Power to Fundraise: Investing in Native Development Capacity

The NFCoP project team included First Nations’ core NFCoP project staff, the NFCoP program designer, facilitator, and trainer, and the NFCoP advisors.

The NFCoP project team included First Nations’ core NFCoP project staff, the NFCoP program designer, facilitator, and trainer, and the NFCoP advisors.

At the back end of every organization is the development component — the internal system of fundraising, donor engagement, and donor stewardship that is imperative for successful operations and sustainability. But for many Native-led organizations, leaders and staff are in the weeds of programming and are not ideally positioned to carve out time to dedicate to fundraising. At the same time, many funders of these organizations support only programs and services and not necessarily the technical assistance or professional development needed to build their fundraising capacity.

Adding to this is the backdrop of diminished funding overall. In June 2018, First Nations reported that since 2006, on average, large foundations have given less than four-tenths of one percent of grants to nonprofits serving Native people (about half goes to Native-controlled organizations or organizations governed and led by Native people). What’s even more distressing is that, taking into account for inflation, that amounts to $4.3 million less every year to Native American organizations and causes. Further, a survey of First Nations Native food system community partners from 2011 to 2017 found that the top need of First Nations’ grantees today is training on fundraising and developing financial sustainability. This is why First Nations launched the Native Fundraisers Community of Practice.

About the NFCoP
The NFCoP, founded in 2019, was designed specifically based on the belief that change can only occur when Native people, Native-controlled nonprofit organizations, and tribal nations have the capacity to generate financial assets and implement solutions resulting in more equitable and impactful funding to ensure the economic, spiritual, and cultural well-being of Native communities, families, and children. At the core of this program is the creation of a community of practice, which provides critical functions, including teaching about fundraising, supporting collaboration, cultivating partnerships and encouraging sharing.

The project falls under First Nations’ larger project, Building a Sustainable Future for Native American Organizations, which was funded with generous support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and the Simmons Sister Fund. As such, the NFCoP focuses on stability and sustainability to grow the fundraising capacity of Native nonprofits and tribal government programs by ramping up the quality and quantity of philanthropic funding solicitations. The end goal: Increase their ability to serve their communities.

The NFCoP brought together core NFCoP project staff; the program designers, facilitators, and trainers Eileen Egan and Daryl Melvin from Melvin Consulting PLLC; and the four NFCoP advisors who are leaders in the field of philanthropy to deliver the main program components:

• Advising and Peer Support
• In-Person Training by Fundraising Experts
• Online Grants Course and Virtual Study Sessions
• Ongoing Post-Program Support

All activities and supporting program elements were intended to establish a trusting environment and a safe place for sharing, testing ideas, and taking risks.

Sharing and learning
Participants said the experience was valuable for both formalizing processes and strengthening projects and approaches to improve sustainability. Participant Aretta Begay, Executive Director of Diné be’ iiná Inc. (The Navajo Lifeway), said this training was one of the “most self-investing things” the organization could do for themselves.

 All NFCoP program activities were grounded in the following six core values: creativity, innovation, humor, knowledge sharing, storytelling and relationships.

All NFCoP program activities were grounded in the following six core values: creativity, innovation, humor, knowledge sharing, storytelling and relationships.

“In fundraising, a lot of us do what we do without realizing the structure behind it,” she said. For example, she explained that while she’s been a grant-writer for some time, she never had any formal training. But through the NFCoP, she heard from well-qualified advisors and trainers who actually broke down the grant-writing process.

One of those professionals was Joanie Buckley, Internal Services Division Director of the Oneida Community Integrated Food System for the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. Buckley said as an advisor for the NFCoP, her focus was on participants and what they would gain from the training, which she described as eye-opening for many of them. “It gave them a different perspective in determining their needs and how they articulate them,” Buckley said. “Through the training they learned about new resources and were able to find funding sources for their respective projects and exchange ideas and philosophies.”

She said the emerging fundraisers in her group were not necessarily the grant-writers, and that they wear many hats. “They were in fact the program directors and this experience let them see how funders may think,” she said. “These directors often get removed from the process because they are busy developing their programs. In reality, they are actually the appropriate people to tell their story.”

