Why This Collaboration Working for Women and Girls of Color Deserves a Close Look

We've written often about how women funders excel at working together to advance gender equity. Around the country, and now the world, they've pooled together the money and energy of many donors to bring new resources to advancing women and girls.  

One of the collaborative efforts in this space we've been following is called the NYC Fund for Girls and Women of Color, which brings together 16 funders. This collaboration isn’t brand new, but it’s the first fund of its kind in the nation and is worth watching closely, especially for how it makes grants. 

The effort was co-founded by the NoVo Foundation and the New York Women’s Foundation, and is managed and housed at the latter. Grantmaking started in 2015 and this fund has now distributed at least $2.4 million in grants. 

So what kinds of things does the NYC Fund for Girls and Women of Color support, and how does it operate? 

Well, earlier this month, the fund announced its 2016 grants, which totaled $2.1 million and reached 28 nonprofits in the five boroughs. The funders that are part of this collaboration look for nonprofits that provide services, leadership development, and advocacy in the areas of health, economic and workforce development, community support and opportunity, education, and anti-violence/criminal justice. What the grantees have in common is that they view women of color as potential leaders and change agents to empower women now and in future generations.

Structurally, the NYC Fund for Girls and Young Women of Color is another example of how organizations are pooling their resources to leverage better use of their assets collectively. Member foundations last year were as follows: Andrus Family Fund, Brooklyn Community Foundation, Cricket Island Foundation, Ford Foundation, Foundation for a Just Society, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, Ms. Foundation for Women, The New York Community Trust, the New York Women's Foundation North Star Fund, NoVo Foundation, Pinkerton Foundation, Scherman Foundation, Schott Foundation, Surdna Foundation, and Third Wave Fund. These are lot of big names to have on one roster, and include both national and local funders. 

A shared goal of breaking generational cycles of poverty, abuse and disinvestment is what brings these groups together despite their differences in overall funding strategies. They established a participatory review committee to select grant recipients, drawing on the long experience in this area of the New York Women's Foundation, which is leading the committee. What makes this group stand out is that it’s mostly made up of young women of color who are new to participatory grantmaking and philanthropy in general. Basically, these well-established foundations are trusting the most relevant individuals in New York City to make decisions about how their own peers need support. This is the kind of empowerment that many funders talk about a lot, but rarely institutionalize at this level. 

The committee members are gaining valuable experience reading proposals, conducting site visits, and making recommendations to foundation leaders. It’s easy to assume that a secondary goal of this approach is to groom the next generation of philanthropy leaders at a time when the sector is increasingly attuned to its staffing diversity challenges—but often scratches its head about how to build better leadership pipelines. 

“If we want to create a world in which girls can live free from violence and discrimination, we must truly listen to them and follow their lead,” Pamela Shifman, the executive director of the NoVo Foundation said in a press release. “Girls and young women of color are the best agents in transforming their communities and it’s time we invest in their leadership. That’s exactly what these grants will do.”

The recent grants awarded through this fund ranged in size from $50,000 to $100,000 and covered a wide variety of topics. Grantees included Ancient Song Doula Services, the Arab American Association of New York, Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Welfare Rights Initiative, and many more.

We expect to see a request for proposals from this fund issued in the summer with a late-summer/fall 2017 deadline. In the past, information sessions have been hosted to help nonprofits get to know what this grants program is all about. When that time comes, keep in mind that this fund sticks to supporting girls and young women of color between the ages of 12 and 24 from low- and middle-income families. LGBTQ youth are included in this consideration. (See more info here.)