What will we learn and share at Intermountain West Funders Network's 2021 Virtual Convening?


Our Intermountain West Funders Network 2021 Virtual Convening kicks off in just under two weeks!

What will be learning during our time together?

Our IMWFN 2021 Virtual Convening Planning Committee has helped craft peer-driven learning agenda that will guide our time together May 12 and 13.

Join as we explore how Intermountain West funders are engaging on critical issues including racial equity, climate and water management, inclusive economies, and Indigenous communities.

We are looking forward to learning together about promising funder practices and new ways of thinking about the unprecedented challenges facing communities in the Intermountain West.

Agenda Highlights

View and download the full #IMWFN2021 Agenda here.

We'll open our virtual gathering at noon May 12 with a chance to hear from Tim Stevens of The Kendeda Fund, chair of IMWFN, as well as Pat Smith, president and CEO of The Funders Network. We'll also feature a short video by filmmaker Pita Juarez of Chispa, an arm of the League of Conservation Voters, made especially for our virtual gathering.

In addition to peer-to-peer funder exchanges and facilitated conversations, we are thrilled to welcome a diverse and thought-provoking lineup of sessions, including:

Getting Centered: Racial Equity at the Heart of the Matter, a conversation with Melanie Mitros of Vitalyst Health Foundation and Dion Cartwright, TFN's director of equitable initiatives & leadership development and head of our amazing PLACES Fellowship. (Melanie is a PLACES Alum as well!)

Gaining Perspective: Views on the Mountain West from 30,000 Feet with Ben Alexander of Resources Legacy FundRaymond Foxworth of First Nations Development InstituteJill Ozarski of the Walton Family Foundation, and moderated by Paula Randolph of the Babbitt Center for Land & Water Policy at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Just Transition to a Circular Economy with Alicia Marseille of Arizona State University's Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions ServiceWhitney Johnson of the Gates Family Foundation and Colorado Employee Ownership Commission, and moderated by Jessica Gonzalez LISC Phoenix.


Day 1: Wednesday, May 12 | Noon MT – 3:30 p.m. MT

Day 2: Thursday, May 13 |Noon MT – 2:30 p.m. MT

Who Should Attend

Registration is open to donors, staff, directors, trustees of public and private foundations, corporate grantmakers and government funders throughout the Intermountain West and elsewhere. We welcome funders, wherever they are in the continuum of learning, to engage with us in this work as we seek to create a shared learning space for strategic conversations about where philanthropic resources can have the greatest impact.

Register now!


The Funders Network’s Intermountain West Funders Network allows funders to grow relationships, deepen knowledge, explore unique endeavors and share promising practices. While funders in the network embed a variety of lenses into their work, their key focus remains on ensuring that communities in the Intermountain West are equitable, sustainable and prosperous.

"Tucson Sunrise" by docoverachiever is licensed under CC BY

Chauvin Verdict: Responses from the sector


"We cannot unsee what we have seen. Now that the bar of accountability has been set, we can—and we must—choose to move forward by continuing to act in justice and to address inequities in our systems." - Minneapolis Foundation's statement in response to the Derick Chauvin verdict.

On Tuesday, a Minneapolis jury found former officer Derick Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd, a verdict that came nearly a year after Floyd's death shocked the world and sparked a national reckoning on race and justice.

Here is a round-up of responses from leaders in philanthropy and others. If you would like to share a statement from your organization, please contact TFN's Director of Communications Tere Figueras Negrete at tere@fundersnetwork.org.

TFN Statement

Our Work Continues: Read a statement from TFN President and CEO Pat Smith in response to Tuesday's verdict.

Philanthropy Responds 

Alliance for Justice


California Community Foundation

The California Endowment

The California Wellness Foundation

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation

Energy Foundation

First 5 LA

Ford Foundation

Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees

The Kresge Foundation President and CEO Rip Rapson

Liberty Hill Foundation

McKnight Foundation President Tonya Allen

Minneapolis Foundation

Missouri Foundation for Health

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

NorCal Grantmakers

Open Society Foundations

Partnership for Southern Equity

RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser

San Francisco Foundation CEO Fred Blackwell

Sierra Health Foundation 

Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Nicole Taylor

Surdna Foundation President Don Chen


"George Floyd" by chaddavis.photography is licensed under CC BY-SA

Our Work Continues: Statement from TFN's Pat Smith on the Chauvin verdict


Today, I’m holding two things in my heart.

