The Black Future Co-op Fund is changing Washington’s philanthropy
I’m giving up.
The day the video of George Floyd’s murder went viral, Angela Jones sat in her office and succumbed to a wave of resignation. She was a fighter. His father had always said that each generation should do better than the previous one. He had obtained his master’s degree; she had earned her master’s and JD, rising to a CEO position at Washington STEM, a nonprofit organization. But the daily drudgery that underpinned this ascent, in the face of yet another blatant example of black oppression, was too much to bear. For a moment. “And then, as I sat there, I thought, Damn, if you give up, you’re not going to be a good ancestor.”
That mantra drives the Black Future Co-op Fund, the philanthropy Jones co-founded with three other black nonprofit leaders — Michelle Merriweather, T’wina Nobles and Andrea Caupain Sanderson — in the wake of Floyd’s murder. While organizations were quick to release innocuous statements in support of Black Lives Matter in June 2020, Jones and company saw a dearth of material support for Black-led nonprofits: These organizations have historically received less than 2% of philanthropic dollars, a recent study. show.
The Black Future Co-op Fund awards grants to black-led nonprofits by deploying a more hands-on form of “listening” than all those vapid corporate statements. Its leaders know that underfunded charities struggle to fit cumbersome application processes and other idiosyncratic demands into busy schedules. So, after a brief due diligence, the Black Future Co-op Fund simply distributes the dough. “We really do trust-based philanthropy, and that’s not necessarily how grand philanthropy has traditionally worked,” says Jones, who is now director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Washington State Initiative.
For Team Wrk, a Tacoma-based foundation that organizes conversations about bullying and violence prevention through play, the paradigm shift has been eye-opening. Navigating restrictive grant applications during the logistical nightmare of Covid was a failure. “I didn’t have time to learn anything,” says President and CEO Lonnetta Cunningham. The fund’s $50,000 “We See You” grant, one of 20 distributed to black women-led organizations last year, has helped Cunningham launch nighttime programs for teens.
WE SEE YOU
Some of the most recent grant recipients from the Black Future Co-op Fund.
- Black Art: The creative online outlet recently opened a brick-and-mortar store in the Central District.
- Northwest Black Coffee: This Shoreline space mixes beers and cultural lounge discussions.
- Global Perinatal Services: The Federal Way organization expands doula access to black, refugee and immigrant families.
In a state with several three-point club philanthropists, donations from the fund have been relatively small. His seeds amount to just under $3 million. But the organization’s ultimate goal is to raise an endowment of $246 million, according to co-founder Caupain Sanderson – $1 million for every year of institutional slavery in the United States. The CEO said: “and therefore we understand that this will not be resolved overnight.”
Although there is no application process, the fund does not choose its causes on a whim. A listening tour and survey identified needs across the state.
T’wina Nobles, state senator and the fund’s first CEO, says listening to the community can lead to different priorities. They found that those earning less than $50,000 a year emphasize voting and other forms of civic engagement. The 55-and-under crowd values economic mobility. For the elderly, health care is a concern.
The solutions, says Nobles, are already there. “What we need to do as a philanthropic organization, what we need the government to do, what we need other philanthropic organizations to do, is fund these solutions. To stop making it complicated. To stop controlling and creating barriers.
To make future generations prosper.