New Grant Opportunities! Partners for Places matching grants support sustainability projects & foster local partnerships


The Funders Network (TFN), in partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN), is pleased to announce the opening of the latest round of the Partners for Places grant program.

The deadline to submit proposals is April 13.

Partners for Places is a successful matching grant program that improves communities by supporting equitable sustainability projects that build partnerships between local government leaders, frontline community groups and place-based funders in the U.S. and Canada.

National funders invest in local projects developed through these partnerships to promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents.

Through these investments, Partners for Places fosters long-term relationships that make our communities more resilient, prosperous and equitable.

These one-to-one matching awards provide partnership investments between $25,000 and $75,000 for one-year projects, or between $75,000 and $150,000 for two-year projects, with a 1:1 match required by one or more local foundations.

Interested in applying? Access the application and resource documents below. (These resources are also available on our Partners for Places home page.)


Round 19 Application and Resources

About Partners for Places

Partners for Places is led by TFN in partnership with the USDN. As in previous grant cycles, we are excited to partner with Green Infrastructure Leadership Exchange, a practitioner network that supports communities seeking to grow green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) programs, to support outreach efforts.

To date, Partners for Places has awarded nearly $8.5 million across North America in this successful matching grant program, leading to more than $18 million in investments.

The program is currently supported by six investor foundations: The JPB FoundationThe Kendeda FundThe Kresge FoundationNew York Community TrustThe Allen H. and Selma W. Berkman Charitable Trust, and the Pisces Foundation.

Read about previous rounds of grants under the “Meet the Grantees” section of the Partners for Places page.

Submitting a Successful Proposal

Partners for Places will help fund a new park for community gatherings in Cleveland. Photo credit: Western Reserve Land Conservancy

Partners for Places currently administers two grant programs: General Grants, and a Mini Grants program.

General Grants in Round 19 will:
1. Create or improve collaborative partnerships between a local government sustainability and/or water department(s), frontline community group(s), and place-based funder(s).
2. Advance equitable climate action (ECA) and green stormwater infrastructure (GSI) projects that address frontline community priorities.
3. Apply a racial equity approach to both the collaboration and the project planning/implementation.

The application deadline for Round 19 is April 13 (by 11:59 p.m., any time zone).

Please visit the Partners for Places webpage for more information.

Collaboration and partnership are at the heart of the Partners for Places program.

Since 2012, the matching grant program has helped foster dozens of new partnerships between local government sustainability leaders and place-based funders across the U.S. and Canada — relationships that often continue long after the original Partners for Places project has been completed.

In recent years, the grant program has adopted a strategy that leads with racial equity and a sharper focus on how best to advance equitable and sustainable communities.

Starting with the Round 17 Invitation to Apply released in July of 2020, the primary partners have been expanded to include local frontline community groups.

This collaborative partnership model is intended to more deeply embed the values and practice of racial equity into local community decision-making processes.

Partners for Places will help Chicago schoolyards into vibrant green spaces for play and learning. Credit: Space to Grow.

Additional Resources and FAQ’s

 Register for our Round 19 Informational Webinar designed to help potential applicants prepare proposals, March 10 at 3 p.m.ET. Register here.

→ Read this feature story about Partners for Places in Inside Philanthropy here.

→  If you have questions about the Partners for Places program, please feel free to reach out to Ashley Quintana at

→ Where is Partners for Places making an impact? Read previous grant announcements and explore the Partners for Places Grantee Map here.

→ 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.


Featured image at top: 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

Mobility Fund Grants: Transit, walking & biking advocates receive more than $1 million in new funding

TFN’s Mobility and Access Collaborative is an action-oriented effort that recognizes the urgent need to limit transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in our escalating climate crisis, while eliminating underlying inequities in the mobility system. The collaborative brings together place-based, regional and national funders to share stories, examine best practices and explore critical issues. Funders engaged in the Mobility and Access Collaborative were instrumental in the launch of the Mobility Fund, which supports local advocacy efforts. Read on for more information about the Mobility Fund's second round of grants. (You can learn more about the Mobility Fund’s first round of grants here.)

By The Mobility Fund

Eight mobility advocacy groups received a total of $391,500 in grants to support their work to advance equitable and sustainable transportation from the second round of the Mobility Fund.

