funding for it. We just don’t think we can afford it.” 

Nic Campbell: Again, there are pro bono options out there. There are pro bono networks of attorneys. There are different ways that you can engage counsel, right? But if you’re not doing that at all, think about what other areas of your organization would you ever attempt to do this in? And I don’t think that there are many that likely come to mind. Another thing we hear is, we’re too grassroots, right? We’re too small for this. We don’t actually need a general counsel team, Nic. We are doing our work, there’s five of us, we don’t really need someone to come in and help with that legal capacity at this stage. The reality of this is that you’re likely the ones that are most in need. The smaller you are, doesn’t mean that your problems are smaller, it just means that your problems are likely not be addressed, right?

Nic Campbell: So, you’re still in the same situation, and you likely need it the most, because you probably have team members that are playing these roles that need training, that need conversations with folks that have seen lots of different organizations in these situations and can say, “Oh, I’ve seen this before. Here’s what we need to do. Here’s what we don’t need to do.” At the end of the day, you need a problem solver, with legal experience, to help you build your organization’s capacity. That’s at any level. Grassroots level, your mid-size, you are an enormous nonprofit or philanthropy. You need someone with those problem-solving skills, and that legal experience and expertise to help you build that capacity.

Nic Campbell: Now, I understand cost is real. I’m not ignoring that. I’m not saying, “Oh, go out there and everything is pro bono. I understand the reality in which we all sit.” So, costs is real. Having someone as general counsel or in-house counsel team, there’s a real cost to that, right? You have employees that are sitting there as a legal team. There is a real cost to that. We’re talking legal assistance and systems that have been set up. That’s not all pro bono. So, I’m not being naive at all, and saying, “Oh, just go out there and get pro bono assistance. Don’t worry about it.” No. That cost is real and you have to consider all of this against the kind of work you’re doing, the risk analysis, risk management.

Nic Campbell: But there are ways in which you can still accomplish this. And this is why at The Campbell Law Firm, at TCLF, we aim to show up differently, because our model is really based on working with grassroots organizations, working with brave nonprofits and philanthropy that are not – they just don’t want to be seen as “just another nonprofit”. They want to maintain their movement, sort of flexibility and status, and we want to as well. We also work with multibillion-dollar philanthropies. So, our model is really set up to say, “Look, at the end of the day, the core of it is we want to partner with folks.” So, these social impact entrepreneurs, these philanthropists, these brave nonprofits and philanthropies that are trying to disrupt and change the status quo, that is our model.

Nic Campbell: So, you can be an organization of five. You can be an organization of 50, of 500. We want to make sure that at the core of it all, we’re able to address problems as they come up, issues before they arise, and work alongside teams in grassroots organizations and organizations that are medium sized, large as well. Our approach is that, again, we’re talking about costs. We want to make sure that it’s cost effective, right? So, we don’t bill by the minute. That’s a huge surprise and it’s probably a shocker for a lot of folks listening. We do not bill by the minute. We do not think that that allows us to partner in the way that we want to. We don’t want folks getting on the phone with us and counting the minutes, I don’t want to ask how your day was because now I’m going to get billed for your small talk, right?

Nic Campbell: I’ve been in-house counsel and I understand that feeling, right? It’s real. So, we don’t bill by the minute, we don’t do surprise bills, we do flat fee arrangements. And this allows small organizations and large organizations to budget for these costs. As soon as you start an engagement with us, this is what it will cost for the year. We talked about how many reviews of agreements and how we’re going to engage and we allow you to – we want to hear from you. The thinking is not, look, we’re just going to get into this engagement, use us as little as you can, because we know that the money’s there. No, we want you to reach out to us, to share everything that is coming up. “Hey, this has happened. Do you think that this might be a situation that you should know about? Do you think that this is a question that we should add?” We want all of those questions. And that’s all built into the way we have set up our fee structure, because we want it to be cost effective. Because we realize right that legal capacity is a critical component of capacity building.

Nic Campbell: So, you cannot talk about I’m building this amazing organization. I’m focused on capacity building. I want to provide support to my leadership team, and I want to make sure that my strategy is sound, and you have no legal capacity. You’re not even thinking about how do you build capacity in your legal systems, your frameworks, your legal team. We just don’t understand how that can coexist, right? The same ideas come up when we talk about infrastructure, right? Infrastructure is part of your capacity building. So, if you’re not talking about how you are trying to strengthen your infrastructure, and your framework, organizational framework, you’re not talking about capacity building, right?

Nic Campbell: So, we need to have a larger conversation about what do we mean, when we are talking about capacity building for an organization. Legal needs to be included. And so, we want to make sure that we have a model that allows even the most grassroots organization that we work with, to say, “We can rely on a legal team of folks who can be our thought partners in this space, who can help us problem solve, and have this legal experience to help us do so.”

Nic Campbell: That’s the thinking with our model that we want it to be cost effective. We provide a dedicated general counsel team. It’s not like, “Well, today, I’m talking to this person, and I’m explaining all of this. And then the next day, you might be talking to someone else. You’ve got to do it all over again. The next week, you’re talking to someone else.” No, you have a dedicated team, you have folks who have decades of experience combined. We’re providing, you know, essentially a general counsel, an outsourced, in-house general counsel for the organization, someone else who’s working alongside that attorney to help provide that legal capacity. And then you’ve got the team itself that that person can then rely on when questions come up, right?

Nic Campbell: Imagine having all of those resources at your disposal, you compare that organization that has that kind of legal teams set up, that kind of legal capacity to an organization that isn’t even thinking about legal capacity, but they’re thinking about organizational capacity building. There’s no way that that second organization can then say, “Okay, we’re going to move ahead and do this in a sustainable way with this gaping hole of legal capacity just not be discussed.” This is really important to us, right? The reason I talk about legal capacity so much is yes, I think it is a critical component of capacity building. I also want folks to work with lawyers in a very different way than what has been put out there and what we think of when we consider working with attorneys, or working with, “outside counsel”. Because again, we’re not talking about employees who are sitting within an organization because it’s a different dynamic.

Nic Campbell: I’ve been an in-house counsel, as I’ve mentioned, and it’s a very different dynamic. Folks on our team will tell you that as well, that you are in it in a very different way than “outside counsel” might be. Because you’re there day to day, you are joining team meetings, depending on the organizational setup, and we want to recreate that kind of dynamic because there is a beauty that comes from being in-house counsel, when you don’t have to get the explanations over and over and over again, about how an organization works. What kinds of partnerships you’re trying to create? The kinds of risks that they’re willing to step into or be exposed to, and the kinds of things that they want to avoid. I’m really passionate about making sure that we can continue to work this way. Because I really don’t think that the law as it has been set up, law firms, generally. It wasn’t set up for folks that look like me, or firms that work the way we do to thrive. And those are facts, right?

Nic Campbell: If you look at – I mean, just some of these really outdated ethics rules that are in play in different states, you will see that it is set up in a way that is saying this is the kind of firm that we want. These are the kinds of people that we want. This is how we think the law should work. And that has nothing to do with the way that you are lawyering. It has nothing to do with the way you are providing legal advice and counseling support. So, the way I want to show up is I want to make sure that I give voice to those who have been invisibilized, the organizations that are out there working on behalf of communities that are vulnerable and marginalized, that they have the resources, they have the legal capacity they need to make sure that they are sustainable. Their work can be sustained. The solutions that they’re coming up with, can be leveraged. And we can scale and we can start to have different kinds of conversations, and you cannot do that without access to quality, legal resources and capacity.

Nic Campbell: So, that is the entire vision behind The Campbell Law Firm. So, when we talk about capacity building, don’t talk about capacity building, and not ask about legal capacity. When you look at all these capacity building programs, you see all the consultants and different aspects of the work that are critical, right to really building up these organizations. I want us also to think about, what about the legal capacity? How are we providing additional legal support and resources to these organizations to support their work? Because if we’re not asking that question, we’re doing a real disservice. Because legal capacity is part of the capacity building conversations. 

Nic Campbell: This is why at TCLF, we do not do one off transactions. You will not see us just, “Oh, you want us to review that one agreement for you?” Here you go by. Because there is a bigger conversation and bigger context in which this agreement sits, and this transaction sits. I understand that that’s not for everyone. I understand that some organizations might say, “Well, you know what, we just needed the answer to this one thing.” But what we have found is when organizations have that mentality, they’re not thinking about capacity building as it’s going to include legal capacity as well. And it’s very telling, and sometimes it’s just not the right time, I get that. But those conversations, when folks have come to us with one off, what we’ll do is we’ll say, this is not the way we work, here’s how we work and a lot of organizations, they’re just kind of like, “Whoa, I didn’t know that was a possibility.”

