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Joyce Baldwin recently interviewed Geri Mannion and Taryn Higashi, the cofounders of Four Freedoms Fund. In 2003, Mannion, the program director of the U.S. Democracy and Special Opportunities Fund at Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Higashi, then the executive director of Unbound Philanthropy, joined forces to launch Four Freedoms Fund (FFF), a funding collaborative housed at Public Interest Projects.
Five years later, the collaborative has provided $25 million to support 85 grassroots efforts in 33 states and has developed a unique collaborative working style that maximizes funders’ ability to support local and state efforts that are connected to a national campaign, all aimed at helping immigrants become citizens and actively participate in our democracy. In the following interview, Mannion and Higashi discuss the work of FFF, some of the lessons learned from the collaborative approach, and goals for the future.
Joyce Baldwin: What is the core intention of Four Freedoms Fund?
Taryn Higashi: The foundations that are investing in immigrants and civic integration do so as part of their bigger mission. At Carnegie Corporation, the goal is strengthening U.S. democracy and civic participation for the whole country. For me, at Ford—and now at Unbound Philanthropy—it is to advance human rights and social justice for all communities. In fact, while all of the donors to FFF may come to the collaborative fund because it relates to their foundation’s specific program objectives, they see our overall work as promoting justice and fairness for everyone in the United States.
JB: How would you characterize philanthropic support for immigrant policy in the United States today?
TH: In the 15 years I’ve been involved in immigration-related grantmaking, there has been a great deal of growth in the amount of money going into the field, the number of foundations funding, and the expertise and collaboration among foundations, but there are still many gaps in geographic coverage and issue coverage.
Geri Mannion: In the last decade, the demographic changes in the country, especially as immigrants migrate to new destination states in the South, Midwest, and West, have made it more imperative that funders—whether national or local—consider who the newcomers in their communities are and their needs.
In addition, since 9/11, with concerns about national security and increases in [racial] profiling, especially among Arab, Middle Eastern, and other people of color, there has been a need for philanthropy to provide support for many of the legal and advocacy groups that can help ensure that individual legal rights aren’t abused. More recently, increased anti-immigrant rhetoric has motivated many legal residents to become naturalized citizens. Since 9/11, the naturalization process has also become much more complicated and expensive; applicants therefore need more help from legal and social-service groups in moving through that process, so there is an opportunity, especially in the new destination states, to provide English-language training, education in civics, and help with applying for naturalization. The opportunity to help immigrants integrate socially, politically, and economically is huge. Local foundations can play a central role in helping these newcomers and their families become American.
JB: Why is this an opportune time for funders who are considering getting involved in this area to join in the effort?
TH: It is a great time for new funders to get involved. A good deal of time and philanthropic money has already been spent on laying the groundwork and doing research to clarify goals—for example, to define what would comprise workable immigration policies at the federal level and effective integration policies at state and local levels—and to understand public opinion on these issues. Immigrant-serving organizations and networks have been created, and a few generations of leaders have emerged and built relationships with one another and have gone through several cycles of learning. Therefore, in almost any funding area of the immigration and civic integration field that you invest in—immigration policy, immigrant education, immigrant health, immigrants and economic development, for example—new funders in this area are building on a strong base of knowledge and experience. In addition, there is an opportunity to share experiences and best practices with other funders that have done similar work.
Yet while much has been started, nothing is yet at scale, and the issues and context of the immigrant experience in the U.S. are constantly changing. That means there is a great deal of space for replication and refinement, building on the investments that have already been made. Plus, with the Obama administration, which is so international in focus and so welcoming and supportive of the diversity created by immigration, there is an opportunity for the immigrant integration and rights field to join in helping move policies in a wide number of issue areas that will benefit the larger public good.
From all accounts, the new administration will also tackle federal immigration reform in its first term. If successful, there will be more than 12 million immigrants and their families who will become eligible for legalization. This will be a huge opportunity to help them become full participants in our economy and community and to help these newcomers get on the path to citizenship.
JB: How does FFF increase your funding ability?
GM: FFF has a fabulous staff, and in many ways this is a very efficient method for large foundations to make grants in the states and at the local level. Our staff, headed by Magui Rubalcava Shulman, is highly experienced; all of the staff members have worked in civil rights, social justice, and/or in philanthropy. Public Interest Projects, which houses Four Freedoms Fund, also houses other funder collaboratives that work on social-justice issues, such as human rights and affirmative action. The staff of the other funding collaboratives can be called upon for expertise and help as needed. All of FFF’s staff are exceptionally dedicated; they ensure that appropriate due diligence is conducted in reviewing proposals. They also work closely with the grantees so the funders are kept up to date about the progress and challenges.
JB: How is a funder’s relationship with grantees and other grantmaking organizations affected by its participation in FFF?
TH: When we created FFF, there was some concern in the field that all the foundation money available to support work on immigration and civic integration would go through that fund and organizations would not have an opportunity to develop a direct relationship with Carnegie Corporation, Ford Foundation, and the other funders. That has not been the case at all. FFF supports groups at the state level directly, which the large national funders could not do; most of the donors fund national groups working in this area directly; we see all of this as complementary. In addition, there was some concern that the larger funders would dominate the decision making. But the fund is made up of donors who are very respectful. Everyone’s voice is heard; everyone has an equal vote, whether they represent one of the major foundations, such as Ford, or a small family foundation with regional focus, such as the Hagedorn Foundation in Long Island.
JB: In what ways have you built the capacity of nonprofit groups that work to provide services to immigrants and advocate on behalf of them?
GM: One of the striking features of FFF is the attention we give to building the capacity of our grantees. Under the direction of Monona Yin, FFF has crafted an amazing array of tools and support that nonprofits need to grow and be effective. Support has helped the larger, anchor immigrant coalitions to spend time together assessing the health of their organizations, sharing best practices, and having honest conversations about the challenges of their day-to-day work. The capacity-building program ensures they have access to technical assistance providers, such as the Nonprofit Finance Fund, to help them to understand the steps to financial health and for diversifying their funding base. Other groups, such as the Alliance for Justice, provide assistance and training to help with understanding the limits and the opportunities for undertaking advocacy, such as with nonpartisan voter engagement work and support for leadership development, including executive director coaching. Our grantees also get training in communications, e-advocacy and list building, nonpartisan voter engagement, etc. This kind of support has made a big difference, especially as [these groups] struggle to get through the recession. We are now planning to use webinars and other technologies to increase the number of grantees that can access these tools and supports [see “A Model Capacity-Building Program” at left].
JB: Do you have an example of how funders learn from one another?
TH: Darren Sandow o