The fund leveraged contributions from national funders with matches from local funders of nearly $761,000 to benefit local and regional non-profits working to make transit, biking and walking convenient, safe and accessible for more people.

“Transit is an essential service for getting people to work, school, medical appointments, and other important destinations in their lives,” said Tenzin Dolkar, Midwest Climate and Energy program officer for the McKnight Foundation.

“There has never been a more important time to invest in transit, biking, and walking—for people and for our planet. That is why the McKnight Foundation supports the Mobility Fund and the advocates working every day to protect and expand sustainable and equitable mobility options,” said Dolkar.

Transit service continues to be impacted by COVID-19 and those impacts fall disproportionately on underserved, underrepresented, and historically marginalized communities. Advocates working to protect, preserve and enhance mobility at the local level are chronically underfunded and the need for support is great. In Round 2, the Mobility Fund received 45 letters of interest, from which the Fund invited 17 proposals with a total request of $891,500.

“The Mobility Fund is a key philanthropic investment opportunity at the intersection of transportation, equity and climate,” said Lina Fedirko, program manager on the Transportation Team at the ClimateWorks Foundation, another investor in the fund. “ClimateWorks is excited to join partners for the second year, in supporting the local advocacy necessary to push for emissions free transportation that centers and serves people."

“These grants are about supporting advocates fighting for a just, clean and healthy transportation future. It starts with these people and hundreds of others that deserve more support,” said Darryl Young, director of the Sustainable Cities Program at The Summit Foundation, which also supported the fund.

Grants provide general operations support and support for collaboration between community groups that advocate for mobility.

Photo Credit (above and featured image): Bike East Bay, one of several organizations receiving grants through the latest round of the Mobility Fund.

Grantees from the second round of the Mobility Fund are:

Active Transportation Alliance, Chicago ($50,000) Building Power for Equitable Transportation Investment: A project to support the Transportation Equity Network Advocacy Committee efforts to mobilize its membership around an advocacy strategy, to ensure a transparent and accountable decision-making process that prioritizes racial equity for Chicago’s 2022 capital spending and beyond.

Atlanta Bicycle Coalition ($72,500) Expanding More Equitable Transit in Atlanta: A project to create deeper collaboration between the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, MARTA Army, and the Partnership for Southern Equity to inform, educate, and empower community residents to advocate for more equitable, accessible transit in Atlanta.

Bike East Bay ($50,000) Community Organizing for Equitable Slow Streets in Oakland: A project to partner with the City of Oakland and local community groups to expand and permanently adopt Oakland’s post-pandemic Slow Street network.

Coalition for Smarter Growth, Fairfax County, Va. ($50,000) Safer Streets for Bailey’s Crossroads: A project to involve community members in advocating and winning design solutions to make their streets safer, and improve access to transit and services ⁠—i creating a model for local engagement and successful advocacy that can be applied in other priority communities.

Futurewise ($45,000) Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Communities on Seattle’s Eastside: A project to advocate in partnership with local BIPOC communities for updates to local neighborhood plans, accessible housing, and transportation policies that will create equitable, transit-oriented communities in the areas served by the upcoming Sound Transit East Link light rail expansion.

Health by Design ($24,000) Building the Indiana Mobility Management Network: A project to advance and accelerate efforts underway to establish a Mobility Management Network (MMN) for the state of Indiana in 2022.

Move LA ($50,000) Centering Equity for LA Transit Riders: A project to prioritize the restoration and expansion of LA Metro bus service, support funding for a fareless transit system pilot, and advocate for capital projects that prioritize bus speed and active transit that benefit low-income and communities of color.

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways ($50,000) BIPOC-Led Solutions for Community Safety: A project to support a workgroup is dedicated to reviewing and revising laws governing the use of our public streets to better meet the needs of the BIPOC community who have historically been excluded from the full and free use of this shared public space.

Photo credit: Coalition for Smart Growth, one of several grantees receiving funding through the second round of the Mobility Fund.

