Seattle Foundation Blog

North Star to Guide Investment in Community-led Organizations and Systems Change

The Blueprint for Impact is Seattle Foundation's new “North Star” outlining how philanthropy can play a unique role in supporting and deeply investing in community-led organizations to create systems change.


July 13, 2021

This summer looks profoundly different than the season we ushered in one year ago. Instead of lockdowns, we are beginning to feel openness; instead of isolation, we welcome community and possibility.

Yet deep, racialized disparities and ideological divisions still remain. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the burden placed on many of our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities for generations and intensified the need for impactful change. We face a long journey ahead to heal and repair the damage from the past year and centuries prior, and Seattle Foundation is committed to doing the necessary work.

Our journey started more than 30 years ago when the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy issued a report highlighting our investment shortfalls in BIPOC communities. It was an appreciated wake-up call, prompting a period of close examination and a shift in our discretionary grantmaking that engaged the entire organization.

Fast forward to three decades later when our collective action in response to the compounding crises of 2020 showed a path forward and a chance to achieve better outcomes. At the Foundation, we spent time reimagining how we define and design for philanthropic impact, while also prioritizing our vision of shared prosperity, belonging, and justice.

Over the last five years, Seattle Foundation has significantly evolved and expanded our core purpose. When 2020 brought the brokenness of our systems to the surface, the Foundation was well positioned with a road map rooted in racial justice – thanks to our deep, on-the-ground relationship building with community members. These relationships continue to inform our approach to grantmaking and guide us as we direct resources to meet the greatest need.

Our evolution has revealed a new way of looking at philanthropy and the role foundations can have in helping the communities they serve become stronger, healthier, and more equitable. For Seattle Foundation, this work has culminated in our Blueprint for Impact.

The Blueprint for Impact is the Foundation’s new “North Star” that outlines the unique role that philanthropy can play in supporting and deeply investing in community-led organizations and systems change. The design of this strategic approach stresses the need for investments in BIPOC-led organizations that are working closest to deep community challenges and have direct experience in our public care systems.

The Blueprint calls for making specific investments to achieve a set of reinforcing and overlapping outcomes:

  • Just Democracy: Ensuring fair representation in policies and processes
  • Equitable Economy: Promoting inclusive growth and fundamental financial security
  • Resilient Environment (both natural and built: A place where everyone can thrive

Whenever possible, we will unlock new philanthropic potential to create more impact and bring together different sectors – business, government, philanthropy – for collaborative action.

Our Commitment to the Blueprint for Impact

Unlocking new philanthropic potential within Seattle Foundation means expanding our work by bolstering our leadership team and making profound commitments to our community.

To embark on this new path of institutional change, we named Stephanie McLemore Bray as our new Chief Engagement Officer. In this position, Stephanie will help set a strong institutional vision for our newly envisioned role in philanthropy. Her deep leadership experience in community-building as the former President and CEO of United Way California Capital Region (based in Sacramento, CA) and 30 years of fundraising experience is exactly what our organization needs to drive meaningful investments into communities often overlooked by historical inequities and largely ignored by traditional philanthropic institutions.

While many initiatives and efforts will emerge from the Blueprint for Impact over the coming months and years, Seattle Foundation is excited to launch REPAIR, which stands for “Racially Equitable Philanthropy Aimed at Initiating Reparations.” The REPAIR framework acknowledges the harm that the Black community continues to face due to critical and generational underinvestment. REPAIR calls on Seattle Foundation to initiate a large-scale, long-term effort to accelerate resources to Black-led organizations in King County. Through REPAIR, the Foundation is committing a minimum investment of $25 million to Black-led organizations over the next five years, starting now.

Monthly meetings with the Black-led Organization Cohort, known as “the BLOC,” gave us deep insights into the needs of the Black community, including their organizational strengths and capacity-building challenges. Black leadership, internally and externally, also provided critical input about where Seattle Foundation has made mistakes and contributed to past harm. That feedback is guiding us on a path of trust and establishing a deep commitment to the Black-led organizations in King County.

REPAIR is the result of Seattle Foundation's multi-year investment to better understand the Black community's needs. It aligns with our Blueprint for Impact’s guiding principles and presents an opportunity for us to be bold, center equity, and focus on innovative community-led solutions.

We invite you to read more about this framework here.

Philanthropy and Partnership

Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to be a lead partner in this transformative work. Changing systems requires patient, durable capital that will not waver with elections nor business cycles. Only philanthropy can offer the catalytic funding and long-term focus needed to truly get at the root of systemic issues.

Thankfully, we are not alone in this work. We have the community-sourced ideas, the deep relationships, the visionary leaders, and the tested model to change the way our community’s wealth is shared in times of crises, as well as in times of growth and prosperity. If we invest today in the kind of community philanthropy that we saw in 2020, we can elevate a path toward a reimagined future where everyone thrives.

Stay up to date about as we share more about the Blueprint for Impact by clicking here.

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