Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

At SXSW, Rishi Jaitly shares insights as to what makes community philanthropy work

March 13, 2012, 3:01 p.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Video: The Urban Innovation Exchange is chronicling small-scale community projects making a difference in Detroit.

"One big question we constantly ask as we think about community grantmaking is how do we go from pockets of impact to real strategic change?” Rishi Jaitly, program director/Detroit at Knight Foundation, asked this morning at a SXSW panel.

He posed the question during a discussion focused on the new face of philanthropy and community grantmaking, and how it can best engage new people to contribute to local projects.

Citing Knight Foundation-supported initiatives like Kiva Detroit, the BME Challenge, Urban Innovation Exchange and Hatch Detroit, Jaitly shared that in his experience, the best community philanthropy projects have the potential to create strategic change if they focus on and are successful in the following three key areas:

1.    Identity: The best initiatives in community philanthropy play not only to people’s desire to provide support for specific projects and change the world, but also to people’s native instincts of wanting recognition. By identifying people as supporters for projects and providing recognition for the reasons that they gave, it can ultimately leads to an increase in participation.  

2.   Relationships: In addition to paying attention to people’s dollars, sometimes it's even more important to pay attention to relationships. In communities, people have pre-existing interests and relationships with issue areas and certain projects. In order to capitalize on those relationships, it’s worthwhile to find imaginative ways for people to deepen these connections and find ways to build new ones.

3.   Institutional Support: Behind a lot of successful community philanthropy projects there are often large, institutional partners that you might not necessarily expect. But having partners, whether in the mayor’s office, banks, local, corporations or auto companies, having support from the community at large provides more opportunities for better communications, more support and long-term sustainability for local projects.

Jaitly also shared that the process of engaging people is a critical piece of community philanthropy: “The numbers of people you mobilize along the way is just as crucial as the issue itself. This is about connecting citizens.”

During the panel, presenters shared examples of current projects all across the country that effectively demonstrate what this new face of philanthropy looks like. Those projects include: 

·      The One Percent Foundation, which encourages people to make a commitment of 1% of their annual salary, aggregates those funds and engages donors in the process of selecting grantees. It attacks the problems that usually limit people’s participation in philanthropy including affordability, knowledge and impact.

·      Awesome Foundation, which distributes a series of monthly $1,000 grants to projects and their creators. The money is pooled together from self-organizing members and focuses on geographic areas or topics of interest.  With over 30 chapters world-wide, it’s a growing network of people devoted to encouraging the interest of “awesomeness.”

·      Detroit Soup, bringing people together (nearly 400 at one of its recent dinner) to fund creative projects over dinner. Typically four projects will present their ideas that seek to better the community and then take questions from the audience about their projects. Winning ideas, like turning empty lots into playgrounds and a coat that turns into a sleeping bag for the homeless, walk away with between $700 and $900. The community has found the money is enough to get project ideas off the ground.

·      Social Justice Fund Northwest's Next Generation Giving Project, which is a group of cross-class residents under 40 who collectively raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund social change organizations in communities across the Northwest. It encourages its members to give an amount that’s meaningful to them - whether that's $40, $400 or $4,000 - and to go to their own existing networks to raise additional funds. In 2012, the fund is supporting 12 projects related to LGBT issues, civic engagement, community building and more.

Although these projects differ in scope, size and community, they each focus on ways to deepeen relationships with communities through philanthropy and use a variety of tactics, including use of social media, traditional community organizing and new entrepreneurial practices to do so.