We're Hiring: TFN President & CEO! | Applications Now Open


Are you a visionary, dynamic and strategic leader with a passion for helping communities become more sustainable, prosperous, healthy and just?

We're excited to share that applications are open for the position of TFN's president and CEO. This is an extraordinary opportunity for candidates who believe in leveraging philanthropy's unique potential to advance racial, economic and environmental justice.

Details about this fully remote position, including compensation, are available here.

The search is being led by McCormack + Kristel, a national provider of executive search consulting services for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations.

If you're interested in joining TFN's amazing team, please submit a résumé and cover letter that describes your qualifications and interest in TFN's mission through McCormack + Kristel's application portal.

Applications will be accepted until the position is filled. (Please note that applications may only be submitted through the application portal.)

If you have any questions about the candidate profile or recruitment process, kindly reach out to Michelle Kristel, managing partner, and Dr. Zaria Davis, search consultant, at search@mccormackkristel.com.


Leadership Transition & Annual Conference

As part of our goal to foster a smooth and productive transition for TFN's new president and CEO, we will be taking a break from hosting our Annual Conference in 2024.

We truly value and enjoy the opportunity to gather at our Annual Conference every March. But given that TFN President and CEO Pat Smith will retire at the end of this calendar year, we recognized the need to afford the network's new leader the grace and space to settle into their new role.

We nonetheless look forward to several opportunities to gather in person during 2024, including: 

  • PLACES: In addition to in-person events for the PLACES 2024 Fellowship Cohort, PLACES will hold a PLACES Alumni Gathering and is hoping to schedule alumni-led regional gatherings in 2024.
Stay tuned for more details about TFN events and learning opportunities!

'An Outrageous Irony': TFN's Pat Smith Responds to the Supreme Court's Affirmative Action Ruling

BY Pat Smith, TFN President & CEO

I was wrapping up my visit to Morehouse College, a campus that is a living testament to Black excellence, leadership and achievement, when news broke of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision rejecting affirmative action at colleges and universities around the nation.

This ruling upends a policy that has been a pillar of higher education for more than a half century, one that provided a first step up the ladder of success and opportunity for generations of young Black and brown people, including myself.

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, recruiters from the elite Seven Sisters colleges came to my Philadelphia high school to introduce Black students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds to their institutions. I ultimately chose to attend Mount Holyoke College on a full academic scholarship.

For me, it is an outrageous irony that this country has sanctioned exclusion on the basis of race since its founding, and yet we cannot take race into account when fashioning remedies to redress generational, systemic harm.

I'm struck by the further irony that this ruling does not apply to our nation's military academies, which may still consider race as a factor in admissions. Are we saying that Black, Latinx/e and other people of color aren't valuable to places of higher education, except where the United States has an interest in deciding who can fight — and die — for our country?

I went to college during the height of Vietnam War. I was devastated to learn recently that a predominately Black Philadelphia high school holds the distinction of having the most Vietnam casualties — more than any other single high school in the United States.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson both offered blistering criticisms of the ruling and the myth of color-blindness in their dissenting opinions.

It beggars belief to say that race doesn't matter. It mattered in 1619. It mattered in 1968. And it matters still today.

Affirming our Commitment to Racial Justice

The affirmative action ruling was quickly followed by the Supreme Court's rejection of the Biden administration's student loan forgiveness plan, a decision that disproportionately impacts students of color.

Both rulings present significant challenges to helping this generation of young people of color close racial wealth gaps.

Many in the philanthropic sector are wrestling with the impact the decision will have on education and beyond: Namely, whether this will create a chilling effect on incorporating the values of racial equity and inclusion in hiring policies, grantmaking and advocacy work.

I speak on behalf of TFN’s team in saying that we are committed to centering racial justice in our work. And we are likewise committed to helping our members and partners navigate potential fallout from the recent Supreme Court ruling and other attempts to roll back progress and water down challenges to systemic racism.

That commitment is foundational to our work, which includes varied but intersecting funder focus areas such as climate action, transportation and land use policies, urban water strategies, disaster resilience, and economic injustice.

The Road to Justice

It was some comfort that I was surrounded by an amazing group of highly engaged and passionate funders when the court issued its ruling. We had gathered at Morehouse for TFN's 2023 Inclusive Economies Meeting: Pathways to Power & Prosperity, a two-day event designed to deepen understanding of systemic challenges to opportunity, examine effective and equitable funding strategies and explore collaborations that drive change.

I am grateful to my friend, Judge Glenda Hatchett — a Mount Holyoke College alumna —  who stopped by to visit our Inclusive Economies gathering. In impassioned and impromptu remarks, she shared the extraordinary journey of Horace T. Ward, a graduate of Morehouse College, who was denied admission into the all-white University of Georgia Law School in 1950. He later became the first African American to serve on the federal bench in Georgia. In telling his story, Judge Hatchett reminded us that the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action is just another obstacle we can and will overcome on the road toward justice.

Stronger Together

Last week, TFN participated in a check-in call with other philanthropy serving organizations, organized by the United Philanthropy Forum, to process and strategize next steps in the wake of the ruling. As part of the briefing, we heard from ABFE, which is working with other identity-based PSOs — such as Native Americans in PhilanthropyAsian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and Hispanics in Philanthropy — to craft a collective strategy.

