$2 Million in Grants a First Nations Record

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2015 was a record year for First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). During those 12 months, First Nations granted its largest annual dollar amount ever to Native American organizations and tribes. It also awarded the largest number of grants ever in a one-year period. The funding went toward projects aimed at grassroots economic development and Native community betterment, and covered areas ranging from agriculture and food systems, to Native arts-related efforts, to urban Indian centers, to Native youth and culture programs.

During 2015, First Nations awarded a record 103 grants totaling $2,174,494. The grants ranged from $90 up to $120,000, and went to Native organizations or tribes in numerous states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Previously, the annual record for First Nations in its 35-year history was 95 grants totaling $1,867,560 in 2012.

The 2015 amount brings the cumulative total of First Nations’ grantmaking over its history to $24,316,573 and over 1,067 individual grants.

Although First Nations has been able to increase capital for Native community-developed and led projects aimed at building strong and healthy Native economies, First Nations is still only able to meet about 17 percent of the grant requests it receives, leaving a significant unmet need.

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Michael Roberts

“We are very fortunate to be able to support exciting and innovative work taking place in Indian Country aimed at strengthening economies and communities,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael E. Roberts. “But the sheer amount of underinvestment in Indian Country by the philanthropic community continues. We’ll continue to work to increase investment in the dynamic work taking place in Native communities.”

Much of the funding that First Nations receives so it, in turn, can provide grants and other services to Native projects comes from foundations and individual donors. Overall, studies have shown that even though Native Americans make up 2 percent of the U.S. population, only three-tenths of one percent of private foundation funding goes toward Native American causes, even in light of the fact that Native communities generally face significantly higher economic, health and housing disparities than the general population.

By Randy Blauvelt, First Nations Senior Communications Officer

“Giving Stories”: Native Grantmaking Boosts Communities

Across the U.S., there are 63 active, Native American-led grantmaking programs that are making major contributions to the social and economic well-being of their local communities, regions and the nation as a whole. These efforts are aimed at improving education, health, economic development and cultural preservation. A recently-published report tells some of the stories behind these Native-driven philanthropic endeavors that show the substantial and lasting impact of tribal philanthropy.

Titled “Telling Our Giving Stories: Native Philanthropy and Community Development” and published by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), a highlight of the report is a case study of Oregon’s community-based Native foundations. The Oregon case shows that by working collectively and collaboratively, tribal giving programs can multiply their outcomes beyond their individual grantmaking contributions and leverage their investments into greater influence, resources and impact. For example, since 2001, these tribal foundations have given more than $100 million in grants, positively impacting the local community, state and beyond.

“As educators and advocates for Indian County, we at First Nations are painfully aware that few people know there are actually numerous Native-led grantmaking programs in North America,” noted First Nations President Michael Roberts (Tlingit). “As such, we felt it was important to share the giving stories of these grantmakers and catalyze a national conversation on the very positive contributions they are making inside and outside their communities.”

Authored by Sarah Dewees of First Nations and John Phillips of John Phillips Consulting, some of the report’s major findings include:

  • Tribal governments are very active in formal philanthropy. Of the 63 active Native grantmaking programs in the nation, a majority (41) are tribally-affiliated. The remaining 22 are non-tribally affiliated Native nonprofit grantmaking programs.
  • The majority of Native grantmaking programs have no endowment, which represents a significant area of need.
  • The report documents that a large and growing number of tribes and Native nonprofit organizations are using philanthropy to protect Native financial assets, capitalize economic development programs in their communities, and support their cultures.
  • Oregon’s six community-based Native foundations, in particular, represent a potential model of Native philanthropy at a state level that may help tribes leverage their giving programs into statewide philanthropic and political influence, among other things, including an opportunity to educate non-Indians on their histories, cultures, values, assets and aspirations. The six formal tribal foundations in Oregon gave more than $5.6 million in grants in 2014. 
  • Staff members at most Native-controlled grantmaking programs interviewed for the report expressed a need and a desire for increased technical assistance, networking opportunities and leadership development in order to boost their organizations’ capacities. 
  • Several Oregon tribal foundations are moving toward giving programs aimed at other tribes and to national Native American organizations, which represents an interesting development in tribal giving.


The full report is available as a free download from the First Nations online Knowledge Center at this link:
http://www.firstnations.org/knowledge-center/strengthening-nonprofits. (Note: You may have to create a free account if you don’t already have one in order to download the report. Your account will also give you free access to numerous other reports and resources.)