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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”