We look forward to engaging with them on this effort and sharing resources and calls-to-action with TFN's community of funders and partners.

This recent Supreme Court decision is momentous, but not singular. It is part of an escalating effort to undo decades of progress around racial justice and bodily autonomy. One has only to look at TFN's home state of Florida, where LGBTQ+ rights are under assault, books are being banned from classrooms, and public colleges and universities are now forbidden from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Many of you are seeing similar conflicts playing out in your states, cities and school boards.

I encourage our community of funders to use their positions of trust and influence to advocate against these efforts. I also encourage you to continue to support leadership pipelines for people of color and other marginalized groups, including community-led nonprofits, grassroots organizations and chronically underfunded historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

And I welcome you to share your own strategies, concerns and ways TFN can be of service to our collective goal of creating more equitable and just.

Additional Resources & Reactions

TFN is compiling reactions and resources from the philanthropic sector. Please reach out if you or your organization have additional links to share. 

ABFE | Statement in Response to the US Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Ruling

Barr Foundation | Undeterred, Our Work Continues

California Wellness Foundation | Cal Wellness Denounces SCOTUS Decision on Affirmative Action

The Annie E. Casey Foundation | Casey’s Response to the Supreme Court’s Affirmative Action Decision

Hispanics in Philanthropy | Injustice Unmasked

W. K. Kellogg Foundation | Statement on Affirmative Action Ruling & Additional Resources

The Kresge Foundation | College admissions affirmative action case won’t sway our dedication to equity

Latino Community Foundation | A Setback But We Will Press Forward, Together

McKnight Foundation | Statement in Response to Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling

Surdna Foundation | Surdna’s Unwavering Commitment to Advancing Racial Justice in America’s Communities

Featured Image: Artwork on display at Atlanta's Morehouse College, site of TFN's 2023 Inclusive Economies meeting. 

Partners for Places Matching Grants: 10 U.S. communities receive more than $2.5 million for sustainability projects & climate action


Diverting food waste from a local landfill by turning it into fertile soil for neighborhood gardens.

Converting the site of a shuttered primary school into a much-needed community park.

Working with Native American high schoolers to create an interactive story map of schoolyard green spaces that celebrates their Indigenous histories and connections to the land.

These are just a few of the projects that will be supported by the latest round of Partners for Places grants, a joint initiative of The Funders Network and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, which help fund efforts to create more equitable and resilient communities across the U.S.

In all, 10 U.S. communities will receive more than $2.5 million in Partners for Places matching grants to support sustainability efforts that focus largely on addressing the needs of historically marginalized communities that are disproportionately impacted by an escalating climate crisis and other environmental injustices.

These impactful projects bring together local governments, place-based funders, and frontline community groups. These relationships set the groundwork for even more action and collaboration at the grassroots level — fostering authentic engagement and input from populations and places that often bear the brunt of climate-fueled inequities but are often left out of decision-making processes.

The 10 communities receiving this latest round of Partners for Places grants are: Benton Harbor, Mich.; Charlottesville, Va.; Chelsea, Mass.; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Flagstaff, Ariz.; Harris County, Texas; Marin County, Calif.; San Diego, Calif.; Seattle, Wash.; and Waco, Texas.

Meet the New Grantees!

In Flagstaff, Ariz., where project partners hope to create an interactive map of schoolyard green spaces that identifies gaps in access, members of a high school Native American student club will contribute stories, artwork and other content that spotlights Indigenous connections to the local land, plants and wildlife.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio will use Partners for Places funding to help convert the vacant site of a former primary school into a much-needed, 2.6-acre park that will provide a safe and accessible gathering place for the eastside Cleveland neighborhood of Hough.

Community leaders in Waco, Texas, hoping to reduce the environmentally damaging methane emissions generated by a local landfill, will use the matching grant funds to support a program that diverts extra food to those that need it and encourages converting food waste into nutrient-rich compost for gardening.

Charlottesville, Va., is also using their Partners for Places grant to support work at the intersection of food and climate justice, funding a collaborative partnership that will increase sustainable urban agriculture space on public land in a way that enhances climate protections and prioritizes grassroots community leadership.


Cornell University urban design students helped propose ideas for the 2.6-acre Hough Community Green Space in Cuyahoga County after meeting with community members. Credit: Western Reserve Land Conservancy

Fostering authentic and inclusive community engagement, especially in areas that have been racially and economically marginalized, is a critical goal fueling many Partners for Places projects.

Marin County, Calif., will use this new funding to support a climate justice collaborative that brings together leaders from two Bay Area communities that face imminent risk of climate impacts, and will include leadership development, advocacy training and outreach for frontline community organizations.

“The Canal neighborhood of San Rafael and Marin City—the two Marin County communities this grant will serve—are mere feet above sea level. Those of us that live and work here already see the impacts of sea level rise and increasingly unpredictable storms,” said Canal Alliance CEO Omar Carrera. “The Marin Climate Justice Collaborative will be led by residents and will use their wisdom to identify, create, and prioritize climate resiliency solutions, improving conditions for those that live here.”

Collaborative climate justice planning is at the heart of another Partners for Places project in Harris County, Texas, home to a low-lying coastal geography, one of the world’s largest industrial corridors, and a fast-growing population. The grant will help support the co-creation of local, implementable solutions with frontline community residents who have been most impacted by climate hazards and disasters.