Nic Campbell: So, we start down the path of here’s how you can retain us and we can work together, and this is what a partnership looks like. This is how we can provide additional legal capacity. Sometimes, the organization might say, “Oh, well, you know, we’re just looking for this one-off review.” And we still are able to provide additional legal resources or recommendations to other law firms that might work a little bit differently, but still have that same mentality around, here’s how we’re going to try to build your legal capacity in this instance, right?

Nic Campbell: I say all of this to say that legal capacity is not about just reviewing agreements. You have somebody that can – a lawyer that can review your transaction or review an agreement or a contract, it’s about all of those things. It’s about the legal framework, it’s about how they’re reviewing, the questions they’re asking, the conversations that they’re having with you, how often they’re talking with you. How well do they know your organization? How much information are you sharing about your organization with them?

Nic Campbell: A lot of folks who know me know that I was not trying to start a law firm. When I started to Build Up companies, I did not want to start a law firm, because I was so indoctrinated into that very system that I just described, where law firms worked a lot differently. They didn’t work the way that TCLF worked, or the way I envisioned a law firm could work. So, I thought, “Well, if it hasn’t been done before, and I haven’t seen it, and these law firms are successful models, it can’t be done. So, I will start a law firm.” It wasn’t until I was talking with an ideal client. There’s still a client to this day and amazing organization that works around the globe. And they said, “Well, how do we work with you?” And I said, “Well, this is how I want to work.” And I have that model where legal capacity is part of capacity building. So, what do I want that to look like?

Nic Campbell: I want to know what you’re doing. My team should know what you’re doing. We should be able to say, “This is how we’re going to help you build your legal framework, your protocols, your templates. This is how you’re going to be proactive. Here’s how we’re going to help you solve this problem on a consistent basis. Here’s how we’re going to help you be sustainable so that when you show up to the communities that you’re working with, you have the legal capacity and the general capacity and leverage to do so.” That’s when we created the way that we work now, which is TCLF. 

Nic Campbell: So, we really are doing it differently and we’re doing it that way. We’re doing it in a way that is inclusive of grassroots organizations, of small organizations, of large organizations that want to show up differently, that want to be disruptive in the truest sense of that word, and it’s the only way I know how to work.

Nic Campbell: When I think about if you are a grassroots organization listening to this and saying, “I don’t know if this is for me. I don’t know if I can afford it.” Just know that we created TCLF with you in mind. We created the way that we work with you in mind, our approach with you in mind. And this also goes for our clients that are multibillion-dollar philanthropies. The core and the commonality is that you are trying to be disruptive to the status quo, that perpetuates injustice and inequity. And so, if you are trying to be disruptive in that way, know that we understand that legal capacity needs to be part of the conversation, and we will work with you to provide that kind of support and leverage.

Nic Campbell: When legal capacity is not part of the capacity building conversation, ask why. Push the conversation, push the question. Think about how legal capacity can help your team, your work, your organizational vision. Hopefully, this episode, this solo cast is helping you think about how legal capacity can play such a key role in how your organization is built out, how its vision can be advanced, how its mission can be supported, and how your goals can be leveraged in scale, and then come talk to us.

Nic Campbell: As I mentioned, if we’re not a fit, we can still point you to additional resources and others that might be. But I just want us to start this conversation. I want to start having this conversation about legal capacity as part of capacity building. It doesn’t have to be with TCLF. I tell people this all the time that I am not in the convincing business. When I started the Build Up companies, I said very, very quickly, I am not in the convincing business. I’m in the building business, the problem-solving business. And I’m into working with brave organizations and leaders that are trying to disrupt the status quo, right? That are trying to show up sustainably and at scale for vulnerable and marginalized communities that have been historically left out of the conversation. That’s the common thread.

Nic Campbell: So, it’s not about just picking TCLF and that’s the only way you get legal capacity. I want you to just have this conversation about legal capacity as part of capacity building. That is all. I want to leave you with this. Ask yourself, how can legal capacity help my organization’s capacity building? How can increasing and strengthening my own organization’s legal capacity, help the communities that I work with and that I serve? How will it help us sustainably show up, consistently show up for these communities? Those are the questions I want to leave you with, so that you can start to think about legal capacity in a different way, or even just start thinking about legal capacity, because it is critical.

Nic Campbell: Thank you all for the amazing work that you do every day, for building your organizations in such a way that can be such a resource, and so helpful to communities that need it. And every day that your building is allowing the stories of communities to be told and having them be the storytellers, as opposed to speaking on their behalf. So, thank you, and any questions that you have about legal capacity, I’d love to continue this conversation. Please feel free to reach out to us by email or just on any of our socials and we’re happy to talk about legal capacity. Talk to you all soon.

Stef Wong: That completes this two-part series on legal capacity as capacity building, with A. Nicole Campbell. As we wrap up, if you’re interested in partnering with a law firm that leverages a global network of experienced attorneys with decades of legal training and practical experience, and focuses on social impact organizations to serve as an outsourced general counsel and thought partner, then schedule a discovery call with The Campbell Law Firm today. The Campbell Law Firm works with brave non-profits, philanthropists, ultra-high net worth individuals and movements, offering high-touch counsel to social impact entrepreneurs and organizations around the world. We would love to hear more about your brave mission to change the world.

-Upbeat Outro Music-

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the non-profit sector. Keep building bravely.

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Managing Risk for Equitable Grant Making with Melanie Brown, DeAnna Hoskins, and Aleesha Taylor

Over the next two weeks at the Non-Profit Build Up, we will be exploring the context and common concerns on “Managing Risk for Equitable Grant Making”. This week’s episode is part one of a two-part panel discussion originally recorded at the PEAK 2022 Conference. Moderated by Build Up’s CEO, A. Nicole Campbell and in conversation with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Deputy Director, Melanie Brown, JustLeadershipUSA’s President and CEO DeAnna Hoskins, and Herald Advisor’s Principal, Aleesha Taylor. This presentation was originally recorded in March 2022. This is a two-part series.

Nic, Melanie, DeAnna, and Aleesha dive into the practice of progressive grantmaking, the inequities that traditional grantmaking have on the marginalized communities it aims to serve, and how to align the definition of risk with an organization’s appetite for risk. You won’t want to miss it.

Listen to the podcasts here:

Part 1:

Part 2:


Read the podcast transcription below:

Part One

-Upbeat Intro Music-

Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up Podcast. I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with non-profits and philanthropies and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work.

Stef Wong: Hi, everyone. It’s Stef. Buildup’s Executive Portfolio Liaison. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up is part one of a two-part panel discussion originally recorded at the PEAK2022 Conference. Moderated by Build Up’s CEO, A. Nicole Campbell and in conversation with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Deputy Director, Melanie Brown, JustLeadershipUSA’s President and CEO, DeAnna Hoskins and Herald Advisor’s Principal, Aleesha Taylor. This presentation was originally recorded in March 2022.

Stef Wong: In this episode, Nic, Melanie, DeAnna and Aleesha dive into the practice of progressive grantmaking, discuss the inequalities that traditional grantmaking have on the marginalized communities it aims to serve, and how to align the definition of risk with an organization’s appetite for risk. You won’t want to miss it. With that, here is part one of managing risk for equitable grantmaking.

Claire: Hi, everyone again, and welcome. Now, I’m pleased to turn it over to our speakers for the managing risk for equitable grantmaking session. Over to you all.

Nic Campbell: Thanks so much, Claire. Hello, everyone. My name is Nic Campbell, and I am the Founder and CEO of the Build Up Companies. We work only with brave non-profits and philanthropies to strengthen their organizational infrastructure, so that they are best placed to do their work. For our clients, that means interrupting cycles of inequity and injustice.

Nic Campbell: That’s why I’m so excited to have this conversation today. This discussion is about being brave, calling out practices and perspectives and sharing the thought leadership of black women who often stand in the vanguard of social justice in the sector, both domestically and internationally, to ultimately inform how the entire sector should come to this work.

Nic Campbell: During our conversation today, we will explore what it means to both work and award funding in a way that doesn’t contribute to, or perpetuate harmful practices and power dynamics of the same inequitable system in which we operate when working with vulnerable communities. We’ll also focus on the relationship between risk and decision-making, risk and equity and risk and inclusion, and how risk ultimately informs, support and can even derail equitable grantmaking.

Nic Campbell: My colleague, Stephanie, is also joining us from Build Up. She will be monitoring the chat and be able to get to all the questions that you might have, so that we can make sure that we address them during our key list.