The first is tremendous relief that a jury believed what our eyes knew from the start: That George Floyd was the victim of a heinous murder at the hands of a police officer.

The second is knowledge that this is a too-rare rebuke of police misconduct in a country where nearly 1,000 people die at the hands of law enforcement each year, with case after case of officers eluding justice after killing a Black person.

I hope that the verdict brings the Floyd family some measure of peace. And I will forever be filled with deep awe and gratitude for the countless people who took to the streets over the past year, invoking his name as a call to action and igniting a national reckoning on race.

But even though the trial is over, nothing is really over.

There is still so much more work to be done. We need to radically re-imagine our approach to law enforcement and to truly keep our communities safe. We have to dismantle racist systems and policies that create barriers to opportunities and cut lives short. We have to not only ensure that Black and brown bodies are physically safe, but that their voices — as well as those of all communities of color — are heard and their ballots counted.

Since testimony in the trial began on March 29, at least 64 people have died at the hands of law enforcement nationwide, with Black and Latinx people representing more than half of those killed, according to the New York Times. That includes Daunte Wright, a young Black man killed in Brooklyn Center, just a few miles from where Floyd’s murderer was standing trial in Minneapolis. It includes Adam Toledo, an unarmed 13-year-old boy gunned down in Chicago. That number does not include 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio, less than an hour after Derick Chauvin was found guilty.

So much grief. So much work to do.

For those who would like to explore policy recommendations that center equity and compassion, I recommend you start with PolicyLink’s “policing toolkit,” Building Momentum from the Ground Up: A Toolkit for Promoting Justice in Policing.

There has already been great work being done at the grassroots level, in Minneapolis and beyond. We encourage you and your grantmaking organizations to increase support of frontline organizations led by BIPOC members of our communities through general operating grants, and to truly partner with these groups as equals at the decision-making tables in the communities you serve.

This movement that spurred people to take to the streets and the ballot box this past year has, unsurprisingly, sparked pushback.

Here in Florida, home to TFN’s headquarters, a newly enacted law mandates harsh criminal penalties against protestors exercising their First Amendment rights. The law, signed into law by our governor on Monday, was a direct response to protests demanding police accountability and transparency, and seeks to silence and criminalize those who want to see justice for Black lives.

In Georgia, where voters elected their first Black U.S. senator in November, a controversial new voting law has been enacted to make it harder for people of color to vote. Discriminatory changes to voting laws in Arizona, Michigan, and Texas are also being considered.

Last week, more than 60 foundation leaders — including many members of The Funders Network — joined with corporate executives, scholars and others to protest these efforts to restrict voting rights.

Gerrymandering, which is wielded as a tool of voter suppression, is another obstacle to ensuring communities are fairly represented and adequately funded. To learn more about how funders can engage in the 2021-2022 redistricting cycle, and how it presents a “critical opportunity for communities to build power, ensure equitable political representation, and address systemic inequities,” please visit these resources from the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation.

I also want to lift up the work of Rukia Lumumba, one of our recent TFN annual conference plenary speakers, and her colleagues whose work supports the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project.

There are so many activists, advocates and allies that have given me strength and inspiration in the 11 months since that video of George Floyd’s death shook the world.

We can’t let this moment slide into history, but continue to meet it head on with passion and purpose.

That means keeping our eyes always open to injustice, and our hearts always open to change.

About the Author

Pat Smith is the President and CEO of The Funders Network (TFN). TFN’s mission is to leverage philanthropy’s unique potential to help create communities and regions that are sustainable, prosperous, healthy and just for all people. TFN is committed to helping funders understand and address racism, economic inequality, and the imbalance of power — while engendering community-driven solutions and amplifying the expertise and experiences of those communities who are least heard.  (To learn more about TFN’s foundational and cross-cutting commitment to racial equity, as well as resources for funders, visit our Putting Equity First page.)

Intermountain West Funders Network 2021 Virtual Convening: Agenda update


Are you an Intermountain West funder hoping to connect with and learn from peers in the region? Are you eager to learn about promising funder practices and new ways of thinking about the unprecedented challenges facing the communities you serve?

Join us May 12-13 for TFN's Intermountain West Funders Network 2021 Virtual Convening as we create a virtual space to translate national efforts, movements and trends influencing work at the intersection of environment, economy and equity.

Our peer-driven learning agenda will explore how are Intermountain West funders are engaging on critical issues such as racial equity, climate justice, conservation, COVID relief and recovery, and inclusive leadership.