Benton Harbor, Mich., will use the funding to support an initiative that will develop local and regional climate action leadership, foster community engagement and help create a climate action plan that outlines federal and state funding opportunities for renewable energy programs, coastal resilience, and other critical issues.


Marin County, Calif., will use this new funding to support a climate justice collaborative that brings together leaders from two Bay Area communities that face imminent risk of climate impacts, including the Canal neighborhood pictured here. Source: Canal Alliance

In Chelsea, Mass., the grant will help turn the community’s vision for a vibrant and accessible Mill Creek waterfront into a reality – including plans to address climate impacts, remediate contamination, and create new green spaces with the input and engagement of community residents.

“We are delighted to receive a grant from Partners for Places,” said Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots. “For nearly 30 years, GreenRoots has been working to transform what once was a forgotten and untouchable part of our waterfront, along the Mill Creek, into a more accessible, ecologically rich area that offers walking trails, salt marsh, passive and active recreation in Chelsea. While we have achieved much, there is still much work to do."

Two communities selected for the latest round Partners for Places will receive dedicated funding specifically for green stormwater infrastructure projects.

San Diego, Calif., will use the funding to generate a community-centered scope for green stormwater infrastructure improvements to the under-invested and physically compromised Chollas Creek Watershed, and to support a watershed-focused partnership between the city, community-based organizations and local landscape design and engineering firms.

In Seattle, Wash., the grant will help strengthen community collaboration and ensure that planned green stormwater infrastructure investments in the southwest Seattle neighborhoods of Delridge benefit those who have lower access to opportunity and greater displacement risks.

Partners for Places funds will help Chelsea, Mass. turn the Mill Creek waterfront into a vibrant and accessible area for passive and active recreation. Source: GreenRoots

Grants at a Glance

The latest Partners for Places grant recipients, project descriptions, matching funders and frontline community groups are:

  • Benton Harbor, Mich. ($74,740): To support the Benton Harbor Justice 40 Initiative to develop local and regional leadership for climate action, restorative community partnerships, and fund development in an environmental justice community. Frontline community groups: Benton Harbor Community Development Corp., West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, and Project NEED Foundation. Matching funder: Americana Foundation ($25,000).
  • Charlottesville, Va. ($180,000): To support Just Food, Just Climate, a collaborative partnership that cultivates relationships, skills, and action at the intersection of food and climate justice. Frontline community group: Cultivate Charlottesville. Matching funders: Charlottesville Area Community Foundation and Hartfield Foundation ($180,000).
  • Chelsea, Mass. ($150,000): To implement their community’s vision of waterfront access, climate justice and land sovereignty along Mill Creek. Frontline community group: Matching funder: Barr Foundation ($75,000).
  • Cuyahoga County, Ohio ($180,000): To foster vibrancy and climate resiliency by repurposing 2.6 acres of vacant land, formerly a Cleveland Metropolitan School District site, into a park. Frontline community groups: Village Family Farms, Little Africa Food Co-Op, Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Famicos Foundation. Matching funders: FirstEnergy Foundation, Bank of America (Cleveland), Reinberger Foundation, Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation ($190,000).
  • Flagstaff, Ariz. ($70,000): To map green space/schoolyard infrastructure and access to advance equitable district-wide climate justice for all in response to Flagstaff’s Climate Action & Neutrality Plans. Frontline community groups: Ita Hopi Lavayi, Flagstaff High School Native American Club, Flagstaff Unified School District, Terra BIRDS. Matching funders: Arizona Community Foundation of Flagstaff and GeoFamily Foundation ($44,00).
  • Harris County, Texas ($150,000): For climate justice planning that aims to co-create local, implementable solutions with frontline residents who have been most impacted by climate hazards and disasters. Frontline community group: The Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience (CEER). Matching funder: Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation ($100,000).
  • Marin County, Calif. ($180,00): To create lasting capacity for frontline community involvement and leadership in local climate resilience decision-making in Marin County. Frontline community groups: Canal Alliance, Play Marin, Multicultural Center of Marin, and Marin City Climate Resilience & Health Justice. Matching funder: San Francisco Foundation ($180,000).
  • San Diego, Calif. ($120,000): For equity-driven Green Infrastructure planning for the Chollas Creek Watershed, including supporting a partnership between the city, community-based organizations and local landscape design and engineering firms and generating a community-centered GSI Plan scope for the watershed region. Frontline community groups: Groundwork San Diego-Chollas Creek on behalf of the Chollas Creek Coalition. Matching funder: The Hervey Family Fund at San Diego Foundation ($60,000).
  • Seattle, Wash. ($180,000): To facilitate input into two green stormwater infrastructure projects, develop a maintenance and programming plan, and fund improvements at a site to build trust and demonstrate responsiveness. Frontline community group: Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association. Matching funder: This local funder has requested anonymity ($90,000).
  • Waco, Texas ($150,000): To provide education and infrastructure for composting and gardening with goals for food waste recovery, food production, and methane reduction at the local landfill. Frontline community groups: Mission Waco Urban REAP, Da' Shack Farmers Market Health and Wellness, Inc., Family of Faith Worship Center, Global Revive, and World Hunger Relief Institute, and Baylor University. Matching funder: Cooper Foundation ($150,000).