Metrics-based outcomes
During the first in-person training, NFCoP members learned about the purpose and value of a community of practice and how to use this tool to build their fundraising skills and networks. They also were introduced to a prospect research database to develop a prospect list. The second in-person training, focused on storytelling and messaging using the Reclaiming Native Truth Messaging Guide; culturally responsive evaluation; federal grant writing; perfecting your pitch; and making “the ask.”

A key component that made the NFCoP stand apart from other grant-writing programs is that it addressed the negative and false narratives that exist about Native Americans in both the public and in mainstream philanthropy, and it introduced narrative change strategies to the benefit of the group’s fundraising efforts and overall services provided in Indian Country.

Participants left with the resources and skills to inspire their own organizations and make significant progress in advancing the sustainability of their work and communities. Since the conclusion of the 2019 NFCoP in November, several members have attributed fundraising success to their participation with over $2.5 million in grants received, including one participant who never wrote a proposal before but applied for and received a $5,000 grant for his organization.

For Alicia Gourd-Mackin, Social Work Instructor, Social Worker and Co-Founder of the Indigenous Birth and Breastfeeding Collective of North Dakota, knowledge gained through the community of practice provided her with not only technical skills but also the ability to articulate and present their programs to potential thunders. “It put things into perspective for me,” she said. “It helped me see the process from the grant provider’s side, which allowed me to better organize our approaches.”

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Participants left with long-lasting knowledge. One member said, “Overall it was a life-changing experience for me. I loved every minute of it and I learned so much about grant writing and myself…I left Boulder, CO, feeling refreshed and motivated to change lives and make a difference for Indian Country as a whole.”

Another participant, Leah Hennessy, Volunteer Executive Director of Laulima Kuha’o, added that among the most important takeaways were the tools to better connect with funders. Instead of just waiting for a list of grants to come out, she learned how to narrow down funders and opportunities based on the activities they want to accomplish, see what other organizations are doing, and identify people they could work with. She said she learned strategies for team development and she gained a number of partners and connections just by being in the cohort. “All of the NFCoP advisors brought something to the table,” she said. “This is a resource I can continue to turn to even now that the training is complete.”

Moving forward
Findings from the pilot year of the NFCoP overwhelmingly indicate the opportunities and trainings offered were invaluable and have already yielded a substantial return on investment. First Nations is hopeful that the community of practice approach will help these organizations and future participants support and sustain their operations in the face of competing demands and the ongoing effects of coronavirus, which have made the need for fundraising skills even more important. To that end, plans are underway for future outreach to more participants in 2020. Catherine Bryan, First Nations’ Director of Programs for Strengthening Tribal and Community Institutions, said, “We’re looking forward to building on this model and having an even greater impact for the future of Native communities and the organizations that serve them.”

Luce Fellows’ Convening Focuses on Connection and Creativity

Sherwin Bitsui, Diné (Navajo) poet.

Sherwin Bitsui, Diné (Navajo) poet.








The group is silent as the poet holds them in his aural grasp.
“What does it sound like?” he asks.
After a few guesses, one person pipes up, “Water.”
“That’s correct…Water,” says the poet. “So important, especially when you look at the picture of where I’m from.”

Poet Sherwin Bitsui is a Diné (Navajo) from the Navajo Nation in White Cone, Arizona, and teacher at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Leading attendees of the Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship at their first convening of the year at a workshop in Boulder, Colorado, February 19-20, 2020, he helped them tap into their creativity and think about the importance of words and language in opening themselves up for their Fellowship year. He shared his own path into poetry and the different ways that Native poets have used objects and experiences to express their stories. In the opening example, he said the word (which sounds like “Twa”) a word inspired by the water dripping from a seasonal creek near his childhood home. Each participant then sketched out a poem and shared it with the group one by one, using a mix of English and their Indigenous languages to share a fragment of their own story.

About the program

The Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship was created in 2019 to honor and support intellectual leaders in Native communities who are actively working to generate, perpetuate and disseminate Indigenous knowledge. The 10 Fellows, selected from over 500 applicants receive a monetary award of $50,000, access to additional resources for training and professional development, and the opportunity to apply for $25,000 in additional support for a community project after their fellowship year ends.

