Remarks at DC Fund inaugural event

From the history of the Diverse City Fund – Burke Stansbury, November 22, 2011

It’s pretty remarkable how far we’ve come in a little over a year… from a couple people talking about some of the challenges facing grassroots groups in DC as well as problems we saw with the non-profit funding models out there, to an actual Fund giving away it’s first set of grants.

How did it happen?  Without going into many details, I want to emphasize a couple things that are exciting to me about the DC Fund and in so doing tell some of its story:

  •  The DC Fund is a cross-class giving project.  In the earlier meetings we brought together community leaders fighting to sustain their work with people like me who have access to wealth and are involved in forms of philanthropy that aim to build social justice into the ways we give.  Before getting into the nuts and bolts of how to structure the Fund we had lots of conversations about community, the role of money in organizing, power dynamics around race, and class, and our vision for what a better city would look like.  As time went on we brought a lot more people into that conversation, through 1-on1s, small meetings and house parties, culminating in a gathering this past May of about 30 different community leaders in which we laid out our progress and got feedback.
  •  We are talking about race. From the beginning the conversations around starting the DC Fund centered around an analysis of race, gentrification, and displacement in the district.  When we met with members of the Black Philanthropic Alliance recently there was an immediate rapport because we shared a fundamental idea:  that you can’t talk about inequality, or justice, or social change in a city like Washington DC without also talking about race.
  • Which brings us to the uniqueness of focusing on communities of color – not just in terms of the grantees but also in terms of the decision makers.   For those that applied for grants you know that one of the requirements was that projects be focused on and have leadership from people of color.  But what may be less known is that we decided to empower a grantmaking team that is made up entirely of folks of color living or working in DC.  (I should point out that having a grantmaking team that’s separate from the board isn’t unique – we learned it from the Funding Exchange and some of their affiliates around the country who we looked to as potential models when building the Fund.)
  • We are filling a void.  The Diverse City Fund is supporting groups that are not otherwise on the radar screen of foundations.   We received 87 applications, many from Wards 7 and 8, neighborhoods and projects that don’t often see grant money  – from housing and tenant organizing groups, to youth empowerment, to LGBT groups, to community gardens and local markets, to alternative media.  Some of the groups are more established but if you talk to our grantees you’ll find that a lot of them are receiving their first ever grant from the DC Fund.
  • We’re all volunteer run at this point.  Our goal is to give away almost all of the funds that we bring in, with very little overhead.  That’s not easy since we’re all busy people, but so far we’re pulling it off, and if more folks are able to contribute time and resources to the Fund in the future we’re pretty sure we can keep this thing going for a long time to come.
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