About Partners for Places

Hough community members gathered in Cuyahoga County to share their thoughts on plans to turn the site of a former primary school into a 2.6-acre park. Credit: Western Reserve Land Conservancy

To date, Partners for Places has awarded $10.7 million across North America in this successful matching grant program, leading to more than $21.5 million in investments.

Partners for Places, led by The Funders Network (TFN) in partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), will provide $1,434,740 in funding to these 10 communities through the grant program. With contributions from local matching funders, a total of $2,528,740 will be committed to fund sustainability projects in these selected communities. This grant cycle includes a total of $450,000 in Partners for Places grants and local matching funds awarded to the green stormwater infrastructure projects in San Diego and Seattle.

The matching grant program brings national funder investors together with place-based funders to support equitable, sustainable climate action and green stormwater infrastructure projects. The program is currently supported by The JPB FoundationThe Kendeda FundThe Kresge FoundationNew York Community Trust, and the Pisces Foundation.

Partners for Places FAQ's

Where is Partners for Places making an impact? 
Read previous grant announcements in our Meet the Grantees section and explore the Partners for Places Grantee Map.

→ Where can I learn about completed Partners for Places projects? 
Visit the Partners for Places Idea Bank to explore what grantees are doing, learning and sharing.

For more information about Partners for Places, please reach out to Ashley Quintana, ashley@fundersnetwork.org

The Power of Space & Time: Five #TFN2023 takeaways from a PLACES alum

BY Maranda Witherspoon Richardson, TFN PLACES Alum


This March I had the opportunity to take part in TFN’s amazing annual conference, which took place in New Orleans. This was the first time since the pandemic began that I’ve been able to reunite with some of my most favorite people on the planet: Longtime friends and peers across the philanthropic sector who are committed to creating thriving and just communities. As an alum of TFN’s 2015 PLACES Cohort who is also working closely with TFN’s Inclusive Economies working group, I was thrilled to see conversations around racial equity and justice take center stage, especially within the context of addressing systemic economic inequities and breaking barriers to prosperity.

The learning agenda for TFN’s 2023 Annual Conference: Ignite Action was packed with so many inspiring and enlightening moments that I’m still unpacking weeks later.

 Here are some of my takeaways from our time together in New Orleans.

PLACES alums kicked off #TFN2023 at the New Orleans Healing Center

1. There is a need for more safe spaces to “be,” receive support, and develop personally and professionally!

PLACES alumni came together for a half day on the Sunday before the start of the conference for food, fellowship and the opportunity to learn from place. This year, alumni had the opportunity to experience facilitated discussion that centered community, connections, and (improved) mental health toward restorative justice and liberation. This space and time are powerful given the work, our commitment to advancing equity, and the need to center ourselves in order to show up for the communities we serve. As I reflect on our time together, I am reminded: Our wellbeing is just as important as the work!


Funders on the "Institutional Partnerships to Ignite Action" Mobile Workshop visited Dillard University, a New Orleans HBCU.

2. Institutional partnerships can play a vital role in what it looks like to shape and support community.

I had the privilege of attending the “Institutional Partnerships to Ignite Action” Mobile Workshop. The workshop created an opportunity for attendees to hear from leaders and residents committed to the development in New Orleans’ Gentilly and New Orleans East neighborhoods. The workshop elevated the importance of centering the voices of residents and stakeholders, collaboration and partnerships among public/private and universities and the need to prioritize economic inclusion as cities are planning for urban renewal and growth.  If you are interested in exploring what this work looks like in the South, or what it can look like in your community, consider joining us on June 28-29 in Atlanta for TFN’s Inclusive Economies 2023 Meeting: Pathways to Power & Prosperity, which will take place at Morehouse College.


Ad Hoc Breakfasts at #TFN2023 gave funders connected by shared geographies or topics of interest a chance to strategize and socialize.

3. Creating spaces and time to share and learn from others during conferences is a great way to learn and understand what is happening across various communities.

This year I facilitated the Inclusive Economies ad hoc breakfast meeting. As a newcomer to the inclusive economies work, it was great to meet attendees and hear from them about the awesome work they are leading and supporting. I realize  this was likely the first in-person conference for many since the pandemic. The opportunity to connect and network face to face was invaluable. What I quickly observed as attendees shared brief summaries about their work, is that we do not need to do the work the same in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Rather than focus on process, the better questions areabout how we can best prioritize place, economic justice, job creation, access to capital, entrepreneurship, etc. for Black and brown communities in order to achieve economic inclusion. I look forward to the continued discussion as we prepare for the Inclusive Economies meeting in June in Atlanta.


A record number of newcomers joined us in New Orleans for #TFN2023.

4. OMG, the increased number of newcomers at this year’s conference!

This year was my first year attending the conference as a TFN contractor and oh boy was it a different experience!(In a good way, of course!) I normally attend as a PLACES alum eager to learn, reconnect with other PLACES alumni and network with attendees. Although I attended in a different capacity this year, I was still able to go about my normal routine. However, this year I was very intentional about engaging with newcomers. As an introvert, I was reminded of the first time I attended a TFN conference and how welcoming people were to me, and I wanted to offer that to others.  What I found was a thread among the newcomers I met, they felt welcomed and aligned, the speakers and sessions were what they needed, and they plan to return. Some even inquired about PLACES and membership!


