The average giving by foundations nationally to Native communities is less than 1 percent of grant dollars awarded. (1) Over time, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation's investment in Native communities and projects has grown as a percentage of grant dollars awarded for community-based projects. In 1998, giving to Native communities made up less than 2 percent of the total funding awarded. By 2009, grants to Native projects amounted to 9 percent of the Foundation's total giving, and grew to 14 percent of total giving by 2011. (2) There is a recognized need for more support to be directed to Native communities, and the Foundation welcomes and urges more funders to consider supporting these essential efforts.
Several common features characterize the Foundation's grantmaking to organizations working in Native communities. We attempt to build on existing strengths and assets, embrace the importance of location, and focus on impact. The following guiding principles direct our grantmaking in Native communities:
- Build on strengths and assets
The Foundation and its grantees partner to build on the inherent strengths of Tribes and Native communities. Although the Foundation understands that Native communities face significant challenges, these challenges do not define the Foundation's expectations of what is possible nor shade its understanding of the communities' potential for economic prosperity. Both the Foundation and its grantees are actively working to build on the deep and abiding resilience of Native people and Tribes throughout the region.
Much of the Foundation's recent grantmaking in Native communities has focused on helping individuals and families build assets in order to ensure economic security and stability. Personal asset-building is closely related to overall economic development in Indian Country as well as to Tribal sovereignty. It is the Foundation's belief that a robust Native economy will contribute to these sovereign nations controlling their own destinies.
- Prioritize place
The Foundation understands that, beyond the universal desire for vital, healthy communities, the issues facing rural and urban Native populations often differ notably. Foundation grants have supported organizations working across a range of issues and geographies, from those focusing on urban Native youth in Portland, Oregon to those addressing the needs of Native villages in Eyak, Alaska. In rural communities, especially, we have learned that the critical issues of geographic isolation and transportation barriers must be accounted for in grant budgets and project designs. Similarly, the scale and scope of grants necessarily differ between rural and urban settings. Regardless of where grantees are working, however, they share a deep concern for the health and vitality of their community and a strong engagement toward a holistic vision of a vibrant economy, individual health, and a diverse private and nonprofit business community.
- Remain nimble and flexible
The Foundation provides multi-year funding for the majority of grant projects to Native nonprofits in order to give them the stability to develop their programs. However, we understand that a lot can happen over the course of two or three years. Thus, the Foundation works collaboratively with grantees to adjust and modify grant benchmarks in response to major changes in conditions as a project proceeds.
- Focus on impact
The Foundation is driven by a commitment that our grants have the greatest possible impact on the communities in which we fund. Although we work collaboratively with all grantees to identify realistic outcome metrics for grants, Foundation funding is not driven by these metrics. We believe that so long as there is ongoing communication, a commitment to building trusting relationships with grantees, and an investment in time that enables both parties to communicate their concerns and hopes for the project outcomes, both the Foundation and its grantees can maintain a positive and empowering dynamic that is rewarded with maximum achievement.
Launched by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and his sister Jo Lynn Allen in 1988, the Allen family's philanthropy is dedicated to transforming lives and strengthening communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge, and promoting social progress. The Foundation's funding programs nurture the arts, engage children in learning, address the needs of vulnerable populations, advance scientific and technological discoveries, and provide economic relief amid the downturn. For more information, go to www.pgafamilyfoundation.org
(1) Download The Foundation Center & Native Americans in Philanthropy's 2011 report "Foundation Funding for Native American Issues & Peoples."
(2) Percentages based upon total dollars awarded through competitive, community-based programs; does not include grants made in support of science and technology projects or international emergency relief.