TITLE: Program Director, Civil Society
FUNDING AREAS: Empowering people, strengthening nonprofits, promoting philanthropy
CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)
IP TAKE: As the director of civil society work at the foundation, Lawder oversees about $18 million in grants each year in support of promoting civic engagement and community self-betterment around the world.
PROFILE: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, philanthropic legacy of the eponymously named Michigan auto pioneer, does most of its work in the United States, and prioritizes development in its hometown of Flint, which is struggling to adapt to an economy without strong unions nor a steady supply of middle-class industrial jobs. But Mott's mission, and its geographic presence, is broader than what it can deliver in its native territory, and the foundation regularly invests millions in the world's developing countries to accomplish its charitable goals. The foundation believes that the free opportunity for meaningful civic engagement is necessary for democracy and good governance to flourish. And so it invests about $18 million a year in strengthening civil society in global regions where democratic infrastructure is vulnerable; this includes programs in the United States and abroad. Leading Mott in its civil society initiatives: long-time philanthropy leader, Shannon Lawder.
Lawder took over Mott's civil society portfolio in 2008, but she's been with the foundation since 1995, starting as an associate program officer who focused on Russia and Ukraine, and more recently leading Mott's citizen engagement and philanthropy development work in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Russia. Before joining up with Mott, Lawder directed international operations for an NGO in Prague that coordinated international assistance for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Over the years, Lawder has served on various philanthropically-minded committees, all with a commitment to maximize social good through private giving.
Mott's international giving, through its civil society grantmaking, has clear geographic restrictions, with slightly different priorities depending on where its grantees are located. An overview of how Mott allocates its civil society funding by region is as follows:
Central/Eastern Europe and Russia: Here, Mott focuses on developing philanthropic and non-profit sectors as a means to stimulate civic engagement. In particular, Mott looks to fund projects that promote community-level development, encourage participation, strengthen democratic practices, and build capacity in grantmaking organizations.
South Africa: Mott's South Africa work aims to empowered poor and marginalized populations by supporting the country's community advice offices and philanthropic organizations. Community advice offices offer free legal and governmental counseling to vulnerable populations, and Mott wants to enhance their ability to do more things and serve more people. Where South African philanthropy is concerned, Mott's interests are in encouraging local investments and increasing the sector's role in sustained economic development.
Global Philanthropy and Nonprofit Sector: No geographic restrictions here; only an express desire on Mott's part to strengthen philanthropy. But just to be clear: Grants focus on long-term support for a handful of organizations, so there are few opportunities for new grantees.
IP got in touch with Lawder to discuss her work at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and she gave us a few pointers prospective grantees might want to know about. First, a uniting theme in all the grants Mott makes for civil society is what Lawder refers to as "participation." Mott's civil society grantees, Lawder explains, "are helping people to more constructively and effectively shape their societies and have a voice in decision making."
And as for what makes interested applicants for Mott support stand out from the pack? Per Lawder: "Healthy governance structure; a competent executive director; a sound financial management system; a workable, legal HR policy; a successful fund development strategy; a clear, consistent message; and a good program that advances the mission of the organization."
Unlike a lot of other foundations, Mott is willing to fund general operations as well as specific projects, so if you're an NGO looking for support for the work you're already doing, Mott is a good choice. Mott also has a relatively grantee-friendly application process; submit a letter of inquiry when it suits you, and the foundation will request a full proposal if it likes what you have to offer. Mott even occasionally funds unsolicited (complete) proposals it receives for civil society work, depending on a variety of circumstances, including urgency and Mott's faith in the proposal's potential.
But be forewarned, about 80 percent of Mott's grants are renewals for organizations and projects it has done before. So if you haven't worked with Mott previously, you're at somewhat of a disadvantage in the grant application process. That said, since Mott does like to fund grantees in the long-term, if Mott decides to take you on as a partner, the likelihood is good you'll have support for years to come. In general, Mott's international grants range in amount from a few tens-of-thousands of dollars to a few hundreds-of-thousands of dollars. An overview of Mott's grantmaking policies is available here.
Mott's recent civil society grants include:
- $400,000 to the Bulgaria Community Foundations Development Fund to provide eight smaller Bulgarian foundations with the resources to make development-minded investments in their home country.
- $60,000 to South Africa's Institute for the Healing of Memories in support of community workshops to help people affected by violence and oppression during apartheid to heal emotionally and to share their experiences with the international community.
- $150,000 to South Africa's Centre for Rural Legal Studies to provide legal support for farm workers and their families advocating for their rights in the Western Cape province.