Funders at #TFN2023 got to visit the YEP (Youth Empowerment Project) to learn how the non-profit is supporting and training young people in the historically Black neighborhood of Central City.


5. People of color were centered and present!

TFN staff and the planning committee did a phenomenal job planning sessions, speakers, venues, workshops, etc. But for me, it was the thoughtfulness around centering people of color throughout the conference. From session facilitators to vendors, venues, entertainment, plenary speakers, etc. attendees were able to experience place and culture. I found myself scanning rooms and noticing the increase in attendees of color and smiling on the inside because in that moment, I felt seen and heard! I challenge us all to think about intentional and thoughtful ways to center PoC throughout our work and lives.



Maranda Witherspoon Richardson is a 2015 PLACES Fellowship alum. Formerly of the Missouri Health Foundation, she is now the founder and principal of MWR Coaching and Consulting. She helped facilitate TFN’s 2022 team strategy retreat and is working with the network’s Inclusive Economies working group to plan its 2023 Meeting in Atlanta in June.


TFN Board of Directors: Warm Welcomes & Fond Farewells

BY Pat Smith, President & CEO, The Funders Network

I truly believe in our network's vision to create generations of courageous philanthropic leaders who are engaged, emboldened and equipped to bring about a just society.

That's why I am thrilled to share that TFN's Board of Directors recently welcomed three new members at our annual conference in New Orleans: Isabel Barrios of the Greater New Orleans Foundation; Lisa Jacobson of Boston-based Barr Foundation (and a TFN PLACES Alum); and Nathaniel Smith of the Partnership for Southern Equity in Atlanta, who also served as one of our exceptional #TFN2023 co-chairs.

Rounding out the 2023-2025 slate of directors is Sheena Solomon of The Gifford Foundation in Syracuse, who was elected to a second board term. Sheena is also an alum of TFN's PLACES Fellowship, and currently chairs the PLACES Advisory Board. 

The board approved the 2023 – 2025 slate of directors in January, and the slate was elected by virtual ballot among the organizational membership in March.

The board also selected its officers for the coming year:

Officers were elected for one-year terms, with the exception of Chairperson Don Hickman of the Initiative Foundation, who is halfway through a two-year term.

March also marked a bittersweet milestone, with four of our board members concluding their service:

I want to offer my heartfelt gratitude to our departing board members for their dedication, support and guidance over the years.

TFN offers funders so many leadership opportunities  — not only through board service, but also as members of working groups, steering committees, and other task forces. These roles certainly help the network as a whole, but they are also great ways for you to deepen your connections to each other and to this work.

Please feel reach out to me or a member of our team if you’re interested in serving or getting more involved in our many programs and initiatives.

SWAN SONG: TFN Board Vice Chair Sheena Solomon and outgoing board member Scot Spencer surprised the #TFN2023 audience with a rendition of You're All I Need to Get By by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

TFN Board of Directors Class of 2023-2025

The Funders Network’s Board of Directors is composed of representatives from across the membership and represents both national and place-based foundations. View the full list of all 13 members of TFN's Board of Directors here

TFN Board Officers

Going PLACES: Reflecting on inclusive strategies to economic growth in Oklahoma City

BY Jessica L. González Martínez, New Growth Innovation Network and 2022 PLACES Fellow


I debated for a while about how I wanted to share the experience I had in Oklahoma City. So much rustled in my head regarding opportunities lost and opportunities forged. Like most communities, there appears to be a centuries-long project of weaving and mending, movements and actions of healing coming to a pause, when building and innovation are placed where rest and relationship are needed. My reflections will primarily be focused on people, those who work each day to document their journey and lay down a foundation for their future. I will touch upon the unique dynamics of small-midsize cities and how OKC is among them to be bold, learn, and grow from how they consider an inclusive strategy to economic growth.  

There is no better way to start than at the beginning with First Americans: the Indigenous people who inhabited these lands before the United States was established. They include the Apache, Caddo, Tonkawa, and Wichita tribes. There are also tribes with historical connections, such as the Comanche, Kiowa, Osage, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole. Collectively, 39 distinct tribal nations reside in Oklahoma. The Choctaw people call the land Okla Homma, meaning “red people,” the place these nations call home (source: First Americans Museum). Over time, the U.S. government forced individual land allotments among Indigenous people, which began to establish adjacent communities with Black Americans of former slave descendants, and those looking for a “promised land.” It has been recorded by the Oklahoma Historical Society that more than fifty identifiable All-Black towns were established between the end of the Civil War and 1920. It’s important to mention the  deep, long history between these two groups  as they continue to resurrect and heal, and how their familiarity with each other unfolds as time passes.   

As I explored the city, remnants of the original land stewards were vividly present. Their stories were told by foreign voices celebrating the importance of Indigenous people, but never their contribution on what makes this land sacred. Storytellers marveled with excitement over the region’s ability to manage their mineral production of oil and gas, leading to the economic wealth that attracted more people to settle in the area. This made the area an attractive destination for migrants and immigrants. 