About the Mobility Fund

The Mobility Fund supports community-based advocacy around sustainable and equitable mobility through competitive grantmaking. To date, the fund has granted $778,000 to 17 mobility advocate groups working to advance equitable mobility access and use in communities since its launch in 2020. Thus far, grant recipients have reported $1,807,943 in additional funds leveraged, including local matching funds, producing a 232.4% return on the Mobility Fund’s investment. This fund is housed at Global Philanthropy Partnership. It is supported by the pooled funds of trailblazing regional and national philanthropic foundations who are comfortable working at the
nexus of equity and climate to transform broken systems. Fund processes are guided by an Advisory Team made up of local mobility advocates and national funders. For more information about the Mobility Fund, contact Martha Roskowski at



Our New Mailing Address & All-remote Workplace


Like most of you, our team has had to adjust the ways in which we connect as colleagues over the past two years. We've had a few epiphanies along the way — most notably that our team and our work are best served by going fully remote as an organization.

While many of our staff and program consultants were working remotely across the U.S. even before the pandemic, this means we will no longer have a brick-and-mortar Miami hub office.

Effective Feb. 1, we'll have a new mailing address for business purposes. Please update your records with this new address:

2000 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Suite 600, Coral Gables, FL 33134

Our all-remote set-up allows for operational savings, while also affording our team the added flexibility to better balance our professional and personal lives.

This change will not impact our member services or programming, and all of our phone extensions will remain the same. If you have any questions about TFN's all-remote workplace set-up, please feel free to TFN's Vice President and Director, Member Services Maureen Lawless or Director of Finance and Operations Jennifer Cummings.

On behalf of the entire TFN team, we're grateful for our membership's continued support and shared commitment to helping communities move toward racial, economic and environmental justice.

"woman working with a laptop at home." by shixart1985 is licensed under CC BY

United Philanthropy Forum: Urge the Senate to Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act


President Joe Biden this week addressed the nation from Atlanta, a city at the heart of the civil rights movement, painting a dire picture for future elections and American democracy without the passage of key legislation to protect voting rights. That includes the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore anti-discrimination components of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that were stripped away by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The United Philanthropy Forum (UPF) has released a letter of support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and urges the United States Senate to prioritize passing this act before the end of the 117th Congress.

The Funders Network's President & CEO Pat Smith, a UPF board member, has signed on to this letter on behalf of the TFN team. We encourage others in the charitable sector to sign on as well. The letter sign-on is open to foundations, nonprofits and national and state infrastructure organizations.

Below is UPF's summary of the letter in support of the voting rights act. To read the full text and signatories, and to submit your name to the list of supporters, click here. 

(The deadline to add your name to this letter is Jan. 21, 2022.)

Charitable Sector Letter to Congress in Support of Voting Rights: Summary

Last year, the United States House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill, which United Philanthropy Forum has endorsed, now awaits action in the Senate.

Our Public Policy Principles outline a commitment to championing racial equity and strengthening democracy.  Via this commitment, the Forum looks to endorse positive, practical solutions that seek to eliminate economic, social, health, and educational barriers, and replaces them with policies that are fair, just, create equitable opportunities and outcomes, and diminish racial and ethnic disparities. By restoring the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is a common-sense public policy proposal that will accomplish these goals, and aligns with this commitment by eliminating racial discrimination in the voting process.

As the letter to the Senate states, Congressman Lewis dedicated his life to advancing civil and human rights for all Americans, recognizing injustices when he saw them and calling them out.  So, while this issue may not be front and center in your individual policy agendas, if we are truly committed to racial equity and racial justice, we cannot afford to be silent on this issue. We must call out injustices when we see them, and use our platform to bring positive change.

This should not be a partisan issue, Philanthropy has a long and distinguished record of standing up for voting rights. No matter the issues that funders support, or the regions where they focus their funding, philanthropy cannot do its work successfully without a strong and healthy democracy where everyone has the ability to vote freely and fairly.



"The late Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon." Photo credit: Mobilus In Mobili is licensed under CC BY-SA


Seize the Moment: A message from TFN's 2022 Annual Conference Co-chairs

BY Christiana DeBenedict, Craig Martinez and Marisa Aurora Quiroz, TFN2022 Co-Chairs

We are thrilled that TFN’s 2022 Annual Conference: Seize the Moment, takes place March 14-16 in San Diego, California.