Nic Campbell: Could each of you take a minute or two and introduce yourself and the focus of your work, given the context of our conversation today, which is about managing risk, and equitable grantmaking? Aleesha, I’ll start with you.

Aleesha Taylor: Good afternoon, and I’m excited to join you today. I’m Dr. Aleesha Taylor, Principal of Herald Advisors. My academic background is in international educational development, and my focus is on education policy and systems that enable governments to provide education to even their most marginalized communities. I spent 10 years as a grant maker with the Open Society Foundations. In 2016 when I transitioned, I was the deputy director of their global education program.

Aleesha Taylor: For the past five years, I’ve been working independently at Herald Advisors, partnering with leaders and organizations and supporting them to thrive within the intersections of education, international development and philanthropy.

Nic Campbell: Thanks so much, Aleesha. DeAnna.

DeAnna Hoskins: Yes. Good afternoon. I’m grateful to be here. My name is DeAnna Hoskins. I’m the President/CEO of JustLeadershipUSA. We’re the only national organization that has been founded by and operated by formerly incarcerated individuals. We invest in their leadership by educating, elevating and empowering their voices to change their communities, or addressing the policies that continue to oppress and marginalize them.

DeAnna Hoskins: I came to this work through way of working the increasing levels of government from state to local and federal government and engagement. I realized that the leaders we were missing from the conversation were those directly impacted by the issues we were trying to address. My focus is on bringing that expertise to those tables of policy change.

Nic Campbell: Thanks, DeAnna. And Melanie.

Melanie Brown: Thank you, Nic. It is a pleasure to be here with you, DeAnna and Aleesha. Hi, everyone. I am Melanie Brown. I am Deputy Director at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I sit on the foundation’s North America team, which is focused on the foundation’s investments in the United States and Canada.

Melanie Brown: I lead a team focused on public engagement. We are responsible for managing the relationships, constituency relationships that are influential to our strategies and our strategies being successful. That includes safe communities and business sector and also communities of color. I believe I said this, but if not, I’ll say again, I’ve been at Gates for about seven years. Prior to that, I was at the Heinz Endowments for eight years. I’ve been in this field of philanthropy for 15 years, as a black woman Grantmaker, managing risk and internally and externally, and moving money to communities of color. Just really excited to have this conversation today.

Nic Campbell: Well, thank you all so much. You can understand why I was very excited about this panel and having this conversation, particularly given the perspectives that each of our panelists bring. My first question is that the relationship between bias and risk inherently informs a Grantmaker’s efforts in capacity building and support of organizations.

Nic Campbell: Now, we talk a lot about risk, but there doesn’t seem to be a shared definition of risk within the sector that we’ve all adopted. How do each of you define risk?

DeAnna Hoskins: I can start from there. Thank you for that question, Nic. I think this came up, because one of my concerns, from a philanthropy perspective, even when applications are denied, or you’re working with philanthropy, that risk of they evaluate each application on is never publicly shared. If you’re a small, non-profit, black-led organization, you never know what gaps in your organizational structure, what gaps in your capacity you need to feel to become a viable grantee of that fund, that grant maker.

DeAnna Hoskins: With that, I internally can look at my operations and how my development team is, how we’re being responsible stewards of the funding granted to us to carry out our mission. Also, always struggling to identify what are the risks, or things that the philanthropist, or the Grantmaker that I’m applying to was looking for, there’s no transparency there. Even when they say they’re investing in capacity building, what is defined as capacity building to them may be totally different as where I’m looking at capacity building of strengthening organizational processes, and expanding the organization and grow where they may be looking at something totally different.

DeAnna Hoskins: Because there’s no transparency, there’s no clear meaning. We struggle with that in the equitable. But you have larger organizations who may not be having the impact to infiltrate the communities we’re actually trying to engage with. Because they have this huge structure, they’ve been around for 60 years, it’s assumed that they are less risky than the newer organizations who are under 10-years-old.

Aleesha Taylor: For me, I define the risk as, or understand it as just simply the level of comfort that an organization, or a funder may have. I think it’s also important to recognize that at a definitional term, it really is obscure. That risk can be identified as, well understood as what Levi Strauss referred to as a floating signifier. Meaning, that there’s no agreed upon meaning and essentially means – inherently means different things to different people. I see it as an opportunity, or even a requirement really, for organizations to stop and define it. What does it mean, and what does it even refer to?

Aleesha Taylor: Also, to understand what or who is being put at risk? Do we understand if the organizations understand risk in terms of reputation, resources, physical safety, impact, or even emotional security of grantees? Also, who is impacted by risk? Just the funder? To what extent do we consider the risk to grantee partners? As DeAnna was saying, the critical piece there is for organizations to clarify and be transparent around their unique understanding and approach to risk.

Melanie Brown: I’ll just add, I mean, I agree with much that has been said. What I think of and I don’t think that funders do a good job of explaining this to grantees is that when I’m looking at making an investment, I’m also thinking about, is this investment going to allow me and therefore, the foundation to achieve its goals? Is it a risk to us meeting what we are being told we need to achieve in order to reach our goals, or to stay in alignment with our broader priorities?

Melanie Brown: It’s not always just about that individual partner, but how does this partner fit within a portfolio of investments that I’m trying to move in order to achieve a goal? I agree with DeAnna that it is very obscure, and it is very difficult to understand when a foundation says that you’re risky. At the same time, foundations should be willing to make risky investments. If we’re not making risky investments and making some mistakes, then we’re actually not doing our job. It is that balance of comfort, but it’s also a willingness to understand that you may have some outliers.

Melanie Brown: I always think of my work as a target. I have some partners who are on the bull’s eye of that target. Maybe those are ones that are a little bit safer, for whatever criteria I may use per se. Then I have some that are in the outer rings of that target. It doesn’t mean that they’re not good investments. It could mean that I’m testing some things out, but I’m willing to take a risk. I’m trying to see, is this something that could eventually go into that bullseye?

Melanie Brown: Then sometimes not everything has to fit into that bullseye, because that’s not how change happens with just one strategy. It is a combination of things. Then, the last thing I’ll say is just I often ask myself, what is the risk of not investing in a partner? I think, DeAnna, that you really hit on this. As I said, I lead our work foundation’s engagement with communities of color in the US. What does it risk if we don’t invest in those organizations? If we don’t invest in them at the same level, and over the same amount of time, we are other investments, our white-led organizations.

Melanie Brown: I just wanted to add that nuance that there is often a risk that if we look at these organizations, some of them who’ve been around for 60 years, and they’re not having impact with communities of color, the risk is actually to keep investing in them. That is the risk. Not to move funding to a new organization, or a person of color-led organization.

Nic Campbell: No, I really appreciate all of your definitions and the way you are looking at risk. From even what you just shared, you’re talking about risk being the level of comfort that a Grantmaker might have. There’s the risk of not investing and what happens if you don’t. Then really, that taking a step back and looking at the grant as a part of a portfolio of grants and within your grant making a single, how does that fit? Does it fit? And raising those questions.

Nic Campbell: I’m going to ask a follow-up question to what you all just shared. Do you think that black-led organizations are more impacted by how risk is perceived, defined or not defined at all? Do you actually think that the lack of definition that exists throughout the sector, particularly within grant making organizations is deliberate?

Melanie Brown: I would say yes, and then not have to expand on my answer. Yes, I do. Philanthropy is intentionally obscure. It’s not just for black-led organizations. Philanthropy doesn’t want you to know how we do what we do. Pushing for transparency in a sector that does not want to be transparent, historically has not – We’ve certainly seen some changes in that more recently, is a challenge in and of itself.

Melanie Brown: I think, if you look at anything in our society, where black-led, people of color is put at a disadvantage, we see that having some entropy as well. I think that we don’t define risk. One, I don’t think we could define risk. I don’t think there’s one definition for risk for every – That would be a blanket for the sector, but do think every institution could be better at thinking about risk. I have to believe that it’s intentional, even if it’s not intended to be harmful. I think, it’s intended to be a little bit close to the chest, to protect ourselves. I welcome a challenge to that.

DeAnna Hoskins: No, I totally agree that when I look at the risk of funders, and I’m a person who’s known to be very authentic, and just speak my voice. I look at situations that are happening now. I’ll take MacKenzie Scott. I love what she’s doing, actually disseminating it, but no one knows how to get on her radar. When you look at the organizations that she is investing in, you know there’s a team of researchers that are just investing and looking at people organizations from the outside, and not really even having conversation with operations, what is the impact?