An mural in Oklahoma City honoring Indigenous cultures. Photo credit: Talissa Lahaliyed

My recollection above touches upon a small portion of the cultures that are now present and call OKC home. Investment strategies, such as the voter-approved penny sales tax initiative to bolster neighborhood and community need, haves supported opportunities for community voice and design for the future of OKC. In its fourth iteration, MAPS 4 is positioned to expand what has been visible redevelopment in infrastructure, beautification, and community reinvestment throughout downtown. Investments like these are giving hope to organizations like The Freedom Center, a historical landmark that was once home to the NAACP Youth Council and OKC’s civil rights movement. An investment of $25 million dollars is affording not only the restoration of The Freedom Center but also the creation of a new Clara Luper Civil Rights Center, honoring the contributions made by Clara Luper in championing civil rights.   

As an economic developer, I had a keen eye toward The Freedom Center project. As the tour bus drove along North Martin Luther King Avenue, I began to see the difference between deployment strategies made from the initial onset of the MAPS tax investment, and the latest iteration. Now, I recognize being exposed to a small portion of the program’s history, and it’s clear to me that I have questions about what’s to come during and post MAPS 4. A visible difference can be seen, and felt, from how MAPS began revitalizing downtown, and now expanding deeper to other city limits. Here are my questions moving forward:   

  • What additional investments will be leveraged to help support surrounding communities adjacent to The Freedom Center?  
  • Will there be additional considerations for housing, transportation infrastructure, workforce, and small business pathways to those being served and supported through the center’s programming?  
  • How will a newly focused effort to support neighborhood and community needs help frame future redevelopment efforts and inform other city investments? Will there be a desire to add additional community-led processes across other city services?
  • Will there be plans to connect downtown to areas like The Freedom Center, which expands transportation access and increases opportunities for workers and businesses alike?  
2022 PLACES Fellows gathered in Oklahoma City for their third site visit. Photo credit: Talissa Lahaliyed


Ultimately, OKC is one of many small-midsize cities that continue to face a myriad of challenges while being openly innovative in attempting to figure out solutions. As they manage through constraints of strengthening their capacities, they are also building a more profound understanding of what it truly means to drive equity and inclusion in their efforts to be competitive in a global market, while maintaining livability and opportunity for their residents. As cities incubate solutions, we must press forward and explore how we can galvanize behind their efforts and continue to strengthen the impact of driving inclusive economic strategies, which measure against outcomes that uplift communities across race, gender, and geographic lines. We are past small tables in small rooms. Now is the time to not only be inquisitive, but also challenge  ourselves and the work we are putting into examining how we are serving alongside people and place. Not for the sake of progress, but for the boldness of reshaping community design through the leadership of Black and Indigenous voices.  


 About the Author


Jessica L. González Martínez is senior advisor and co-lead for the Inclusive Recovery Initiative project at New Growth Innovation Network.  Jessica leads a national community of practice of regional economic organizations working to implement inclusive economic strategies as well as supports insights and innovations which aim to generate deep insights through original research and design innovations to advance the field of inclusive economic development.  Jessica brings experiences across workforce, community, and economic development which build upon solutions that work alongside people and the places they reside. She holds a MPA from Arizona State University and a B.S. in American Studies & Sociology from Rutgers University. The is a member of TFN's 2022 PLACES Fellowship cohort. 

TFN's 2023 Annual Conference: A message from our TFN2023 Conference Co-Chairs!

We're excited to announce that registration is open for TFN2023! Below is a note from TFN 2023 Annual Conference Co-Chairs are Shawn Escoffery of the Roy and Patricia Disney Foundation, Dan Favre of the Greater New Orleans Foundation and Nathaniel Smith of the Partnership for Southern Equity. Be sure to check out the TFN2023 website for info on registration, learning agenda, safety protocols and more!



As grantmakers, we are always asking how we can best help energize, support and sustain efforts that move our communities toward racial, economic and environmental justice.

You – and your funder colleagues – are likely also asking those same questions.

We invite you to join us to share, learn and strategize together at The Funders Network’s 2023 Annual Conference, which takes place March 20-22 in New Orleans, La.,

The theme for our 2023 Annual Conference is Ignite Action, which recognizes the need for all of us — as a sector and as individuals — to light the way toward systemic change with urgency and purpose.

TFN’s 2023 Annual Conference: Ignite Action is a chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues in the sector. It’s also a place to identify opportunities for collaboration and action that address the intersecting challenges we face: an escalating climate crisis, an ongoing pandemic, persistent racial injustice and a widening wealth gap — all of which are causing disproportionate harm to communities of color.

The 2023 Annual Conference offers a rich agenda filled with sessions, speakers and workshops that will challenge and inspire us. (You can take a look at our preliminary agenda here.)

New this year: Skill-Building Workshops that offer opportunities for active learning and exploration about topics that will help funders become more equitable, effective and empathetic to the communities they serve and the grantmakers they support.

We’re also expanding the popular TFN Mobile Workshops to include a full day of learning from the places and people of our host city of New Orleans, with an emphasis on community power-building and community-led solutions.

With a rich cultural heritage and geographic location as a coastal city in the American South, New Orleans provides critical context and opportunities to learn as we address pressing issues such as disaster resiliency, environmental injustice, systemic racial inequities and the need for more inclusive economic policies and practices. We’ll hear from thought-provoking voices as we explore innovative, interdisciplinary work that is making an impact in New Orleans and beyond.