TFN’s signature annual event is especially meaningful this time around: The 2022 Annual Conference will mark the first time in two years our community of funders, partners and practitioners will be able to come together in person.

We’ve all had to navigate the impacts of the pandemic on our personal and professional lives, including how best to serve the people and communities we care for.

TFN’s Annual Conference is a chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues in the sector — and to identify opportunities for collaboration and action that address the multiple and 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.

We invite you to join us to learn and share powerful and creative strategies that can address systemic inequities and move us toward racial, economic and environmental justice. 

This year’s conference theme, Seize the Moment, is a call to action to our sector to lean into this unprecedented moment with urgency and purpose.

The 2022 Annual Conference will offer a wealth of sessions, speakers and mobile workshops that will challenge and inspire us to discover new ways to overcome obstacles to opportunity, empowerment and justice for all. (You can take a look at our agenda here.)

We’re excited that TFN’s 2022 Annual Conference will take place in our home state of California.

With a diverse population, rich cultural heritage and geographic location as a border community, San Diego provides critical context and opportunities to learn as we address pressing issues such as immigration, climate change, affordable housing and more. We’ll hear from thought-provoking voices as we explore innovative, interdisciplinary work that is making an impact in San Diego and beyond.

This conference is also a chance to connect with your peers across the sector. Over these three days, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to socialize — most notably at our Eat Here! local food reception, which will highlight the multicultural culinary heritage and food systems of the San Diego community.

The safety and well-being of our attendees, vendors and TFN team members is a top priority. Please read the Health & Safety section of the conference website to learn more about the COVID-19 protocols in place for this conference, including vaccination and testing requirements for all attendees. We’re also asking attendees to indicate their preferred sessions in advance to help us plan for appropriate social distancing during breakouts and other conference activities.

We look forward to seeing you in San Diego!

About our TFN2022 Co-Chairs

Christiana DeBenedict serves as Director of Environmental Initiatives at The San Diego Foundation, leading programs and directing resources to build a more equitable and resilient San Diego. She is a member of the statewide steering committee for Smart Growth California, a TFN initiative that brings funders together to build healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities throughout California.




Craig Martinez is a Senior Program Manager at The California Endowment, which is committed to social justice and health equity for all Californians, and is based in Los Angeles. He is the chair of The Funder Network’s Board of Directors and an alum of TFN’s PLACES Fellowship 2013 Cohort. He also co-chairs Smart Growth California’s statewide steering committee.



Marisa Aurora Quiroz is President & CEO of the International Community Foundation, which is committed to protecting the environment and improving the quality of life in Baja California and Latin America. An alum of TFN’s PLACES Fellowship 2017 Cohort, she is based in San Diego County’s National City.




2022 PLACES Fellowship Now Open!

Apply Now

UPDATE: We've extended the deadline to apply for the 2022 PLACES cohort to Feb. 1.  View and complete the application.

PLACES — which stands for Professionals Learning About Community, Equity and Sustainability — is a year-long learning opportunity designed to help grantmakers embed the values of racial, social and economic equity into their work.

By the end of their fellowship, participants are equipped with the tools and resources to understand, challenge and change systemic inequities.

Over the past decade, PLACES has welcomed 161 leaders in philanthropy committed to deepening their understanding of environmental, economic and racial justice. Translating those skills and knowledge into grantmaking and community engagement practices has taken on increased urgency as we navigate multiple, intersecting challenges: an escalating climate crisis, an ongoing pandemic and a widening wealth gap, all of which are causing disproportionate harm to communities of color.

By becoming a PLACES Fellow, you'll also have opportunities to connect and collaborate with peers in the sector through the PLACES Alumni Network, comprised of alums from all corners of the United States and Canada, representing national, regional, family, and community foundations as well as philanthropy serving organizations and other funding institutions.

We're so thrilled to welcome a new PLACES Fellowship cohort in 2022. Please read on for more PLACES information and highlights — and feel free to share with colleagues who may be interested!

Applications are due Feb. 1, 2022.

Apply Now

About the PLACES Fellowship

The 2022 PLACES Fellowship will be a hybrid experience. The month of April will be virtual, and the three remaining sessions are tentatively planned to be in-person. Applicants will be asked to complete a short COVID-19 Comfort and Safety Survey as part of their application.