DeAnna Hoskins: When you look at that, you look at okay, do I need to increase my social media presence? Do I need to be a nationally attached organization with chapters in 50 states? Do I need to be the black-led organization ran by formerly incarcerated individuals that’s attached to celebrities? Those different things that is actually being highlighted, when the true passion and the work lies within the impact that we’re having and the people were touching in the communities we’re empowering. Nobody knows. Nobody knows, even if it’s a secret anonymous ballot, how do you put who you are, so that they can identify these organizations that aren’t attached to celebrities, these organizations that don’t have chapters in every state, such as the Boys and Girls Club, or Planned Parenthood, that are actually have any impact?

DeAnna Hoskins: When I say, is it intentional, I think it is. Now, let me say something that I wanted to follow up on when she said, it’s risky not to invest in other organizations. Because here’s the thing, if we’re really going to change and our investments is around changing and making the world better in some way, we have to be willing to try something different. Sometimes trying something different is the innovation and the thinking outside the box, but it’s really hard to get philanthropy to move in that direction and take those chances when you don’t have those major celebrity connections, or you’re not in 50 different states.

DeAnna Hoskins: Do I think it’s additional? I think it is. While they’ll pick up some black-led organizations, or formerly incarcerated, you then look who they’re attached to. The one philanthropy doesn’t want to be the first one. Once one takes a chance, everyone else will follow, because it actually looks safe and we won’t be the only ones called out if it doesn’t work out.

Aleesha Taylor: Just to add to that, briefly, I think in addition to transparency around funders’ appetite for risk to build on what something that Melanie pointed out, I think there’s a lack of transparency around the actual goals and intentions of some organizations, and a need for transparency and clarity around that. Just to know, is an organization a funder seeking to create more diverse organizations, or diverse leadership in a sector? Is it to get more refugees in schools?

Aleesha Taylor: Some funders, their goal is to be perhaps, develop a reputation of being the riskiest, or being the largest and most prominent philanthropy that’s moving the needle on a particular issue. I think, understanding that broad goal and then finding the appetite, identifying the appetite for risk was in that framework.

Nic Campbell: What I’m hearing from you all is this idea that it’s intentional. There’s not a lot of transparency, and that’s deliberate. Then you are also struggling with this idea of what is actually the stated goal of the program, of the work, of the organization? I’m thinking about, how do we start to shift risk frameworks? I missed all of what you just shared, lack of transparency, it’s really deliberate. This lack of definition of risk is also very deliberate. How can we shift risk frameworks within Grantmakers, particularly in the context of capacity building? Given that we struggle with all of the things that you just called out? We’re also struggling with this idea of how do we invest in organizations? Do we focus on deliverables? Do we focus on outcomes? Do we focus on impact, which is building on what Aleesha just shared? How do you start to shift risk frameworks within Grantmakers, given the context in which we’re operating? Melanie, I’d love to get your thoughts on that.

Melanie Brown: I’d love to hear from one of my fellow panelists. I will admit to nothing sure. I’m not sure how we shift it. Individual crashes, yes. I think as institutions, it’s a lot more difficult. I don’t mean to not contribute, but I don’t want to fumble around in an answer. DeAnna and Aleesha has something much more brilliant to share.

Aleesha Taylor: Oh, no. Well, actually, it is brilliant, because I’m going to pick up on something that DeAnna has said. I’ll pick up on her brilliance. I think, one of the ways we can start to shift risk frameworks is really, perhaps by interrogating the grant-making of organizations. Looking into, for example, the example that Deanna held up around MacKenzie Scott, using this just as an example, and really tracing the types of organizations that funds are going to and really asking the question and assessing like, “Is this actually a risky investment when investments are channeled towards organizations with higher profile, celebrity connections, international and international networks?”

Aleesha Taylor: Who is favored and who is left out and asking those questions? Then looking at what, again, the goal that funders want to contribute to, or achieve and looking at and comparing their investments to their decisions around investments to the organizations, or a broader understanding of organizations that are on the ground and doing the work that they say that they want to invest in, and to see is there some space between that. Again, it’s almost forcing additional transparency.

DeAnna Hoskins: I’ll follow up to what Aleesha said. To even go deeper than that, I always question when funders say, “This is what we want to do with our money.” Versus, what is the mission you came to the work to create this foundation? Was it identifying the injustices that you see in a community, the injustices, or the disparities that you see? Are you perpetrating disparities in even your grantmaking while you’re saying your funding is going to disrupt disparities, right?

DeAnna Hoskins: I shy away from finding opportunities to say, this is what we want you to do with our funding. Because what you want me to do, because you don’t have close proximity to the problem, you’ve just read some research, may not be applicable in practice. Is there a way for funders to say, “This is our mission to disrupt the disparities that we see, the injustices?” But we’re going to support organizations that have close proximity to those issues, to help provide the solution and we’re not going to tell them how to drive the solution. We’re going to support their proposed solutions in that manner.

DeAnna Hoskins: I don’t know if that makes sense, because what happens, you typically go after funding, ad if you’re a small shop like us, while we’re national, if you’re a small shop like us, when I first took over JustLeadership in 2018, and coming from federal government managing the second chance portfolio, I felt like an octopus. Because I felt as if for sustainability of the organization, because most organizations or businesses fail within the first five years. As a new nonprofit, launched international attention, we were just grabbing funding. What that resulted in is me doing a different report for every funder, because I didn’t feel it was aligned to the mission of what this funding was supporting.

DeAnna Hoskins: We’ve been able to strategize, come up with a strategic plan, that any funding that comes into this organization is going to support and align with our mission to educate, elevate and empower the most marginalized individuals in those communities. Whether that’s through training, whether that’s through communications, whether that’s through actually working with Congress to address the policies, helping them build campaigns. I now have a strategic plan. No matter what funding we get, I can write a report that demonstrates our impact, our strategies, where we’ve been able to touch people, instead of actually building a development team that was more of donor management around the reporting, because we had to do all these different reports, because every funder expected me to do something different.

DeAnna Hoskins: What that has caused me to do, let’s be honest, I don’t have as much funding, because I’ve aligned and transparent with our mission. These are the funders that we actually go after and work with, who allow us the space to be who we are, who allow us the space to be authentic, but also, who allow us the space to invest in communities the way we have aligned with our mission, instead of telling us what to do. Which to me, sometimes take me off mission.

DeAnna Hoskins: As a small shop, I have probably have to hire a team to manage that grant for two years. After two years, I’m perpetrating what I’m trying to disrupt. Because now I’m laying people off, because that program no longer have funding. If you support us as an organization, we can build our capacity around sustainability, because we’re aligned and driven.

Aleesha Taylor: I think, that’s another critical piece that DeAnna brings up. I think, we often think about risks at the decision-making point of the funder, and don’t consider the risks to the organization after funding is dispersed. Then also, more importantly, after funders decide to perhaps shift and make a decision, when no longer funding education, or we’re no longer funding a particular issue and what risks have you exposed that grantee to after you have supported their organizations, or their programs as opposed to the organization.

Melanie Brown: Just something I was going to – that just came to mind, DeAnna, as you were speaking is a question of, I don’t think I even asked enough in engaging with partners, but what can we do together? I think that sense of not I’m giving you money to achieve our goals, or that it’s just a sense of like, okay, well, it’s charity. I’m just giving you money. But it’s like, we can strategically come together. We need each other.

Melanie Brown: Now he’s trying to say that, that I can’t do my job without really good organizations who can execute on the work. We know that really good organizations who can execute me the resources to do it. That shift in power dynamic about approaching these issues is something that we can achieve together that we need each other is something that I think more funders need to do.

Melanie Brown: Then, that also led me to think of when I heard you talking about the different reports and reporting sectors and timelines is that we can work together more. We say this all the time. We always say we can collaborate, and we can we can work better together. It really is something that just hasn’t happened enough. To your earlier point, DeAnna, around foundations are often afraid to be the first, if you’re partnering, then you don’t have to be the first. You’re doing something together. It is like you said, Aleesha, where eventually your foundation says, “We’re not doing education anymore.” You’re not dropping the ball on these organizations. They have other opportunities to still receive funding.

Melanie Brown: I don’t think there’s a role for funders to vouch for the organizations that they invest in. There’s a responsibility for funders not to just say, “Oh, here’s your grant.” But to introduce you. Maybe you’re not as out there. Maybe you don’t have a celebrity connected to you, which to me is always a red flag, by the way. Any org that has a celebrity attached to it, I’m like, “I don’t know about that.”

