Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

October 7, 2013

American Indian philanthropy focuses on leveraging collective resources

Special to Philanthropy Journal
Amy Hertel
For those who serve Native communities on a daily basis, the report Native Voices Rising, A Case for Funding Native-Led Change lends support to our everyday experiences and practices. This is a strong report that advocates on behalf of Native-led change in a way that will hopefully alter the landscape of current organized philanthropy.
If you don’t have time to read the full report, be sure to review the executive summary. If you don’t have time for that, at least read the recommendations to funders on page 8.
I have the great privilege to serve as director of the American Indian Center (AIC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The mission of the AIC is to bridge the richness of American Indian cultures with the strengths of UNC in research, teaching and service. Our programs are designed to engage students, scholarship, the University and Native communities. We are a public service center.
In my role, I have been fortunate to work with some of the most dedicated people you will find anywhere. Individuals who work in Native organizations embedded within Native communities have the relationships, knowledge and understanding of cultural protocol necessary to be effective. They are experts in their own communities. Money invested in these individuals and organizations will, in the right environment, yield great returns.
This then begs the question: What is the right environment? Not all organizations are created equally. Agencies with volunteers or a single staff person will not have the same human resources for staffing and report writing as agencies operating with several full-time staff.
In fact, grants that require heavy administrative lifting or reporting can have an adverse impact on the ability of grassroots organizers to achieve desired outcomes. No funder wants this to happen. As the report recommends, funders wishing to engage Native grassroots organizations should streamline grant application and reporting processes. In doing so, they allow the grantee to focus efforts on outcomes and impact, rather than reports and administration.
The report accurately reflects the multifaceted design of Native-led initiatives. While most funders narrowly define their focus areas, many Native communities address change more broadly. Native-led initiatives are often holistically designed to reap a myriad of dynamic returns.
The report also recommends that funders “support Native intermediaries that are solidly grounded in Native movements” and “fund grassroots Native organizations directly.” If you are wondering who these Native intermediaries or Native organizations are or how to find them, contact your state office or commission on Indian affairs to learn more. Also, many universities, including UNC, have American Indian centers on campus. These centers might also serve as a front door connecting you to Native communities in your area.
Let me share with you an example that epitomizes many of the challenges, strengths and impacts discussed in the report. The AIC, along with the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs (Commission) and the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, are working on an initiative with North Carolina tribes and urban Indian centers called Healthy, Native North Carolinians (HNNC). HNNC is a capacity-building initiative funded by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust (KBR) to develop, implement and evaluate sustainable community changes around healthy eating and active living in 10 North Carolina Native communities.
The AIC and the Commission serve as grant administrators, thereby allowing the majority of grant dollars to flow directly into tribes and Native organizations and make tangible and significant impacts. While the community self-determined initiatives are primarily health related, the impact on civic engagement, organizational capacity, cultural revitalization, land stewardship and infrastructure are significant. This is due to the determination of the community partners, their holistic approach to designing initiatives, the strategic design of the grant administration and the willingness of the funder to invest in sustainable community-led change. Thank you KBR!
At UNC, we recognize the importance of supporting Native-led change. In the coming year, the AIC, in collaboration with the Community Investment Network and interested Native community partners, will explore collective giving as a form of community philanthropy. By providing the necessary infrastructure and administration, the AIC will support the creation of a Native giving circle network designed to leverage collective resources and effect self-determined change. Ultimately, we would like to create a Native community foundation that will embrace the recommendations offered in the report.
Funders do play a significant role in enhancing organizational capacity. By investing in Native-led change, foundations and funders are building the capacities of institutions and individuals within Native communities. I encourage foundations to meet grassroots Native organizations where they are and to support them in their growth. Offer and award more general-operating and capacity-building support funds to Native-led organizations and support self-determined change.
While the Native population may be small in numbers, we are citizens of diverse tribal nations. By supporting Native led change, funders are helping to build nations! Now, how’s that for a mission?
Amy Locklear Hertel (Lumbee/Coharie), MSW, JD, is director of the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also a clinical assistant professor at the UNC School of Social Work.

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