  • April 20, Virtual Kickoff
  • June 20-22, Burlington, Vt.
  • September 19-21, Oklahoma City, Okla.
  • November 14-16, San Joaquin Valley, Calif.

*Dates and locations are subject to change.

Fellowship Fees:
For accepted participants, the following fees will apply:

TFN Members: $750
Non-members: $1250

*Limited partial scholarships available.

Fees support the programmatic and operational costs associated with the fellowship, including equitable compensation for local vendors, facilitators and others involved in this work. Fellows will be responsible for travel costs and hotel accommodations for site visits.

COVID Contingencies

Given the uncertainties of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, TFN remains committed to prioritizing the safety of our fellows and the communities they serve. We will be closely monitoring recommendations and mandates from local health officials as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as we plan for the 2022 PLACES Fellowship. Please stay tuned for updates regarding safety protocols as we will be sharing specifics about the hybrid fellowship in the coming weeks.

PLACES Impact Stories

For the 10th anniversary of TFN's PLACES Fellowship, we worked with two award-winning journalists to help capture the stories shared and the lessons learned through the PLACES Fellowship. The result is our PLACES Impact Stories project, which includes profiles written by WLRN social justice reporter Nadege Green and videos created by documentary filmmaker Oscar Corral.

We asked PLACES alumni to share what inspires, motivates and challenges them in their efforts to embed the values of racial, social and economic equity into their work. Check out Surabhi Pandit's Impact story to hear more about her experiences as an alum.


Going PLACES Blogs

After each PLACES site visit, we ask the fellows to reflect on their experiences in our blog series Going PLACES. Check out some recent highlights from our PLACES alumni.

Going PLACES: What the Newark Rebellion can teach us about Philanthropy. By Grace Chung, Senior Community Development Officer, LISC New York City and 2019 PLACES Fellow. Read more here.

Going PLACES: Becoming A Change Agent. By Andrea Hulighan, Director, Strategic Initiatives, The Winston-Salem Foundation, and 2018 PLACES Fellow. Read more here.

Going PLACES:  Wichita - Starting with difficult conversations, from a place of love. By Randy Lopez, Vice President Community Foundations, Wyandotte Health Foundation and 2018 PLACES Fellow. Read more here.

Check out the many blogs written by our fellows on the ground here.

Stay Connected

Want to stay up to date on TFN and PLACES news?

▪ Sign up to participate in one of TFN's many working groups
▪ Follow us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter

Urban Water news: How Austin is forging a path to a reliable water future (cross-post)

The Funders Network is committed to sharing the stories and strategies of our members, partners and others in the philanthropic sector working to create more sustainable, prosperous and equitable communities.

Today, we're sharing a recent blog post from the Texas Living Waters Project about Austin's effort to create a sustainable water future. The development creation and implementation of Austin's ambitious water supply plan, known as 'Water Forward', was supported through the Urban Water Initiative, a collaborative effort by The JPB Foundation and the Pisces Foundation, both TFN members. TFN managed The JPB Foundation’s portion of this grantmaking initiative. Read the full blog post by Jennifer Walker, deputy director of the  Texas Coast and Water Program at National Wildlife Federation  here.

Six short years ago, Austin confronted a grim water future. The long dry tail of the 2011 drought combined with record population growth and increasingly concerning climate projections to paint an anxious picture of the city’s water supply. The Highland Lakes, the sole source of water for the city, were very low and facing an uncertain future.

Yet, thanks to an all-hands-on-deck lets-do-this effort, the city rallied from those bleak months, drawing on extensive community and expert feedback to put in place the pieces that would result in an ambitious water supply plan known as Water Forward which was adopted by City Council December 2018.

This fall, key elements of that plan are finally falling into place. The city council voted in late September to enact the first significant set of ordinances to implement Water Forward. Some are the first of their kind in Texas. The ordinances stipulate:

  1. New developments that are required to submit a site plan will be required to prepare a water budget that will inform water management decisions on the property;
  2. Austin’s large commercial developments will need to offset their non-potable water use with water generated onsite—thus preserving and extending our potable water supply. Initially, this program will be voluntary and the utility will provide incentives to encourage uptake. The program will eventually become mandatory.
  3. Large developments will be required to connect to the centralized purple pipe system if they are within 500 feet of the line.