New Orleans’ unique flavor will be on display — literally — for the return of TFN’s popular Eat Here! Culinary Showcase, an evening that celebrates the diversity of cultures and points of entry into the food system and highlights locally sourced fare.

As co-chairs of TFN’s signature annual event, we’re thrilled at the chance to connect with the funders, partners and practitioners that make up this amazing network.  

We hope you’ll join us in New Orleans to deepen your understanding, expand your own professional networks, and experience the joy of being in community with one another.

See you in New Orleans!

TFN2023 Co-Chairs


Thank you to our TFN2023 conference planning committee!


The Funders Network will be in New Orleans for our TFN 2023 Annual Conference: Ignite Action, March 20-22. We’re excited to be able to craft a learning agenda that recognizes the need for all of us — as a sector and as individuals — to light the way toward systemic change with urgency and purpose. We’ll be sharing details about our conference agenda, including break-out sessions, skill-building workshops and site visits, when registration opens in December.

We want to extend a huge thank you to the individuals who served on our planning committee and met with us for two days in September. Because of their commitment to environmental, economic and racial justice, we will be able to create an intentional, inclusive and diverse program agenda.

We are also grateful for the efforts of our three TFN2023 conference co-chairs, who are instrumental in conference planning.

Shawn Escoffery

Executive Director

Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation

Dan Favre

Director of Environmental Programs

Greater New Orleans Foundation


Nathaniel Smith

Founder and Chief Equity Officer

Partnership for Southern Equity

Stay tuned for more details about TFN2023!

Feature image at top: Photo by 12019 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

Barr Foundation: New Tool for Climate Nonprofits to Assess Progress on Racial Equity | Cross-post

 As a grantee of the Barr Foundation, The Funders Network participated in an organizational racial equity self-assessment commissioned by Barr to help nonprofits working in the climate space reflect on their racial equity efforts and benchmark their progress. In this post, originally shared on the Barr Foundation's site, Climate Director Mariella Puerto shares insights on the self-assessment tool, process and key findings.

BY Mariella Puerto, Barr Foundation

Self-assessment helps organizations evaluate and benchmark efforts to change culture and ways of working; and helps funders better understand partners’ efforts and how to target resources.

In my previous blog post, I discussed the steps we are taking on the Climate Program team to assess how our work can better reflect Barr’s core value to center racial equity.

Open conversations and honest feedback from our grantees have been critical—both in terms of what Barr can change and how we can best support our partners’ related efforts. That’s why we commissioned an organizational racial equity self-assessment tool.

In the fall of 2021, we engaged Maricela Piña and Nayeli Bernal at Community Centered Evaluation and Research (CCER) to develop a self-assessment for organizations to reflect on their racial equity efforts and to help them benchmark progress over time.

In this post, I’ll be sharing information about our process, the tool, and key findings. While we recognize that the self-assessment is just one way to obtain a snapshot of racial equity practices, it is our hope that organizations in the climate movement (including philanthropic organizations) will consider taking concrete steps to examine their own organizational practices and culture. It is also our hope that other funders will dedicate resources to help their grantees align their expressed intentions with their actions. We believe that lasting change will result when organizations in our field are willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations, execute plans to strengthen areas they have identified, and learn from and support each other.

The Process

The tool CCER developed drew upon the contributions of many experts in the racial equity field. As we worked with CCER to design the organizational self-assessment for our grantees, we prioritized creating space for our grantees to shape the tool that they would be using. We formed a compensated advisory team, comprising grantees from across the program to help steer and inform each phase of the process. We also tried to be clear in our expectations: this is a self-assessment, not a test. Honest self-reflection is essential, and organizations will only get out what they put in. Recognizing that people would have questions and concerns, we organized an informational webinar and made ourselves and our consultants available for conversation about the self-assessment.

The Tool

What CCER created was a self-assessment that offered an opportunity for organizations to reflect on their internal and external work to advance racial equity.

We aimed to be comprehensive and gathered information about:

  • Respondents’ demographic information, including position, tenure, and experiences at the organization
  • Organizations’ internal efforts, such as learning activities, communications, and operations - for staff, board, and committees
  • Organizations’ external efforts, such as the organization's competencies on community engagement and inclusion, as well as power and systems analyses
  • Organizations’ previous history, including successes, challenges, and opportunities to work on (including places where additional support would be welcome)

In creating a tool to gather all this information confidentially, we ended up with three slightly different versions tailored to the respondent’s role: Leadership, Staff, and Board.

After receiving the completed self-assessments, CCER created an Organization Profile for each grantee which provided a score for various dimensions of their internal and external work, as well as reflection questions to prompt discussion among staff, leadership, and board members.

To learn more about key findings and to explore the assessment, read the full post by Mariella Puerto here. 


Photo by bertvthul is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

We Asked Three Funders to 'Imagine a Day Without Water'

Today, The Funders Network joins elected officials, water utilities, community leaders, educators, and businesses from across the country as part of the seventh annual Imagine a Day Without Water, a nationwide day of education and advocacy about the value of water. Led by the US Water Alliance’s Value of Water Campaign, over a thousand organizations across the country will join Imagine a Day Without Water on October 20, 2022, to raise awareness about the role of water infrastructure in our lives and the importance of investment. The focus of this year’s event is to invite people to take the #OneWaterPledge and learn more about where our water comes from and where our wastewater goes. (Learn more at imagineadaywithoutwater.org and follow the conversation on social media at #ValueWater.)