We know how important our in-person IMWFN convenings have been over the last decade, providing a unique set of experiences not found in other funder gatherings. And while we would have loved to gather together in Tucson for this event, we've carved out plenty of time to learn from and share with one another while remaining socially distant.

As we hear every year, it’s the IMWFN participants who highlight promising paths fellow funders can take through often rugged terrain. IMWFN allows funders to grow relationships, deepen knowledge, explore unique endeavors and share promising practices specific to the region. While funders in the network embed a variety of lenses into their work, their key focus remains on ensuring that communities in the Intermountain West are equitable, sustainable and prosperous.

Learn more about the #IMWFN2021 agenda and registration here.

Thank You

We thank the IMWFN Planning Committee for helping us pivot to a virtual format:

Jessica GonzalezLISC Phoenix

Laia MitchellGates Family Foundation

Melanie MitrosVitalyst Health Foundation

Paula RandolphBabbitt Center for Land & Water Policy (Committee Chair)

"Tucson Sunrise" by docoverachiever is licensed under CC BY

Flash Talks, Federal Policy & Film Sessions: Check out agenda updates for TFN's 2021 Virtual Conference!


It's not too late to register and join our virtual event exploring the strategies and stories that are creating more equitable, sustainable, and resilient places to live — work that has taken on increased urgency as we face the dual challenges of a global pandemic and structural racism.

Take a look at just some of our featured highlights below, including our Federal Policy RoundtableFlash Talks, and Learning from Place: Storytelling through Film concurrent sessions.

And please visit our #TFN2021 webpage for more info on registration, sessions and speakers.

Federal Policy Roundtable

Wednesday, March 17 | 3:30 p.m. ET

capitol jorge alcala piktochart

Join us for a Federal Policy Roundtable to explore the challenges and opportunities around issues such as water equity, climate crisis, economic recovery, mobility and transit justice, and Covid-related impacts.

What have we learned in the first few months of the Biden administration, and what role can funders play in a changed but nonetheless fraught political climate? What can agency senior leaders share about their key priorities?

We’ll delve into if and how racial equity will be embedded and prioritized, and how this work can move ahead in an intersectional, collaborative way within the executive agencies.


Christopher Coes, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, U.S. Department of Transportation

Peggy Bailey, Senior Advisor, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Radhika Fox, Acting Assistant Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water

Sameera Fazili, Deputy Director, National Economic Council

Don Chen, President, Surdna Foundation (moderator)

Flash Talks

TFN's virtual conference will feature four compelling Flash Talk speakers, who will share their stories and insights. Our #TFN2021 Flash Talk presenters are:

August Creppel, Chief, The United Houma Nation

chief creppel

Monday, March 15 | 2:30 p.m. ET

We are honored to have Chief August Creppel of The United Houma Nation as our first Flash Talk presenter.

The United Houma Nation is composed of proud and independent people who have close ties to the water and land of their ancestors. This Indigenous tribe calls the lands now known as Louisiana home. Their tribal communities rely on interwoven bayous and canals to stay connected and earn a living, but the effects of coastal erosion have made those waterways nonexistent or impassable.

The United Houma Nation is grappling with the unique challenges of preserving and maintaining their way of life when the land is disappearing from underneath their feet.

Tamika L. Butler, Founder & Principal, Tamika L. Butler Consulting


Tuesday, March 16 | 1:30 p.m. ET

As the principal and founder of Tamika L. Butler Consulting, Tamika focuses on shining a light on inequality, inequity, and social justice.

She draws from her wide-ranging and diverse background in law, community organizing and nonprofit leadership to challenge and inspire organizations and individuals to fight those inequities and injustices.

Her work has included serving as executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust and most recently as both a director of planning and the director of equity and inclusion at Toole Design.

Sunni Patterson, New Orleans Poet

sunni patterson

Tuesday, March 16 | 3 p.m. ET

Sunni Patterson combines the heritage of her native New Orleans with an enlightened modern style to create her music and poetry.

She began her career as a full-time high school teacher, and much of her life since has been devoted to serving as a cultural worker and grassroots activist, using art and poetry to encourage dialogue and healing.

She has been a featured performer at many of the nation's premier spoken-word venues, including HBO's Def Poetry and BET’s Lyric Cafe.

(Sunni Patterson is also the subject of our Learning from Place: Artist in Exile film session on Tuesday, March 16 at 3:15 p.m. ET.; scroll down for more details.)