These programs promise to create much needed water supplies for our rapidly-growing city through drawing on locally available water supplies and utilizing it close to the source.

The value of these initiatives cannot be overstated.

Read the full post to learn more about how Austin is ahead of the state and national curve in their proactive approach to managing their water supply.

"Lake Austin" by G. Lamar is licensed under CC BY

‘A Force of Nature’: Remembering former TFN Board Chair Arlene Rodriguez

BY Tere Figueras Negrete, TFN Director of Communications


A force of nature. A bright star. A tornado in a bottle.  

By all accounts, Arlene Rodriguez embodied a fierce devotion to the causes and people she cared for.  

It’s with tremendous sadness that The Funders Network and our community of members, partners and staff mourn the passing of Arlene, who died earlier this month. 

Arlene served on TFN’s Board of Directors from 2004 to 2011 — including a two-year term as board chair — and played an instrumental role in the creation of the network’s Smart Growth California initiative, which brings together funders from across the state to advance sustainable and equitable reforms that benefit all Californians and the communities in which they live. 

“Arlene left an indelible impact on The Funders Network, not only by helping lead our organization as a board member and board chair, but through the advocacy and support that helped create Smart Growth California,” said TFN President and CEO Pat Smith. “Arlene understood the critical role philanthropy could play in driving social change and advancing environmental justice in the state, and she recognized the need for funders to come together to learn, collaborate and strategize together. We continue to be inspired by her legacy.” 

Arlene’s pivotal role in helping found Smart Growth California came during her time as a senior program director at the San Francisco Foundation, where she designed and implemented the foundation’s environment program.  

That role was one of many she held in the philanthropic and non-profit sector across decades of service and advocacy. She previously served as senior director of programs and external relations for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. She served as director of partnerships and external affairs at Living Cities, a collaborative of 19 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions working to close racial income and wealth gaps in American cities. Arlene also served as the Bay Area urban program director for The Trust for Public Land, was the founding director of the Crissy Field Environmental Center during her time with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and was a senior program officer for the environment at The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. 

Arlene also served as a board member of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, which makes grants to grassroots groups advancing racial justice and gender justice. She most recently was a board member of the Center for Environmental Health, which aims to protect people from toxic chemicals by working with communities, government, the private sector and others to demand and support practices that are safe for public health and the environment. (You can read CEH’s touching tribute to Arlene here.)  

Arlene is survived by her wife, Ansje Miller, executive director of the Health and Environmental Funders Network, as well as her daughter, Gabriella. 

Since Arlene’s passing, we’ve received many messages from past and present TFN and Smart Growth California members. We’re honored to share them with you below. 

Remembering Arlene


Nina Bohlen and Arlene Rodriguez.

Arlene was a wonder, a deeply loving person, who was passionate about fighting for justice and making the world a better place for all.  She was also a smart, strategic, and committed advocate for change, who knew how to bring people together to create new initiatives and achieve results. To me, she was also a wonderful friend, colleague, and mentor. She played an instrumental role in founding Smart Growth California while she was at the San Francisco Foundation. I will be forever grateful to her for her wise counsel, guidance, and support in launching the network.  Perhaps most of all, I will remember and treasure her love of life and fun-loving spirit.  She was a bright star, an inspiration, and I am very grateful to have known her.

 Nina Bohlenformer director of TFN’s Smart Growth California 


Arlene was a major part of Smart Growth California from its earliest days. She always had great insights as to what would work and what was fair. She had a huge heart and cared passionately for the work and advancing opportunities for all.  I will always remember — and miss — her beautiful laugh and sense of humor.  

Corey Brown, Resources Legacy Fund, member of Smart Growth California’s Statewide Steering Committee 


I only met Arlene a few times, but every time, she left a lasting impression. I was fortunate to cross paths with her at the TFN conference in Miami where I asked her to share some of the founding stories of Smart Growth California, which she happily and energetically did. She struck me as a warm-hearted, passionate visionary who knew how to bring people together and get things done!