Melanie Brown: But then I can be the person to vouch for you, right? It’s not just about our dollars vouching for you. It’s actually me taking the time to talk to other funders about your work, even if I’m not able to invest in. Maybe I say, this is a great organization. It’s not aligned to our work, but I think it’s aligned to your work to make a connection. Can I do that for you. I think that we can do that more as funders.

DeAnna Hoskins: I really appreciate that, Melanie, because I do think looking at it as a partnership, and not just a giving of funding. I’m going to hold you accountable. This is a partnership. In reality, the mission of the foundation should align with the mission of the organization, so that would be a partnership to actually address some change. Also, another thing we have to be strategically aware of is nothing in the world is going to change in one or two years. This is a conversation I’ve been having with funders.

DeAnna Hoskins: I have to, as a black-led organization say, do I take your generous gift over 24 months, and knowing after 24 months, this generosity is going to leave, versus going with a funder who gives me a smaller gift, but gives me five years runway? As those impacts, because as an executive director or president, what I find myself, I never can leave the organization, because I’m always in fundraiser mode. I’m always in fundraising mode. I have 15 people, families who depend on me raising funds for the next year, that the stress that is on me to still show up publicly on panels, to still show up as the face of this organization. After 5:00 when everybody else goes home, I’m strategizing on what relationships and doors I need to open, because there are 15 families making sure I can raise the funds for next year, because I’m losing 2.5 million in two year grants that’s getting ready to drop off.

DeAnna Hoskins: Even if funders look at how do we wean people off? If I give you a million a year, and we’re changing our direction, we don’t drop you. I think Melanie said, we don’t drop you. How do we wean you off? Because so you can start to replace. But we’re introducing you to other funders as well, because our portfolio, our name is not as big as a Goodwill, or Salvation Army, but our impact smashes theirs of being in marginalized communities than you can ever think about.

DeAnna Hoskins: What are we really looking at? How do we define that partnership is very important, because we have to make real decisions? Sometimes that can cause us harm. As a organization, if you really want us to have a presence and have an impact, how do we stay on that trajectory when we’re always in fundraising mode, because funders are only allocating funding for one or two years, but change doesn’t happen in that short amount of time.

Nic Campbell: Right. What I’ve heard from each of you is talking about this increased partnership that’s needed between our among funders, I’m thinking about risk management, which is this idea that risk doesn’t just end after you ask the question on the application. It’s also about what happens post-award and throughout the grant as well. Then listening really intently to your grantees, to your organizations that you’re funding and saying, you’re closest to the problem, and likely the solution. Where can we leverage your expertise? How can we support that?

Nic Campbell: What a lot of this then comes down to is accountability. How do you make sure that funders are doing exactly what we just described, or creating an environment that we just described? When we think about accountability, who holds folks accountable? Who was making sure that these Grantmakers are actually doing what we just talked about? That they are funding in the way that we’re talking about? Aleesha, you said something that really stuck with me, which was, we need to interrogate their grant-making. Who’s doing the interrogation?

DeAnna Hoskins: That’s dangerous to be in. It is. Are there certain Grantmakers I can have that conversation with? Honestly, yes. Because we built a relationship, right? Is there fear of backlash and the power dynamics? There is, and I’ll share one. When I first took over this organization, there was a huge funder that supported campaigns that were going on through this organization. As I was coming in, looking at shifting, they wanted me to make certain hiring decisions.

DeAnna Hoskins: One, they didn’t believe in my leadership, as an African-American woman, not from New York, and never had touched feet and Close Rikers, how was I going to lead the Close Rikers Campaign? I immediately had the conversation that they didn’t understand leadership, because leadership is not about me. Leadership is about me empowering other people who have been impacted to lead that campaign, which we successfully did.

DeAnna Hoskins: Two, she demanded I make a hiring decision in leadership that I was not willing to make. In terms, let me know that if I didn’t, that she would not be supporting this organization moving forward. I had to be okay with that. It was a huge amount of funding that we lost. What I realized that I was giving up was my voice and authentically who I was. The conversation switched. I remember returning the current funding we had, because I was determined, you couldn’t talk to me like that. You weren’t going to belittle me like that.

DeAnna Hoskins: What that resulted in was her going to other funders, character assassinating me. Thankfully, I had relationships with other funders who knew my integrity of working in the federal government, managing 85-million-dollar federal grants, work in state and local, that she was not able to have the impact. I thought about the power dynamic of that position she was in, because I wouldn’t leave the power, or do what she wanted me to do, which was not in the best interest of the organization, because she didn’t have close proximity, and didn’t understand leadership.

DeAnna Hoskins: I always go back to that. Even today, when I’m in funder spaces, she shows up. She’s there. We speak. We’re cordial. Even in my organization, I will not submit an application to that funder for supporting funding, and she’s huge in the criminal justice realm. Because of the power dynamics that she shifted on me, one, I know she’s not going to approve it. Two, I have to maintain my integrity. Because if I have to lose my voice, I no longer need to be in this seat of leadership that I’m in.

Aleesha Taylor: I think, it’s really critical for to answer your question, Nic, and to build on what DeAnna has said for – Your question made me reflect also on my role in the field, and how oftentimes, when I’m contacted either to sit on panels, or to do some strategic work, a common thread that I tend to get is that, “Well, Aleesha, we need you in the room, because you’re able to speak the truth to funders.”

Aleesha Taylor: I think, there’s a responsibility for those of us who don’t have the restrictions and the constraints of getting our funding cut to our organizations to actually step up and play a larger role in calling out and exposing those power dynamics. Actually, it’s horrible, that DeAnna would have to – just the fact that she has to remain cordial to someone who really tried that character assassination, and also attempt to diminish the work of her organization in the field. Calling out that specific issue, and I think it’s a reflection of the lack of accountability that we have towards that we place on funders.

Aleesha Taylor: That risk and accountability is always just placed, put at the feet, or laid at the feet of the grantee partners that are doing the work. In some ways, I also see that as a call to action for some of us, depending on our positions in the field.

Melanie Brown: I would just say, I agree. I mean, I think, Aleesha, you set in a really interesting in between space where you can be that advocate, or that person that speaks truth to power. I think, philanthropy needs to have a reckoning. I mean, I can’t very well think that people should be called out for one thing over here and then think – but don’t call out funders. We’re trying our best. No, these power dynamics that are in play or in philanthropy and are in so many other things. My belief is as hard as I know that it is is that it should be called out. It should be a conversation that if we are committed to making the world better, whatever that means for different organizations and for different philanthropies, then we can’t somehow think that we are immune to critique, that we are above critique, that we are not ourselves perpetuating many of the issues that we say we are committed to achieving.

Melanie Brown: I try to build relationships with my grantees where they feel they can come to me, but who’s to say I don’t have blind spots? Who’s to say that, that there still aren’t things that I’m doing, that I need to be more aware of? I think, there’s moments when it makes sense to call out. There’s moments where we call people in, and we try to – It sounds like in your situation, DeAnna, calling in was probably not going to work.

Melanie Brown: Let me also just say, that is absolutely horrible and that is disgusting. That is someone who would probably behave like that in whatever profession they were in. Not to take anything off of the responsibility as a funder, but that sounds like someone who has their own issues and hasn’t done their own personal work. A funder who is advising you on, or even forcing you on hiring decisions, in 15 years, I have never done that. I don’t understand why someone feels they have the right to do that. You were right not to accept those dollars. I do think that the balance of calling in and calling out is what is needed.

Nic Campbell: What I’m hearing from you all is that if you’re in the room, and you’re a stakeholder in this entire grant-making process, think about the role that you’re playing. When you’re seeing behaviors, practices, policies, that are not in-line with equitable grant-making focus, to call it out. Particularly when you are sitting in “the power seat,” or you are in that power part of the equation.

Melanie Brown: Can I add one thing, Nic, that when I was early in my – starting in philanthropy, I had a colleague say to me that I have to be willing to risk my privilege as a funder to do what’s right in the sector. I’m in the room in a way that my grantees aren’t. If I hear the way that we’re talking about people of color-led organizations, or the way that we’re talking about an organization in particular, and I know that it’s wrong, I have to be willing to risk my privilege as a program officer, as a director, as a whatever I am inside that institution to say, that’s not right. I challenge other funders to do the same.

Stef Wong: That concludes part one of this series. Next week, Nic, Melanie, DeAnna and Aleesha will go in more depth regarding equitable grant-making. Additionally, if you’re interested in partnering with a law firm that leverages a global network of experienced attorneys with decades of legal training and practical experience, and focuses on social impact organizations to serve as an outsourced general counsel and thought partner, then schedule a discovery call with the Campbell Law Firm today. 