Dr. Denese Shervington, Professor, Psychiatrist & Mental Health Advocate

tfn2021 ShervingtonDenese

Denese Shervington, MD, MPH, is a chairperson and professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the president of the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies.

She has an intersectional career in public health, clinical, and academic psychiatry.

After Hurricane Katrina, she created a post-disaster emotional recovery and resilience division at the community-based non-profit public health organization that she founded, the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies.

Her Flash Talk will center healing in our ongoing conversations about collective trauma.

(Dr. Denese Shervington will also facilitate a Critical Conversation on Wednesday, March 17 at 1:15 p.m. ET; scroll down for more details.)

Learning from Place: Storytelling through Film

We have a long tradition at our TFN conferences of lifting up the power of storytelling to transform narratives and drive change.

For our virtual conference, we'll present three concurrent Learning from Place sessions, each featuring a short film (or film clip) and a conversation with funders and filmmakers.

All Learning from Place sessions take place Tuesday, March 16 at 3:15 p.m. ET.

Learning from Place: Hollow Tree

Hollow Tree photo 1

Watch and discuss a segment of Hollow Tree, a feature-length documentary-in-progress about three young women who spend a year exploring the history of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. For the first time, they notice the river’s engineering, stumps of cypress trees, and billowing smokestacks. Their different perspectives weave together a new story about climate change and how they fit into it.


Kira Akerman, Film Director, Hollow Tree

Tanielma Da Costa, Film Protagonist, Hollow Tree

Diane Ives, Fund Advisor, The Kendeda Fund (moderator)

Learning from Place: Artist in Exile

ArtistInExile 1

Join us for the short film Artist in Exile, which merges documentary and poetry as it follows poet Sunni Patterson’s return to New Orleans 12 years after Hurricane Katrina. Patterson, who is also presenting a Flash Talk at TFN’s 2021 Virtual Conference, comes from a long line of ancestors who have called New Orleans home for hundreds of years.


Sunni Patterson, Poet, Performer

Kiyoko McCrae, Director, Artist in Exile;
Director of Documentary Programming and Filmmaker Labs
New Orleans Film Society

Carmen James Randolph,
Vice President for Programs, Greater New Orleans Foundation

Learning from Place: NONSTOP


We'll share a sneak peek of the short documentary film NONSTOP, which follows the struggles of New Orleans bus operators amid the coronavirus pandemic. The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority is a lifeline for many, with its bus system transporting frontline workers to their jobs, riders to the grocery store, and the sick to their doctors. But while the bus operators continued to fight for proper PPE, hazard pay, and sick leave, the bus remained a breeding ground for COVID-19.

We hope you'll join us for #TFN2021 March 15-17!

New TFN Report! Community Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change


How can community foundations help create meaningful change in local communities?

What sorts of partnerships can be modeled effectively?

And what opportunities are there for regional and national funders to advance community change and power-building?

The Funders Network has released Community Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change, which looks at three community foundation programs and examines how these partnerships and initiatives are helping broaden expertise, grow peer networks, deepen local connections and build community power.

This report, made possible with the support of the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, was researched and written by Estolano Advisors and includes interviews with and a survey of participating community foundations and their local partners, program investors, and TFN staff.

The report surfaces key outcomes and lessons learned from TFN’s three community foundation partnership programs:

The Community Foundation Water Initiative organized several site visits, including one to Los Angeles in 2019.

The Community Foundation Water Initiative, launched in 2015, includes five community foundation partners working individually and collectively to advance sustainable water management solutions. Since 2017, Smart Growth California, a TFN initiative, has facilitated efforts to identify and implement high-value collective activity toward achieving water goals. The program, which ended in 2020, was supported by a single funder, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

The City of Bridgeport, Conn., received a Partners for Places grant to help revitalize the city’s coastline. Photo Credit: The Trust for Public Land

Partners for Places, a matching grant program run jointly by TFN and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, creates opportunities for cities and counties in the United States and Canada to invest in local projects that make urban areas more prosperous, livable, and vibrant while also fostering long-term relationships between local government sustainability offices, community foundations, and frontline community-led groups. Accepting applications for Round 18 until March 19, Partners for Places has awarded more than $7.5 million leading to more than $16 million in investments. Partners for Places is currently supported by The JPB FoundationThe Kendeda FundThe Kresge FoundationNew York Community Trust, and the Pisces Foundation.