Ron Milam, director, Smart Growth California


Capturing the spirit of Arlene Rodriguez is like trying to put a tornado in a bottle.  She was, simply put, a force of nature. Arlene was a ferocious defender of the environment a relentless advocate for social justice.  But there has never been a happier warrior. Her love of mankind was eclipsed only by her love for Ansje and Gabriella. I succeeded Arlene as board chair at TFN. She and I were about evenly matched in the “bullheadedness” department, but our disagreements always ended with hugs and kisses (and martinis).

Shortly before she left us, she said “I plan to haunt you.” Technically, I suggested, she meant continue to haunt me, which drew a laugh.  We should all hope to be haunted by a spirit like Arlene. We’ll be better for it. 

Kevin MurphyBerks County Community Foundation, former chair, TFN Board of Directors 


Arlene lived. Arlene lived in leadership when she chaired The Funders Network board. She lived in co-parenting Gabriella to the wonderful and loving person she is. Arlene lived in love when she met Ansje Miller and flourished in that love. She also lived when she was diagnosed with cancer. Witnessing her strength, her bravery, her faith and her determination to live in the moment offered a magnificent lesson for those of us who were fortunate enough to get to know her, spend time with her and hug and love on her. I’ll miss my friend, but will be forever grateful because Arlene lived. 

Scot SpencerThe Annie E. Casey Foundation, former chair and current member, TFN Board of Directors 


Arlene was deeply and widely loved. And that's a testament to a life well-lived. 

In my interactions with Arlene over the two decades that our paths crossed, all I can add is that she was passionate, fearless, irreverent and deeply committed to putting community first and getting the work done. Toward the end of her life, she was also increasingly reflective. To that end, I wanted to share an excerpt from a note she sent me: 

Life  you go along thinking you are rather invincible and then bam!  wake up call.  Nothing is permanent, things change in an instant, presence becomes your best friend and the art of letting go comes to smack you in the face. Here I had been practicing my spiritual practice and sitting on that cushion. But dang. Now I REALLY sit on that cushion and practice letting go. Lesson. This is the moment.  Take it for what really matters. Let go of the rest😉’ 

Words to live by. 

Arlene will be missed but her legacy of good works, colleagues mentored, and friends and family inspired will live on. And that's a legacy to be celebrated. 

Mark Valentine, ReFrame It Consulting, member of Smart Growth California's Statewide Steering Committee 


One of the most memorable meeting experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing was our 20th anniversary dinner with past TFN board members. That event was my last interaction with Arlene. Seeing her then, vibrant and engaged, and wonderfully acerbic and fun, is a great way to remember her. She was a great friend, to TFN and to all of us. 

Tom WoiwodeCommunity Foundation for Southeast Michigan, former chair, TFN Board of Directors 

Former chairs of TFN’s Board of Directors gathered in 2019 at our 20th anniversary conference in Miami. From left: Hooper Brooks, Jon Jensen, Arlene Rodriguez, Kevin Murphy, Scot Spencer, Nancy Van Milligen, John Mitterholzer and Tom Woiwode.


 It was such a punch in the gut to hear of her passing. She was larger than life. Arlene was a real mentor to me when I started at the San Diego Foundation years ago. She also recruited me to serve on Smart Growth California's steering committee, which proved to be such a rewarding collaboration of funders across the state. She was a beautiful, passionate, and dedicated champion for a better world. May her memory be a blessing. 

Emily YoungThe Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego, formerly of The San Diego Foundation and Smart Growth California’s Statewide Steering Committee 

If you'd like to contribute additional memories of Arlene Rodriguez, please reach out to TFN Communications Director Tere Figueras Negrete at



Garfield Foundation: Reflections on the Language & Practice of Systems Change

The Funders Network is committed to sharing the stories and strategies of our members, partners and others in the philanthropic sector working to create more sustainable, prosperous and equitable communities.

Today, we're sharing this two-part post from the Garfield Foundation, a TFN member, about systems thinking frameworks and collaborative network practices  — and how this powerful combination can help address the complex, interconnected and systemic problems we face. (TFN's five-part Systems Transformation Learning Series, which wrapped up this summer, was made possible by support from the Garfield Foundation.)