Stef Wong: The Campbell Law Firm works with brave non-profits, philanthropists, ultra-high net worth individuals and movements, offering high-touch counsel to social impact entrepreneurs and organizations around the world. We would love to hear more about your brave mission to change the world.

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Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the non-profit sector. Keep building bravely.

Part Two

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Nic Campbell: You’re listening to the Nonprofit Build Up podcast. And I’m your host, Nic Campbell. I want to support movements that can interrupt cycles of injustice and inequity and shift power towards vulnerable and marginalized communities. I’ve spent years working in and with nonprofits and philanthropies, and I know how important infrastructure is to outcomes. On this show, we’ll talk about how to build capacity to transform the way you and your organization work. 

Stef Wong: Hi, everyone. It’s Steph, Build Up’s Executive Portfolio Liaison. This week on the Nonprofit Build Up is part two of a two-part panel discussion originally recorded at the PEAK 2022 Conference.

Stef Wong: Moderated by Build Up CEO, A. Nicole Campbell, and in conversation with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Deputy Director, Melanie Brown; JustLeadershipUSA’s President and CEO, DeAnna Hoskins; and Herald Advisor’s principal, Aleesha Taylor. 

Stef Wong: This presentation was originally recorded in March 2022. You can jump back to part 1 of the conversation to learn more about managing risk for equitable grant making. But with that, let’s dive into the second part of Nic, Melanie, DeAnna and Aleesha’s discussion where they dive into the practice of progressive grant making, the inequities that traditional grant making has on marginalized communities funders’ aim to serve, and how to align grant making with an organization’s appetite for risk. You won’t want to miss it. 

Nic Campbell: I really like that framing, Melanie. And you know we’ve talked about funders, the role that they can play and how we can hold funders accountable to make sure that we are in this equitable grantmaking space. And I want to make sure that we focus on grantee practices as we think about grant making as a whole. What do grantees need to wrestle with when it comes to risk? And what does reframing of risk look like for grantee organizations? DeAnna, I would love to get your thoughts on those questions. 

DeAnna Hoskins: One, I think grantee organizations have to take a look internally. I actually look at internal processes to ensure that safety nets are in place. And I guess this is my – People say my PTSD are coming from government, because I just believe you have to be good stewards of the money entrusted in you. So, what are the processes and procedures you have in place? 

DeAnna Hoskins: One, to physically be held accountable. But two, that you’re not even wearing your staff out that Just is going to be an opportunity to build your staff and build the capacity of the organization. That even when this funding goes, that’s going to be sustainable, right? 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, one of the things that I do within the organization that I had to do to minimize risk was I couldn’t be the only decision maker in the organization. I realized structures, our titles, are there because we’re in a capitalist world. And they need to know somebody’s running the ship. But in decision making or funding opportunities, we collectively do it as a team. And sometimes I get outvoted because my team is actually delivering it. They’re actually doing the work. And I have to be mindful of the harm I’m causing them by chasing funding, right? 

DeAnna Hoskins: But I also think we have to be honest with ourselves. Am I, one, operationally prepared to go after five million dollars? Two, do I have the capacity to deliver on what I’m saying I’m going to deliver on in this proposal? And then three, what is my potential sustainability plan if I get this and I expand my organization, I do these things, what are my potential sustainability plans to keep it on that I keep my staff on? That I’m able to have a team. I’m not just chasing funding and hiring people, firing people. But then two, what does that sustainability look like, right? And for me, again, you could tell I’m a storyteller. I’ll share that, for me, being bold, we have this this culture in our organization that we’re going to boldly call out what it is. 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, while we address criminal justice issue, we’re boldly calling out the racial disparities and equalities in the various systems that filter into criminal justice. Because if I stay talking about criminal justice as the only problem, criminal justice ain’t going to be sexy in seven years with funders, right? Funders are going to go somewhere else. 

DeAnna Hoskins: But the one thing, no matter if it’s education, reproductive rights, criminal justice, mental health, substance abuse, it’s always a racial disparity to it. And if you follow it, through the end results of those failed systems, that systemic poverty and all those things, always fall into the criminal justice system, right? 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, in order not to bury ourselves and be limited to funding and then everybody’s going after the same money, we’re trying to change a system that has created racial disparities in economics, reproductive rights, education, mental health, access to all these things. 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, as an organization I had to strategically look, “How do I sustain this organization while still meeting our overall mission of disrupting the oppressive and marginalizing policies that are actually having the impact on the communities we’re trying to empower?” 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, it was like turning a ship in the middle of the ocean without anyone on board feeling the turn? Without anyone on board filling the turn. And then you’re here, you have this strategic plan. And just so happened what was happening in the world at the time unfortunately aligned with what you were saying. So, when everyone was saying, “We don’t know what you’re talking about. Why you’re doing that?” George Floyd happened. Breonna Taylor happened, right? COVID happened. And now everyone’s like, “Oh my God! We get it.” No. We’ve been screaming this, and that’s because you didn’t have close proximity to the problem like we did is why we were screaming it before the world noticed it. But you have to be bold enough to stand in your own lane and own that lane. 

Nic Campbell: No. I really appreciate just your response, DeAnna. Because what it what it signals to me is that we need to think about preparedness. We need to do this introspective look into capacity. And I really like this focus on sustainability planning. That you’re not just taking in funds for the moment, but you’re looking in the go forward. What do we need to actually be able to stand up for the long term? And I really appreciate all of that framework. We’re thinking particularly about grantee organizations. 

Nic Campbell: We also talk a lot about this term cultural competence, right? Sure, this is not the first time that many of us have heard that. But we talk a lot about cultural competence within the sector. And I’d love to hear how you all think about cultural competence, particularly as we’re talking about equitable grantmaking and we’re trying to center equity in our work. What role can cultural competence play in grantmaking strategy and implementation? 

Nic Campbell: Again, listening to all of your responses. So far, we’ve talked about listening. We’ve talked about accountability. How to work collaboratively? How does cultural competence come into play when we’re thinking about strategy and implementation?

Aleesha Taylor: I think with cultural competence, it’s about the importance of understanding the dynamics within the communities being served and really knowing if and when multiple sets of norms and rules are in play and the dynamics between them. And it gets directly to also what DeAnna was talking about around partnering. The importance of partnering with individuals who are closest to the problem. And understanding also cultural competence within communities. But then also cultural competence within our organizations, within the funding organizations and how the different dynamics play together. And so, I think the first step is just having an appreciation for overlapping interest. And understanding how power and power dynamics impact them. 

Melanie Brown: Yeah, I would agree. And I think for me, a lot of it is being able to show up in my work as my full self, as my full intersectional self, and allowing that to be an asset. And not something that has to be diminished in order to make a good investment. And so, I think it’s not far from what you’re saying, Aleesha, is being able to say like, “I do understand some of these dynamics in these communities. And some of them maybe I don’t understand because it might connect to my black identity, but it may not have connected to my class identity,” for example. 

Melanie Brown: And so, Just being funders is not being philantropoids as I like to say, right? Like, we are people and bringing that full personal self to the work. And I’ll add, at the Gates Foundation, a lot of our work is – The majority of our work is global. And so, even though we focus – My team focuses on relationships in the US. It is relationships that allow us to do our work in the US and across the world on issues around global health and global development. And so, humility is required, right? To act with the cultural competence is a respect that your culture, your ways of working, of knowing, of being are not the only ways. And so, that is when I think of cultural confidence. 

Melanie Brown: And I initially have like a knee-jerk reaction to that label, because it does become like another way of just saying, “This is how we should be treating people, right?” And so, we should need a label for it. We should value the perspectives of folks who are different than us. But that’s something that I always start with. 

Melanie Brown: And I always look, I will say – And this is related to managing risk, is I’m thinking about values and skills. And so, cultural competence is not solely focused on the skills or the way that we think about skills and executing, but also the values that people bring to their work. And balancing that as being equal to someone’s ability to do it is what are the values that are coming from these communities or these constituencies that are just as important to the work that we’re trying to do as what might be a focus on another cultural way of knowing, or doing, or being. 

DeAnna Hoskins: I’ll just follow up in total agreeance, but also being willing to be culturally competent is to be self-aware. That I need more than one opinion at the table. So, when we start talking about having a cultural awareness of different things, we do technical assistance with federal government entities who are implementing re-entry initiatives across the country. And when grantees struggle with recruitment or retaining participants who are leaving incarceration, moving to their community, they kind of reach out to us as formerly incarcerated people and say, “What can we do?” 