PPREP has been instrumental in helping the Quad Cities Community Foundation deepen relationships with other organizations, such as local nonprofits, that are instrumental in post-disaster recovery. Photo credit: Habitat for Humanity Quad Cities

Key Findings & Case Studies

Two key findings emerged while conducting this research:

Community foundations are crucial partners in creating meaningful and sustainable change in local communities.

Regional and national foundations have rich opportunities through these partnership models to engage place-based foundations in building community power and advancing inclusive community change.

Community Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change also lifts up several case studies that are illustrative of the work supported by these community foundation partnership models. In the report, you’ll learn how:

The Quad Cities Community Foundation, a member of the PPREP learning cohort, has added disaster preparation and recovery as a primary focus area in a region that has grappled with severe flooding and other extreme weather, cultivating relationships with organizations in other sectors, such as local nonprofits, first responder groups, and the media. The foundation also launched a Nonprofit Disaster Capacity Building cohort, based on PPREP, that strengthened 22 local nonprofit’s capacity to withstand emergencies and better serve their communities in the aftermath of local disasters.

The San Francisco Foundation’s participation in the Community Foundation Water Initiative helped it further its mission of advancing racial and economic inclusion while bringing water-related work into their new program areas. This included funding ClimatePlan — a statewide network led at the time by a Black female executive director, who brought a voice and perspective rarely seen in regional planning processes — to develop an action plan to equitably integrate water and land use in the San Francisco region.

The Greater New Orleans Foundation is supporting community-driven climate action planning in New Orleans through two Partners for Places matching grants. The first facilitated the development of the Trust for Public Land’s Climate Smart Cities tool, which aids the city in making location decisions for green, climate resilient infrastructure that helps to address socioeconomic and environmental inequities. The second Partners for Places award helped the City of New Orleans create a climate action strategy that integrated equity into the city’s implementation of its climate action plan.

Read the Report

We invite you to download a copy of the Community Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change report and executive summary; the report is also available in a tablet- and mobile-friendly version via the Issuu publishing platform.

Download PDF: Community Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change

Download PDFCommunity Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change (Executive Summary)

Web Friendly Version: Community Foundations: Drivers of Inclusive and Meaningful Local Change via Issuu

Thank you

TFN would like to thank the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation for its support, the team at Estolano Advisors for its hard work creating this report, and the funders, partners and local advocates who took the time to share their experiences and insights. We'd also like to thank the community, regional and national funders across our membership network for their commitment to creating communities that are equitable, sustainable and prosperous.

Learn More About Our Work

Visit the TFN Publications section on this website to see more publications from The Funders Network.

Shop Here! Virtual Market features NOLA artists and entrepreneurs as part of #TFN2021


While we had originally hoped to hold our 2021 conference in New Orleans, we want to nonetheless celebrate the people, cuisine and culture of this beautiful and resilient city.

We also hope to minimize the economic impact of our decision to go virtual with an opportunity to support local New Orleans vendors and entrepreneurs, many of whom have been hard hit by the economic impacts and social disruptions caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Shop Here! Virtual Market offers the opportunity to order directly from NOLA-based vendors, artisans, and social enterprises as a way to support these local vendors.

TFN's 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together takes place March 15-17. But you don't have to wait for our virtual conference to order something cool for yourself or someone you care about: The market is already open for business on our #TFN2021 webpage.

And you don't have to be registered for TFN's virtual conference to make purchases and support these businesses. (Although we do hope you'll register if you haven't; Early Bird rates end this Friday!)

TFN worked with Berto Horne and Ayanna Carrington of the Atlanta-based The Village Market, which seeks to connect Black-owned businesses to engaged consumers, impactful resources, and investors. Berto and Ayanna helped curate this virtual market with an emphasis on Black-owned businesses that connect to the vibrant culture and history of New Orleans and its surrounding region.

The links in our Shop Here! Virtual Market will take you directly to those vendors' sites. TFN did not charge any fees to vendors for participating, and all transactions are conducted directly with the vendors featured in this virtual market.

We'd like to offer a special thanks to The Rockefeller Foundation for its support as a presenting sponsor of the Shop Here! Virtual Market.

Learn more about our conference, including speakers, sessions and other highlights here.

Shop Here! Virtual Market

Below are just some of the New Orleans-based businesses you can find in the Shop Here! Virtual Market. Please visit the market to find links to these vendors and others.

Fankara Fans offers a breath of fresh air in the form of collapsible, handmade fans in vibrant colors (like those pictured above.) They also offer a variety of tees and bags that asks the question, "Have you supported a Black woman owned business today?"