“Another central component of the fellowship year is to bring the Fellows together at three in-person meetings,” said Kendall Tallmadge, senior program officer at First Nations. “The in-person convenings are designed to build the Fellows as a cohort and community of practice. At these meetings, Fellows are networking and building connections with each other and with other Native leaders in their fields. We hope these meetings will help Fellows build an additional network of support and collaboration with each other as they continue their work in their respective knowledge fields.”

These convenings are organized with input provided from the Fellows regarding speakers, topics and overarching goals.

At this first meeting, Fellows were enthusiastic and ready to participate in the busy agenda before them. They came from all time zones of the United States to engage with keynote speakers, facilitators and each other to begin the work of mapping their fellowship year and coalescing as a community of practice who could rely on each other for support, guidance, and encouragement.

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows 2020

Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows 2020

Indigenized models

Each Fellow shared their background and what brought them to the specific Indigenous knowledge they hold. They are diverse and yet bound together by their passion and commitment to perpetuating the precious information and backgrounds from which they came. Some, like Corine Pearce, are the last people in their tribes who know their skills and have their special knowledge. There is honor, significance, and weight in carrying these talents.

Each of the follows were able to map and share their plans for the year, including identifying elements of success and possible challenges in their upcoming work. “Always remember who we are doing the work for – our children, our People,” shared one of the Fellows.

Sharing their stories through art

The group met Melanie Yazzie, Diné (Navajo) professor of printmaking in the Art and Art History Department at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She and her husband Clyde created a gel printmaking station, where she taught the art of printmaking using cutouts, gel squares and 10 different paints. Like the poetry exercise, Fellows were encouraged to share their stories and journies through art. After some hesitation, a few tentative prints and encouragement from Melanie, soon everyone was diving in and trying this new technique to capture meaningful symbols of their knowledge and their Nations.

Gel print by Lloyd Sing.

Gel print by Lloyd Sing.

At the end of the second day, the Fellows met “World Café” style to further brainstorm how they would like to connect with each other, what they would like to learn together on this journey, other speakers they would like to hear from, and other ways to incorporate spirit feeding and self-care at the next 2 convenings. They shared a sense of togetherness in their pursuits and their energy was palpable.

“It feels amazing to meet peers and colleagues who come from such a high level of skill and experience,” shared one Fellow. “I feel such validation!”

The feeling of validation is certainly shared by staff at First Nations. To be able to bring together this level of Native genius is humbling and rewarding. We look forward to sharing more from these exceptional talents in the months to come.

The 2020 Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellows are:

Clarence Cruz (Khaayay), Ohkay Owingeh – Tewa
Knowledge Field: Traditional Potter/Assistant Professor, University of New Mexico

Dorene Day, Ojibwe Anishinabe, Nett Lake, Minnesota
Knowledge Field: Activist-Indigenous Birth Revitalization, Oondaadizike Kwe

Rahekawę̀·rih Montgomery Hill, Skarù·rę (Tuscarora Indian Nation)
Knowledge Field: Speaker, Linguist, Language Activist

Lisa Yellow Luger, Standing Rock Sioux
Knowledge Field: Tribal Justice Specialist

Trisha L. Moquino, Cochiti/Kewa/Ohkay Ohwingeh
Knowledge Field: Indigenous Educator/Guide and the Co-Founder of Keres Children’s Learning Center

Corine Pearce, Redwood Valley Little River Band of Pomo Indians
Knowledge Field: Basket Weaver, Artist, Environmental Steward

Hanna Sholl, (Sun’aq Tribe of Kodiak, Alaska) 
Knowledge Field: Contemporary Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) Artist and Culture Bearer

Lloyd Harold Kumulāʻau Sing Jr., Native Hawaiian
Knowledge Field: Traditional mixed-media artist and cultural practitioner

X’unei Lance Twitchell, Tlingit, Haida, Yupʼik, Sami
Knowledge Field: Indigenous Language Teacher

Peter Williams, Yup’ik
Knowledge Field: Artist and Activist

By First Nations staff