By Jessica Conrad, Garfield Foundation

What does “systems change” mean to us? It’s a question our team often returns to after having first asked it in the early 2000s. That’s when we began experimenting with different forms of investment and collaboration grounded in systems thinking. Now, as we look back on 2020, it’s no surprise that the tone of the question has changed, gaining gravity and priority.

On the one hand, the relentless tragedies of 2020 revealed in full contrast how inequitable our systems truly are. They also raised people’s awareness about how dire the need for systems change has become on many levels — and about the systemic nature of society’s problems. One of the many stark inequities that emerged last year is the fact that, nationally, COVID-19 cases and deaths of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color exceeded their proportional share of the population. The roaring public discourse about racial injustice has made it easier for more people to connect dots between what’s currently unfolding in the public health system and the consequences of systemic racism in other realms, including the US criminal justice, public education, and economic systems, to name a few. In a word, the current landscape shows just how interconnected our issues are. At the same time, it’s exposing people to the language of system change.

Meanwhile, we are noticing a greater number of organizations in the social sector describing their approach as systemic or in service of systems changeWe see many others who seek to learn about how to apply a systems approach within their work. And we also see more and more practitioners building new relationships, developing shared language, refining and diversifying practices, and sharing their experience of leading projects using systemic approaches. They are purposefully collaborating to build the emerging field of systems change practice. It seems very likely that the events of last year contributed to and accelerated these shifts in language and practice.

Yet as these dynamics unfold, we are also noticing that the terms — systems change, systemic, systems approach, et cetera — aren’t yet well defined in broad use or within the field itself. Very rarely do the words come with an explanation of their underlying assumptions, and when they do, we’ve found that people use them with different meanings in different contexts, leading to confusion.

With the language of systems change now firmly in the zeitgeist of the social sector, and growing in use in the general public, we see an opportunity to help clarify the definition and practice of systems change.

Read the full post, which includes links to the Garfield team's two-part dialogue exploring systems change, here

"Wickerwork with shadow" by unbekannt270 is licensed under CC BY

Grant opportunity! Partners for Places Mini Grants now open

BY TFN Staff

The Funders Network (TFN), in partnership with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, is pleased to announce a new round of Partners for Places Mini Grants.

These grants are available to help local governments, place-based foundations, and frontline community-led groups build relationships, align around project ideas, and ideally develop a proposal that centers racial equity in water, sustainability, and/or climate action work.

Partners for Places Mini Grants are designed to strengthen the relationship between the three partners in order to aid in the development of a full and jointly developed Partners for Places matching grant proposal. Applicants can receive up to $10,000 in funding, which can be used to hire experts and/or to bring together local government water and/or sustainability department leaders, local funders, and frontline community-led groups. This grant requires the hiring of an equity expert to facilitate the integration of equity principles in the collaborative partnership processes. Frontline community members may be compensated for their participation.

Download the application here.

Mini Grant applications are due Sept. 1, 2021 by 11:59 p.m. (any time zone).

 A joint effort of TFN and USDN, Partners for Places is a matching grant program that improves U.S. and Canadian communities by building partnerships between local government leaders, frontline community-led groups, and place-based foundations. These sustainability efforts take place from coast to coast, in communities both large and small, and focus largely on empowering and engaging low-income neighborhoods.

To date, Partners for Places has awarded nearly $8.5 million across North America in this successful matching grant program, leading to over $18 million in investments.

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 five investor foundations: The JPB FoundationThe Kendeda FundThe Kresge Foundation, the New York Community Trust, and the Pisces Foundation.

Want to learn more about Partners for Places?

  Read about the most recent Partners for Places Mini Grant recipients here.

  Meet the latest Partners for Places matching grant recipients here.

Where is Partners for Places making an impact? Read previous grant announcements and explore the Partners for Places Grantee Map here.

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.
When is the next round of Partners for Places matching grants? Partners for Places will open a new round of funding in late February 2022.

For more information about Partners for Places, please reach out to Ashley Quintana,


Rochester, N.Y., (above) will use their Partners for Places funding for a neighborhood-led sustainability project to improve community gardens. Photo credit Taproot Collective. Featured image (at top): 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