Maison Bertrand, founded in 1931 as the Monogram Coffee Company in Shreveport, La., offers iconic chicory coffee and other celebrations of Louisiana tradition and culture, including handmade pralines and apple cider caramels.

Meet Me At The Bar connects people over cocktails through curated experiences and products, including both in-person and virtual events. The company was founded by college friends Chanté McDonald and Ciara Coleman. (Fun fact: Ciara is a 2018 TFN PLACES alum!)

A self-confessed extrovert and hypochondriac, Taylor Simone found herself feeling idle and alone during quarantine closures, so she turned her jewelry-making hobby in to a business. Joy Journey offers handmade polymer clay earrings, including custom options.

The Rustic Shoebox was founded by former IT professional Chatoya Connor, who swapped a career in the corporate world for a new one selling fiercely fashionable shoes, handbags and other accessories.

Conference Highlights

TFN’s 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together will encourage funders to explore the strategies and stories that are creating more equitable, sustainable, and resilient places to live — work that has taken on increased urgency as we face the dual challenges of a global pandemic and structural racism.

We’ve designed sessions that are intersectional, cross-cutting and grounded in racial equity and speak to activism, collaboration and movement building.

Please check out our TFN 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together webpage for more updates and conference highlights, including #TFN2021 Critical ConversationsFlash Talks, a Cook Here! Funder Social Hour and other opportunities to learn, share and connect.

The Network Effect: The Power of Connections for Social and Environmental Justice

BY Nathan Boon, Senior Program Officer, Watershed Protection, William Penn Foundation  &

Sulaiman Rahman, Founder and CEO, DiverseForce

The nonprofit world lives in the shadow of systemic racism. This is not new news, and its effects on non-governmental organizations are both well-documented and at the forefront of many funders’ minds. 

The partnership and cohort-based training program we have created together is not the only or complete answer to this challenge, but it is worth sharing because we believe it’s replicable, affordable, and impactful. 

We’ve each sought to leverage what’s called the network effect in our work: Nathan Boon in the world of grantmaking at the William Penn Foundation, and Sulaiman Rahman in the realm of recruitment and professional development at DiverseForce. The network effect describes the observation that organizations designed around large, diverse networks enjoy more success and impact than those that are not. Over the past two years, we’ve worked together to activate the network effect to address power inequities across the Greater Philadelphia region’s nonprofit sector, including within organizations working on environment and conservation, where lack of inclusion is especially prevalent

In all areas of our grantmaking, from multi-state watershed protection programs such as the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, to our work fostering learning and creative communities, we are eager to address this challenge. The dearth of diverse leadership at nonprofit organizations has made many less equipped to address a wide variety of the social and environmental needs facing our region — needs made all the more urgent by COVID-19, climate change, and the movement for Black lives. This leadership gap is not unique to William Penn Foundation’s grantees, but part of a national trend holding the sector back from realizing its full potential.

In addition to the foundation's own ongoing internal work in this area, we’ve supported organizations throughout our networks who are hungry to learn and grow into more equitable agents for change. The missing piece of the puzzle was a partner who could work with grantees to shift culture and practice where the most influential decisions were being made: the boardroom. 

Enter DiverseForce.

DiverseForce was born of the network effect. It grew out of the Urban Philly Professional Network, a series of events drawing 18,000 Black and Latinx professionals to make connections, talk politics, and become more civically engaged. The program evolved into a trusted resource for companies and organizations seeking more diverse board leadership. The driving insight of the DiverseForce On Boards program? That even the most well-intentioned boards often lack the network and outlook needed to recruit and retain members of color.

DiverseForce became connected with the William Penn Foundation through an evaluation partner, the ImpactED Center at the University of Pennsylvania. ImpactED was a key adviser in the design of the On Boards curriculum.  Starting in 2019, the three organizations explored ways to bring DiverseForce’s network and expertise to the foundation’s grantees, with the understanding that it’s not enough to place “Black and brown faces in high places.” There needs to be culture-shift, education, and ongoing support — for both the candidate and the organization. 

To date, more than two dozen regional nonprofit organizations have seated 30 new board members from the DiverseForce program, from stalwart institutions to small local groups. Many organizations share with us that their DiverseForce board recruits are the most engaged and innovative members they have. Melinda Johnson, a recent match for Camden, New Jersey’s landmark Center for Aquatic Sciences, now chairs their board’s development committee.