To honor this day, TFN asked three members of our Urban Water Funders Steering Committee to "imagine a day without water"...





Growing up in Chicago, it was hard for me to understand why anyone in the Windy City lacked access to safe, affordable tap water.

After all, we lived on the shores of Lake Michigan — the fifth largest lake on the planet. 

Later, I became more aware of water crises in communities around the country. In the Great Lakes region, where I still live, tens of thousands of people cannot afford to pay their water bills. Some people deal with boil water orders because of contaminants in their drinking water. 


This paradox of people who reside in a water-abundant region being unable to afford their water has serious ramifications. Scientists recently discovered that a lack of access to safe, affordable water during the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risk of health problems. One reason: Proper hand washing is critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.


Ensuring that tap water is safe is only one part of the equation. We also must ensure that water is safe and available to all people, and affordable. In other words, we need water equity.


My employer, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, supports over 20 nongovernmental organizations working to address water equity issues in the Great Lakes region. Mott has a two-pronged goal for the work: ensure universal access to safe, affordable water while maintaining the financial health of water utilities. 


Achieving water equity is a daunting challenge, but failure is not an option. Access to safe, affordable tap water is essential to public health and personal dignity. No one should be forced to cope with life's daily challenges without safe water flowing from the tap at home.  Click on these resources below to learn more about water affordability.

 Water Affordability: A Growing Challenge;

Affordable water in the US: A burgeoning crisis;

Drowning In Expensive Water Bills? The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program Can Help


Melanie Moore

Associate Program Officer, Environment | Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

TFN Urban Water Funders Steering Committee & 2022 PLACES Fellow






Hawaiʻi has always been an Island community defined by water.

Native Hawaiian ʻōlelo noʻeau (proverbs) often refer to the idea that water is life. It is said, ola i ka wai a ka ʻōpua — there is life in the water from the clouds.

From our rainforests and streams, fed by rainfall, to our aquifers, which support all who live here, what would these Islands be without fresh water?

At Hawaiʻi Community Foundation, we know that a day without water would mean our houseless communities go without reprieve from rising temperatures. It would mean our Hawaiian kūpuna (elders), who are statistically more likely to be afflicted with diabetes, could not access life-sustaining dialysis. It would mean our mothers who rely on the already scarce supply of formula could not feed their babies.

In Hawaiʻi, water is the essence, the foundation, of wealth. Before trade and tourism, we had water. Water is culture. Water is sustenance. As funders, and catalysts for change, water flows through every sector we touch.

Without it, we would become impoverished of our identity, our existence. There is no grant large enough to replace water, even for a day.


Dana Okano

Program Director | Hawaiʻi Community Foundation

TFN Urban Water Funders Steering Committee








Sadly, “a day without water” is becoming all too common for Texans. 

For many Texans, “a day without water” is not an imagined experience—it’s just another day.

Some communities have never had running water. For the rest of us, experiencing days without water has become the rule rather than the exception. The one-two punch of climate-driven weather extremes and population growth have strained the state’s water supply and aging drinking and wastewater infrastructure.

Texas is more likely to issue a boil water notice than any other state, disproportionately affecting low-income, rural, and communities of color. Texans are also increasingly more likely to lose access to water following natural disasters. During Winter Storm Uri in 2021, 15 million Texans lost access to water. Just five years ago, Hurricane Harvey rendered drinking water unusable from Corpus Christi to Houston and Beaumont.

With increasing urgency, however, communities are responding by building resilience and protecting Texas’s water.

The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation envisions a One Water future as a pathway toward water security and sustainability. And our grantees have been doing prodigious work to advance this vision, from coordinating responses to disasters to facilitating One Water adoption across the state.

For example, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Texas Living Waters Project, and Bayou City Waterkeeper have pursued freshwater protection through forward-looking policy and planning efforts. Recently, NWF published a report highlighting water loss due to aging infrastructure to help pinpoint areas for investment in upgrades.

West Street Recovery, founded in response to Hurricane Harvey, is working with Houston communities to organize and advocate for equitable water assistance and justice.

Communities Unlimited has been working to help small, rural, and often low-income communities by providing deep technical assistance in accessing state and federal funds for water.

While it’s a reality that many face every day, we’re confident that through the great work of these and other organizations, together, we can protect Texas’s water and equitably meet these increasing demands for water across the state.


Dr. Emily R. Warren Armitano

Director, Land Conservation and Water Programs | The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation

TFN Urban Water Funders Steering Committee





About Urban Water Funders

Urban Water Funders, a TFN working group, is a network of place-based and national funders addressing urban water issues in communities across the country. Funders learn together, build relationships and catalyze action. Currently, funders are prioritizing a variety of solutions to urban water issues — including One Water approaches, natural and green infrastructure and climate resilient strategies — with a strong focus on water equity and vulnerable communities.  If you would like to subscribe to TFN’s Urban Water Funders working group in order to receive newsletters and other resources, click here.