DeAnna Hoskins: And I immediately know, if this is a tribal grantee, working with a tribal population, DeAnna is not the person that acts on how to do recruitment, right? DeAnna reaches out to another leader who has a native American background who’s that’s their culture. There are certain things that we will never be able to tap into that taps into a person. But self-awareness of knowing just because I’m in the power seat to make the decision, I don’t have the knowledge culturally to actually have the impact that’s intended. 

DeAnna Hoskins: And I think it goes back to Melanie’s talking about humbleness and knowing when to step back that this is not my lane. Just because I’m the one who’s in charge of the project or in charge of this portfolio, I need. So, I wonder when organizations or funders say we’ve created a DEI task force, right? And then I look at the task force and I’ll be like, “Well, who are they culturally for the change to actually do something?” Because just because you’re actually making a task force to say you’re addressing that, are you truly having representation of the various cultures of the constituencies that you’re trying to impact at that table? And it goes to what Melanie said, just because I’m an African-American person at that table, can I put aside my class privilege to actually have the impact, of my black impact, that is happening in the marginalized communities? 

DeAnna Hoskins: Even having the ability to separate it even if I, within a race, identify, I may have obtained other privileges that I can no longer connect to. So, I have to be self-aware to put that on the table to say, “DeAnna, you’ve broken through glass ceilings of careers and different things. That’s on the table. Go back to the impoverished community from where you were with. And how is this policy, or this impact, or process going to impact those most marginalized who have not yet to obtain that?”

DeAnna Hoskins: So, self-aware. But also, just not how we give our grants. Do we go deep enough within organizations to look internally within their own HR hiring policies and different things of that nature that actually perpetrate the same disparities and cultural impact that they’re saying they’re trying to have outward? Are they doing it internally? Because I believe you can’t sustain it outwardly if you haven’t changed your culture and adaptation internally.

Nic Campbell: It makes me just think about the different ways in which you can lead, right? So, when we think about cultural competence, it’s this idea that you just don’t always have to be at the forefront knowing everything. I’m being that person. But it’s actually knowing when to take a step back and saying, “Someone else should lead this conversation. And I will be supporting that leadership.” So, everything that you all shared makes me think about how do we re-envision leadership in many of these contexts in which we find ourselves? 

Nic Campbell: And something you said, Deanna, was about how do you look internally, right? We start that evaluation process. And it should happen first internally. And then we start to look at what are the impacts of our work and our grantmaking? And so, I would love us to just talk and highlight a little bit about evaluation of work and impact just to hear from you all on how do you develop a shared understanding of risk within your organization? Where neither its application of risk, of this definition, or the definition itself perpetuates systemic racism in grantmaking and promotes equitable evaluation. 

Nic Campbell: So, we’ve talked about all of this to this point where we’re saying, “How can we continue to be self-aware enough to realize when we are not stepping into those same harmful practices and protocols that we’re trying to fight against?” So, how do you develop that shared understanding of risk to actually get us to the point where we are not perpetuating harm? 

DeAnna Hoskins: Nic, are you asking from an organizational standpoint? For me, just in this work, I’ve always, whether hired by the Board of County Commissioners, the governor, whatever the work that we were supposed to do externally, I would always look internally to see are we even doing it? And I could not be a voice for organization externally about practices and procedures that we weren’t following internally. 

DeAnna Hoskins: My current position, we’re promoting that formerly incarcerated directly impacted people need to be in positions of leadership making decisions. But I was the only person formerly incarcerated in leadership. So, I had to immediately change that and address that, that I had to walk the walk that I was talking to authentically own it, to have the credibility. But that was, if I truly believe that people who have close proximity to the issue should be in leadership in decision making at those policy tables, I had to actually replicate that internally because I believe in that, right? 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, it shows where the organizations are. I always say I look at an organization and they say this is what we’re doing for the most marginalized communities in African-American communities. Then I look at your whole executive team and leadership in your board of directors and there’s not one African-American on there. You’re just actually saying it. Because you internally have not ingested that to say, “This is what we believe in. And this is how we operate because we’re going to role model.” 

DeAnna Hoskins: Part of leadership, we teach principles of leadership. And the main principle of leadership is modeling the way. Don’t tell me what you want to do. Show me what you are actually saying you want to do because it will perpetrate out. And that’s a huge component of leadership even when I look at opportunities of advancement for myself. And people say this is what we do and what we want to do. And then I look inside internally and you don’t replicate what you’re saying. So, I think that, for organizations, we have to internally digest. If we’re asking people to be fair and equitable, are we internally fair and equitable to our team that we’re building as well? 

Aleesha Taylor: I think, and also, to build on that beyond the representation amongst decision makers and leadership is looking at, even if you have a diverse table, who has power and who has voice? And who feels supported enough to take risks and present perhaps risky portfolios? 

Aleesha Taylor: I think one thing I’m going to start suggesting to some of my clients is to, first of all, study the facial expressions that we saw this week with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson and study them and look around your tables during board meetings and portfolio reviews. And if you see them, just note that perhaps your organization has a problem and needs to take a step back. 

Aleesha Taylor: So, I think, again, it’s really that focused attention on power and voice really. And who is able to really speak freely once they are at what we hope to be as a diverse decision-making table? And speak freely without repercussion. 

Melanie Brown: Yeah, I’ll just build on that just to say one thing as a leader and as a newer leader, someone who’s just recently within the last year taking on a leadership position, is giving my team permission to fail. And so, sometimes I don’t fully see the vision, I will admit. But to say like, “Okay, let’s try it. Let’s see.” And that being okay to do something that’s a little bit more risky. Something that is challenging the norms within our organization or within the sector. And let’s see if it works. Let’s try it. 

Nic Campbell: I love it all. So, I completely agree. And again, this theme of leadership. Giving folks permission to fail when we’re thinking about how do we start this evaluation process? And making sure that it’s starting internally before we then move externally.

Melanie Brown: And let me say something, DeAnna, to your point if you’re not able to walk the walk or talk the talk. Then don’t be out in front, right? If you know something is a direction that you should be going into – And I say this all the time. Like, funders and grantees are partners. And often, I have in the past used my funders to push my organization towards a direction. And so, sometimes you’re right. We may not be doing the work internally that we need to be doing. But I can move money into this organization who is and begin to show that we could be going in this direction. But then I shouldn’t come to you and say, “Oh, DeAnna, I’ve already figured it out,” right? I need to then understand to be behind you and to let you lead the way until my organization is ready. 

Nic Campbell: So, we wanted to also save some time for some Q&A. And we already have some questions that have come in. And so, I would encourage you to continue to submit questions in the chat and we’ll see if we can get to them during this conversation. So, the first question, and this is to any of you. And it’s, “Can you address the line between the technical assistance that’s offered by a funder and that kind of prescriptive dictation of how funds should actually be spent?” We see this come up a lot. I would love to get some thoughts. 

DeAnna Hoskins: I hate to keep going first. But I think it’s the clear definition of what is technical assistance, right? Because it can take on many facets of it. And I think Melanie talked about one. One of the technical assistants can be simply I need the introduction to other funders or relationships that you have around the work we’re doing. But then you get into a technical assistance of, “This is how you should be running your program. This is how you should be hiring your structure and different things of that nature.” 

DeAnna Hoskins: I think identifying what technical assistance look like, or is it technical assistance, or is it simply support? We’re here to support you. If you find yourself struggling with carrying out some of the objectives of the grant. Maybe the technical assistance of support is actually moving your grant date. Giving you an extension of time, right? That you don’t feel overwhelmed because you had to ramp up to actually get to the deliverables of the grant. Or in the middle of the grant, the technical assistance can be the flexibility of working with you to put in a budget modification or a scope of work modification. Because once you got into it, what you outlined to implement, the community had another direction and priority that you need to address and support with getting to the overall goal. 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, what is technical assistance? I think it’s kind of like risk. It’s not a broad topic. Philanthropy comes at it as we’re going to hold your hand around finances, operations or programmatic issues where it simply may be supporting you to actually move the needle. Because sometimes when you write the grant was the issue. But when you get to the community, the community may have identified another priority. So, I think transparency and clarity on is it technical assistance that guides you? Or is the support that supports you? 

Aleesha Taylor: I think it’s also important for funders to think about technical assistance beyond the program or project deliverables and to think about what additional support might, as DeAnna was saying, the organization need around perhaps around institutional development? Perhaps it can be about board strengthening or strengthening their governance systems and things things that will support the organization to be stronger after technical assistance that enables the organization to be stronger after the grant period. I think, again, like it’s about reframing our understanding of technical assistance. 