The William Penn Foundation-DiverseForce partnership is ongoing and retooling in light of COVID.  In the interim, here are five lessons learned as other grantmakers look to leverage the network effect:


1. Invest in networks. All too often, organizations ask the same three people of color in their orbit to volunteer their time and give unpaid advice. One way funders can counter this exploitative practice is to invest directly in organizations with networks to build relationships and co-create service opportunities.

2. Invest in system-wide capacity. William Penn Foundation had numerous one-on-one conversations with grantees where they shared equity as a growth area and critical need. When the opportunity arose to work with DiverseForce, the foundation saw it as an effective way to support multiple grantees across its entire portfolio. DiverseForce’s cohort model also amplifies peer-to-peer learning between the organizations.

3. Prepare the soil before planting the seed. DiverseForce works to upskill organizations while seating new board members. This practice is crucial so that candidates are not placed in non-inclusive environments. This preparation includes training to identify racial blindspots that have become institutionalized at an organization over time, and on how to value a candidate for their “culture add,” rather than “culture fit.” This process also equips organizations to embrace healthy conflict that arises from new candidates bringing fresh ideas.

4. Grow the candidate.  DiverseForce prepares candidates to bring their full, impactful selves to the boardroom.  Coaching candidates for several organizations in a cohort model, DiverseForce works to instill confidence, build “governance muscles”, and combat the imposter syndrome that professionals of color say they sometimes experience when entering new institutional spaces. One new board member was inspired by her experience to subsequently run for her local school board. 

5. And finally: You can’t micromanage equity. The William Penn Foundation made its investment in DiverseForce and then stepped out of the way. This partnership would not have worked without the foundation remaining flexible, open, and culturally humble.




About the Authors:

Nathan Boon, Senior Program Officer, Watershed Protection, William Penn Foundation

Nathan supports science- and data-driven approaches to protect and restore the Delaware River watershed: drinking water source for New York City, Philadelphia, Trenton and Wilmington. Before joining the William Penn Foundation in 2012, Nathan worked with the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton providing strategic planning and portfolio management services. Nathan was previously embedded in francophone Cameroon with the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Breaking Ground, engaged with a local municipality in water-quality analysis and health-impact assessment. Nathan’s nonprofit experience also includes time as a board member with the American Water Resources Association, National Capital Region Section, and membership with the American Public Health Association, Environment Section.

Sulaiman Rahman, Founder and CEO, DiverseForce

Sulaiman W. Rahman is the founder and CEO of DiverseForce, a strategic human capital solutions firm that specializes in cultivating diverse leadership pipelines and inclusive ecosystems across all sectors. In 2017, DiverseForce partnered with the University of Pennsylvania to develop DiverseForce On Boards, an innovative leadership development program that trains mid-to-senior level professionals of color from the public and private sectors to serve more effectively on nonprofit boards in the region. The program’s success has attracted support from major corporations and foundations.

Rahman currently serves as vice president of the board of directors for Community College of Philadelphia Foundation; board of trustee and executive committee member for Mastery Charter Schools; board member and governance committee member for the Kimmel Center of Performing Arts; and board member for Lendistry, a start-up fintech company. Rahman also serves on numerous advisory boards and committees. 

Interested in contributing to TFN's Blog?

 TFN is committed to sharing and amplifying the insights, expertise and experiences of our members, partners and others in the broader philanthropic community. If you are interested in submitting a guest blog post, please reach out to TFN Director of Communications Tere Figueras Negrete at tere@fundersnetwork.org.


Join our Mobility & Access Collaborative webinar to learn how an emergent transit justice movement won billions in federal funds 


Faced with devastating cuts to the transit service on which essential workers and many people with low incomes depend, local advocates from around the country came together to build a national infrastructure that secured billions in federal COVID-19 relief funding. Along the way, they changed the nature of the transit conversation in Congress to one that centers riders instead of the traditionally dominant voices of big agencies, big labor, big green and big construction interests. A set of transit justice principles, created by the network, guide the work.

Are you interested from learning from funders and organizers about their experiences,  what they are doing and learning, and what comes next?

Join the Mobility and Access Collaborative, a TFN initiative, at 2 p.m. ET March 2 for Zero to Sixty: How an Emergent Transit Justice Movement of Community-Based Organizations Won an Estimated $60 Billion in Federal Funds.

The lessons learned about power building, organizing and networking are relevant to anyone interested in systems change and rebooting conversations.

Be sure to register for this funder webinar by March 1 in order to receive log-in details.


