Grant to Help Improve Philanthropy’s Perceptions


The Fund for Shared Insight has awarded First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) a grant of $400,000 over two years to support a new First Nations research initiative to better understand perceptions of American Indians within the philanthropic community and instigate a productive dialogue about increasing philanthropic investment in Native American communities. The Fund for Shared Insight is a collaborative effort among several funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy.

“The lack of mainstream philanthropy’s investments in and partnership with Native American nonprofit organizations and tribes is well-documented,” noted Michael E. Roberts, First Nations President and CEO. “A recent report found that foundation giving to Native causes was only three-tenths of one percent, and that included funding for museum collections and university programs, which were investments that were not going to essential Native American community development needs but to institutions that most often do not include Native Americans in the decision-making process. There is no good data on what percentage of philanthropic dollars is allocated to organizations that are Native-governed or controlled, but we speculate it is significantly less than three-tenths of one percent.”

Roberts said this dearth of philanthropic giving to Native Americans is particularly troublesome when juxtaposed against data that shows Native Americans consistently score the lowest on almost every social indicator, such as poverty and unemployment rates, educational attainment, life expectancy, suicide rates and others.

“Through this project, we hope to uncover perceptions that may obstruct giving to Native causes. Our overall goal is to facilitate openness and dialogue with mainstream philanthropic organizations and Native communities to turn this around so that Native Americans are supported more equitably and adequately given their socio-economic situations,” Roberts said. “Although research will tell, we strongly suspect that contributing factors to this are chronic and widespread negative stereotypes, damaging misperceptions, and even the continued use of racist Native symbols and mascots. It’s likely also a result of a severe lack of knowledge about this country’s Indigenous peoples.”

“At the Fund for Shared Insight, we are focused on openness and improving philanthropy so that foundations listen and are responsive to the needs of the people we seek to help,” said Melinda T. Tuan, Project Manager. “That is what attracted us to First Nations’ proposal – we believe foundations can learn from and better listen to those whose voices are often forgotten, such as Native Americans, and accelerate efforts to solve our society’s greatest challenges.”

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