Melanie Brown: And I’ll just say quickly about the line when it goes too far, is I wonder if that’s a call-in, call-out moment for an executive director to say to the funder, “I appreciate the assistance. But this is actually not where we need the help.” And to have that be a conversation between what feels like overstep on part of the funder. Or just quite frankly, missing the mark, right? Of just not being able to see the organization in the same light they do. 

Melanie Brown: I will never see and understand an organization better than any of the grantees that run it because I’m not thinking about it day to day. It’s not my organization. It’s not what I do. And so, how can you use that example where there is that line being crossed to say, “This technical assistance is not helping. This is not where we are right now. And how can we work together to get some clarity on that and to get to a place that achieves what you need to achieve, funder, but is also beneficial to our organization?” 

Nic Campbell: Right, that reframe of, “How are we actually supporting you? How are we continuing to invest in your sustainability?” 

Nic Campbell: So, another question is, have any of you done work around assessing risk tolerance with the board, with the organization, with the organization’s leadership or their staff? And if you have, have you seen a disconnect where the board might want to be riskier but the staff wants to move a little bit cautiously? Or vice versa? And what have you done in that situation? 

DeAnna Hoskins: That’s scary. And I’ll say it’s scary because, as a President, CEO, not only am I running an organization to have an impact driven around the mission. I’m actually running a business. And sometimes those are making business decisions and your board may be focused on the mission and not understand investments, right? Stabilization of the organization. Why are we moving in that direction? 

DeAnna Hoskins: I think one of the biggest for me was I came into an organization that had a founding board. And so, we know founding boards support the founder more so and get aligned with the mission. As we were pivoting, we had people who struggled. Why are we pivoting? This is not – And literally, I had to go search and find the founding documents that talked about, “I’m not driving us away from my mission. I’m just trying to get us aligned with our mission,” right? 

DeAnna Hoskins: But because what threw us into the natural spotlight was so opposite, it literally became the tail wagging the dog versus the dog wagging the tail of the organization. But that was bringing the board along. But then I had staff who literally came on for the actual other things of the organization and not the founding principles, the mission, and had no understanding why we were going there. And I had a huge turnover. But I had to plan for that because I knew it was coming. 

DeAnna Hoskins: As a leadership position, I was transparent. I prepared for the huge turnover. But I also prepared for the huge turnover to actually work with the staff that I knew was going to be a part of the reduction in force and give them options of other job assignments that aligned with the mission and still was in line with what they did. And of course, people were not there. 

DeAnna Hoskins: So, I was struggling. And at one time I thought, “I’m going to be the only person in this organization with a laptop. I’m going to have to start from scratch.” But it was understanding the business model of it. And I was faced between staff who was not okay with the change in the pivot or the risk. And then I was a risk to the funders, because funders had got behind this national theme, and here I was pivoting this shift. 

DeAnna Hoskins: But as a leader and understanding of non-profit management, that mission drift happens. And if you don’t stay in line with your mission, you’re going to find yourself all over the place. And staying focused on that, we’ve survived it. But it was. I lost some funder relationships. I’ve lost a couple of board members. And I’ve lost over 50% of the staff when we were doing that pivot. We’ve built back up since then aligned with the mission. But that was a scary time, because I had to look from a personal career objective. Am I killing my career by being willing to take this risk and moving everyone in the organization along from the board, the funders and the staff in this direction to get in line? Turned out to be the right decision. But it was a really stressful scary time. 

Nic Campbell: Thanks for sharing that, DeAnna. And I think in terms of the time, I know we just have a five or so more minutes. And I want to make sure I ask a question that sort of can tie up all of what we’ve talked through today. And so, based on everything that we’ve discussed and we’ve talked through practices, tools, mindsets as well, right? That shift that has to happen even individually when you are a grant maker within a grantmaking organization. What do you all think is the next step for grant makers to legitimately support the storytelling of historically marginalized communities in such a way that strengthens both grantee capacity as well as the communities in which those grantees operate? 

Nic Campbell: So, it’s a big question. But we’ve had a big conversation. So, I would love to get your thoughts on how we move forward from here. 

Aleesha Taylor: I think, briefly, one of the key things is just to embrace the messiness of narratives and storytelling. And to really recognize that change is not linear. And I think we fundamentally understand that. But then we still want these sort of neat and linear strategies and stories that are tied with a bow. And so, I think a first step is just understanding that we move through paradoxes. And stories just aren’t neat and linear. 

Melanie Brown: I would say a return to – I don’t know if it’s a return. But truth-telling. I think we have to be honest with ourselves that the stories that we’ve been telling are not the full stories and they’re not the only stories. And in a world where truth is in question – I forget the phrase that was used by the last administration. But there was some phrase that that was used about something. It’s like not a true – There’s some in between truth and a lie. 

Melanie Brown: And we can’t even just blame it on the last administration. We’ve been down this path. There’s been a long history especially – Of course, in the world, especially in this country, of people lying about how things have gotten to the place where they are. And so, I think a return to truth. And one way to do that is through stories. 

Melanie Brown: I will just give a shout out to an organization that I love, which is Pop Culture Collaborative. I think the way that they are tapping into pop culture to reframe those narratives. If you’re not familiar with them, I encourage everyone to take a look. But I think that’s what’s needed for philanthropy, is a reckoning with the stories that we have told ourselves and how we’ve allowed those stories. Because some of them are done with really good intentions, right? 

Melanie Brown: I mean, I’m not saying that it’s always negative. That we tell ourselves these stories about who people are, and what they need, and how they don’t know what’s best for them and for their communities. And so, all of that needs to change. And I don’t want to change that. I don’t need to look at a chart and a graph to know that that needs to change. And I think what will change hearts and minds is the stories that we amplify with the stories that we allow to also infiltrate our thinking and our work. 

DeAnna Hoskins: I’ll just follow up that I concur with everything Melanie says something really powerful, that stories change hearts and minds. People change policies based on humanizing the issues. But also knowing the stories, tell the story that – From my perspective of the world, that people committed violent crimes, people formerly incarcerated are not hindered by advancing and becoming productive members of society. But we’ve kept that so secret only to the nonprofit narrative to raise funds, but not actually to storytelling to actually change and actually humanize the issues around the individuals we’re addressing, right? 

DeAnna Hoskins: And we continue to allow – Melanie said something very important, and it made me think of where we are in this country. That even in spite of knowing truth-telling has to be centered, there are still people fighting for certain populations of knowing the true history, right? And I just believe that if you don’t understand where a person has been or what the process has been, you can’t make adequate changes that actually undoes that injustice. So, storytelling has to be centered. But the space has to welcome it as well. Instead of charts and graphs, as Melanie said, how do [inaudible 00:32:10] from the theory of change? That people change? Communities are changing? Because that is actually the deliverable and the impact we’re actually finding to do in this work.

Nic Campbell: Yeah. And I think I think what you each have shared, these are really the principles around equitable grantmaking at the end of the day, right? This idea that change is not going to be linear. It’s about how do you step in and really manage any sort of risk that might come up. 

Nic Campbell: As Aleesha said, embrace the messiness. And then truth-telling. There needs to be this reckoning for philanthropy to make sure that we are accountable for the things that we say we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it. And then finally, DeAnna, your point about just centering. Humans human-centered work at the end of the day. 

Nic Campbell: And for everyone who joined us, this conversation should not end here. The question now is how do we take forward what we heard here to change our own personal behavior as grant makers transform organizational behavior, and the culture of grant making organizations and institutions, and continue to build bravely. 

Nic Campbell: I want to say my immense thanks to our panelists, our wonderful panelists, Aleesha, Melanie and DeAnna for such powerful sharing of your own experiences and your expertise. And I want to thank all of you who joined us for your time and your engagement. 

Stef Wong: And that completes this two-part series of managing risk for equitable grantmaking. As we wrap up, if you are interested in partnering with a law firm that leverages a global network of experienced attorneys with decades of legal training and practical experience and focuses on social impact organizations to serve as an outsourced general counsel and thought partner, then schedule a discovery call with the Campbell Law Firm today.

Stef Wong: The Campbell Law firm works with brave non-profits, philanthropists, ultra-high-net-worth individuals and movements offering high-touch counsel to social impact entrepreneurs and organizations around the world. We would love to hear more about your brave mission to change the world. 

Nic Campbell: Thank you for listening to this episode of Nonprofit Build Up. To access the show notes, additional resources and information on how you can work with us, please visit our website at buildupadvisory.com. We invite you to listen again next week as we share another episode about scaling impact by building infrastructure and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Keep building bravely.

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