Darryl Young, Director, Sustainable Cities Program, Summit Foundation

What We Accomplished:
David Bragdon, Executive Director, TransitCenter

Theory of Change:
LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director, Alliance for a Just Society

How We Built Power: Local leaders tell their stories:

Betsy Plum, Executive Director, NY Riders Alliance

Joshua Malloy, Community Organizer, Pittsburghers for Public Transit

Azhar Chougle, Executive Director, Miami-Dade Transit Alliance

Jessica Meaney, Executive Director, Investing in Place

Scott Frazier, Consultant, Investing in Place

This webinar will also include a Q&A with funders

#TFN2021 speaker update: Plenary speaker Rukia Lumumba of People's Advocacy Institute + Critical Conversations on deck!


We’re thrilled to share new updates to our lineup of speakers and sessions for The Funders Network’s 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together.

New this week: We are excited to announce our newest plenary speaker, Rukia Lumumba, executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute and co-director of the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Project.

Read on to learn more about Rukia and her work — as well as our new conference feature, Critical Conversations, which offers facilitated peer-to-peer conversations in order to create a space for funders to explore difficult issues.

TFN’s 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together takes place March 15-17. Stay tuned for additional updates and other conference news!

Rukia Lumumba

Transformative Justice Strategist & Human Rights Activist

We are excited to share that Rukia Lumumba, executive director of the People’s Advocacy Institute and co-director of the Movement for Black Lives’ Electoral Justice Program will join us as a plenary speaker for #TFN2021!

A transformative justice strategist and human rights activist, Rukia is the daughter of the late community justice icon Chokwe Lumumba, who served as mayor of Jackson, Miss., and Nubia Lumumba. Rukia continues the Lumumba family’s rich history of advancing issues and initiatives that elevate the legal, economic, health and educational rights of individuals, families and communities.

For more than 18 years, she has worked within and outside the system to foster justice for all, especially as it relates to criminal justice disparities for people of color. She has served as director of two of New York state’s largest criminal justice nonprofits, CASES (the Center for Alternatives Sentencing and Employment Services) and the Center for Community Alternatives, providing visionary leadership and building community and system partnerships to help break the prison pipeline.

During her leadership tenure, more than 4,200 youths received supportive community-based services including housing, education, job, and health and well-being services, in lieu of incarceration. She also served as co-chair of the Anti-Violence and Criminal Justice Working Group and steering committee member of the first Young Women’s Initiative in the United States dedicated to developing gender equitable policies in New York City, particularly for young women of color.

Rukia also served as campaign manager for her brother Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s successful 2017 run for mayor of Jackson, Miss., which made him the second Lumumba to hold that title.

Critical Conversations

In this time of social distancing, it’s important for us to connect with compassion, humanity and understanding. TFN’s conference will offer Critical Conversations, an opportunity to have frank, open, peer-facilitated exchanges of ideas and experiences, and perhaps learn a little bit about each other in the process. Each session will be led by a facilitator with a deep personal or professional connection to the topic.

Critical Conversations @ #TFN2021:
COVID-19 & Racism

Facilitator: Jasmine N. Hall Ratliff, Deputy Director for Culture and Strategy, Keecha Harris and Associates

Monday, March 15 | 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. ET

Being Black in Philanthropy
L-R: Shawn Escoffery, Marcus Walton

Facilitators: Shawn Escoffery, Executive Director, Roy & Patricia Disney Family Foundation; Member, TFN Board of Directors and Marcus Walton, President & CEO, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations

Monday, March 15| 2:45 to 3:30 p.m. ET

Decolonizing Leadership

Facillitator: Bina Patel, CEO, Saathi Impact Consulting, and TFN PLACES Alum/Fellowship Facilitator

Wednesday, March 17 | 12:30 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET

Healing and Trauma

Facilitator: Dr. Denese Shervington, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Tulane University School of Medicine and President and CEO, Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies

Wednesday, March 17 | 12:30 – 1:15 p.m. ET

Who else will be at #TFN2021?

TFN’s 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together will encourage funders to explore the strategies and stories that are creating more equitable, sustainable, and resilient places to live — work that has taken on increased urgency as we face the dual challenges of a global pandemic and structural racism.

We’ve designed sessions that are intersectional, cross-cutting and grounded in racial equity and speak to activism, collaboration and movement building.

Please check out our TFN 2021 Virtual Conference: Rise Together webpage for more updates and conference highlights