Our Pilot Year
Threshold Philanthropy centers holistic community care in how we approach our roles as an employer, an economic entity, a civic actor, and a grantmaker. Holistic community care is our version of how BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities have cared for ourselves and our people for generations. This is how philanthropy can embody its definition: “love of humankind.” During our first year, we co-created and experimented with new ways of returning resources to build power, support individuals, and invest in spaces that honor and are integral to Black and Indigenous communities. Our work is emergent and informed by our team, our partners, and larger ecosystems. Curious? Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to and who we’re co-creating with! As an employer, we interrogate our internal culture, policies, benefits, and other employee supports through a lens of healing, reparative investment, and shifting power. As an economic entity, we bring a lens of returning resources to how we spend and earn money. We make investments in Black and American Indian and Alaska Native partners to build prosperous communities. As a civic actor, we seek to use our power with love and care to reinforce building a multi-racial democracy that is fueled by transparency, courage, and a desire to shift power. As a grantmaker, we are returning resources to Black and Indigenous leaders and communities as a path to repair — disrupting harmful philanthropic strategies and co-creating new ones centered in relationships, reciprocity, and mutual accountability. We are committed to engaging in rigorous and iterative co-creation with our community partners because the wisdom and imagination to build healing and liberatory structures lives within them. Co-creation is messy and joyful! Our process starts with conversation, listening and deepening relationships with individuals, including Learning Fellows, grantees, and investment partners. With input and insight gathered, we consider Threshold Philanthropy’s strengths, capacity, and responsibility in meeting movements and the moment.
Learning Fellowships have been a powerful way for us to connect to organizations, individuals, and communities. Through these relationships, we’ve heard from those with the most expertise about interlocking systems of oppression, and been inspired by the strategies, organizations, movements, and individuals who are building new, innovative structures.
- We compensate Learning Fellows ($500 per session) because philanthropy has historically extracted the wisdom, tools, and time of BIPOC/2SLGBTQIA+ communities.
- These learnings help evolve our processes, shape pilot grants, and influence our overall strategy.
What we’ve been asking ourselves
Being in this field for most of our adult careers, and creating Threshold Philanthropy a little over a year ago, we have come across recurring questions and themes that we continue to mull over:
- How can we continue to be introduced to people and organizations outside of our most inner networks, to ensure that we are in relationship with communities with a broad range of experiences, perspectives, and wisdom?
- What does cultivating a liberatory relationship look like with each group and individual that we partner with?
- What are other ways to resource Learning Fellows, beyond financial compensation?
- How can we name and interrogate power dynamics (that are playing out all the time) so that we can be in more authentic, transparent, and accountable relationships with our partners and ourselves?
During our start-up phase, Threshold Philanthropy and the Bernier McCaw Foundation have collaborated to return $7,771,500 via grants, including multi-year commitments.
It was important to our team that we simultaneously return resources and build out our organization and strategy during our start-up phase. We wanted to address the roots of oppression in our country through a process of co-creation. We were curious about land/landback campaigns, reparations, healing, power-building, leadership development, organizational and individual capacity building, businesses that served more as community centers, and non-extractive investing and intergenerational wealth-building. The returned resources went to organizations and individuals whose genius, vision, and solutions are in our areas of curiosity.
In our relationships with these partners, we asked, “What do you need?” We heard a diverse range of answers that have supported our team in building a strategy and approach that marries our superpowers with the urgent needs of our communities. Leaning into the snowball approach, as we built trust, we asked partners to make introductions to others whose work is aligned with our mission — over time, growing our web of connections. Our team surfaced themes coming out of these conversations and considered what we are uniquely positioned to support and build. We’ve launched two pilots that we designed and created thanks to the wisdom that came out of the conversations with our partners.
- Women of color liberated cohort — We designed this cohort because many women of color shared that they wanted a space to learn from and connect with others building liberatory organizations and communities. This cohort has evolved into an opportunity to heal and lead with authenticity. Our support of this cohort was a return of resources going directly to Black and Native women, while also providing a container for healing, stabilization, and visioning.
- Power-building table — A group of Black, People of Color and women executive directors had been gathering and building community as they stepped into new leadership positions. They envisioned a space where their organizations, and other political power-building orgs in Washington state, could come together as a coalition to build a long-term collective vision for bold systems change and statewide political power. We are partnering with this coalition, supporting them with necessary resources to dream and build — individually as leaders and as organizations — a multiracial democracy in Washington state.
What we’ve been asking ourselves
- How can we allow for emergence (deepening and adapting our support) in our partnerships as they and the world around them shift?
- How can we support organizations and individuals to prevent burnout, as opposed to addressing its symptoms and responding when it’s too late?
- How can we be sure to ask our partners the questions that truly offer them the space to vision, plan, and build, as opposed to being transactional, reactionary, or answering from scarcity or fear?
- What are the ways we can support beyond money?
We are committed to transparency and accountability in how we spend, invest, and earn money, breaking free from the secrecy around budgets and investments in philanthropy.
In our first year, we took our time to select vendors, contractors, and consultants through a lens of returning resources. We shifted our language from an operations budget to a people budget to honor the humanity of our team members.
- We also launched a partnership with Adasina — a “Black-owned investment firm that is majority-operated by women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.” They develop investment portfolios that support social justice and divert funding from harmful entities (e.g. private prisons, fossil fuels, big pharma). In this relationship, we’re learning the ins and outs of building wealth, investing in the stock market, and shareholder activism — and we’re sharing these learnings with our partners.
- We joined the Just Transition Investment Community, hosted by Justice Funders. It’s been a privilege to learn from national movement leaders, innovative foundations, and explore frameworks that allow us to invest directly in our communities, without perpetuating extractive capitalism.
What we’ve been asking ourselves
- As a spend-up-and-out foundation, how might we plan for impermanence as an organization, while the forces of capitalism, racism, and oppression are raging?
- What budget scenarios (balancing investing and grantmaking) will adequately resource people, place, and power?
- What can ethical wealth-building for BIPOC communities look like under capitalism?