The People’s Philanthropy
Tell us a little bit about Bread for the Journey’s programs.
Bread for the Journey (BFJ) has two programs — its Central Headquarters and its local chapters. Central Headquarters provides operational support and ongoing coaching to our chapters by providing everything from philanthropy and fundraising to a community of grassroots philanthropists to share ideas and support for their chapter. BFJ’s chapters provide micro-grants to their local people and organizations, helping meet basic needs, like food and shelter, and bring equity, justice, sustainability and education to the community.
How do you do your funding? Please describe your approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.
Our giving is relationship focused. We feel there is a place at the table for everyone. At its heart, BFJ’s work is about inviting people to participate as an agent of change to make their local community more vital, healthy, beautiful and just. People are at the heart of generosity and philanthropy. Grant selection is based on personal interaction and trust, not paperwork. BFJ has the ability to respond quickly to people’s ideas because there’s no long, drawn-out application. It’s a perfect way to get to know the many people doing great things locally. We trust our ability to recognize recipients who are energetic and insightful. We are inspired by their dreams. We trust them, follow them, and help them get what they need. BFJ welcomes anyone and supports diverse causes. Our chapters are run by volunteers and they raise money in the way that feels right for them. Since BFJ grants are small, it’s not just for high rollers – anyone can make a difference. Essentially, people have the opportunity to give in their own community and see the results. We believe it takes many ingredients and efforts to make a community whole.
How did you come to practice philanthropy in this way?
Wayne Muller started this “experiment” in neighborhood-based micro-granting in 1988 in Santa Fe, New Mexico with a small group of friends. They were not individuals of great wealth, but felt they had something to offer their community. They gathered over spaghetti dinner to listen to how together they might collectively be more generous and active in supporting positive change in Northern New Mexico. After ten years of giving to the community in a way that felt natural to them and respectful of the people to whom they gave grants, they formulated granting guidelines and opened their organization up as a model to be replicated.
Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism? What specifically were the concerns, and how did you respond?
The perception is that small grants have no gravitas. Because we don’t give large sums, the question of impact arises.Also, in terms of getting funding for BFJ, we don’t represent one cause. This is especially challenging for larger foundations to deal with because they find it difficult to categorize us to fit within their funding focus.
In the same vein, our structure is set up for volunteers who love relationships more than paperwork. We do not ask our volunteers to do the kinds of record-keeping that feed metrics needed to prove impact, which makes it difficult to fit large foundations’ grant requirements.
We also must overcome the perception by foundations that our central headquarters is a re-granting organization. If they come to understand that their grant would not be used for re-granting, they perceive a grant to our central Headquarters to be a General Operating Grant, which many foundations won’t fund. Then, because we have chapters nationally, regional foundations eliminate us. The solution has been to fundraise from individuals and small family foundations. But of course that is extremely limiting, as you can imagine.
Describe a challenge you feel has the most lessons for other funders, and what those lessons were.
Because our volunteers are ordinary people with limited or no non-profit experience, at first, they had trouble figuring out how to find grantees in their community. In time, this problem is overcome. But it happens with almost every start-up. Although it is a challenge, we think this is good news. We’re reaching a new demographic in the world of giving.Also, giving money away using a style of “inner due diligence” that encourages our volunteers to assess a person and project while they are meeting over a cup of tea is a learned process. Furthermore, we encourage them to “give with no strings attached” which is a guideline for deepening their capacity for “true generosity.” It is a process of building trust muscles. These skills carry over into everyday life and help a person mature into one who is truly “generous of spirit”.
Ultimately, our program develops people who come to know many new good-hearted people in their community. They come to know the needs in their community like never before. They help solve problems. And they become more generous of spirit. This is how we truly mature as a society.
What can you achieve through the style of funding we asked you to focus on that might not be possible using conventional philanthropic funding models?
By keeping our grant-making process simple, we are able to listen to the needs and hopes of our grantees and give micro-grants in a simple, uncomplicated way. Our micro-grants require only an idea and a plan by an individual or group of individuals, who are passionate about creating positive change in their community, as the need is realized. Our micro-grants seed hope. We’ve been told that having someone who believes in them means as much or more than the money associated with the grant an individual has been given to carry out their plan. In this way we are “Nurturing the Seed of Generosity in Every Human Heart” which is our Vision Statement.
What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a funder curious about doing something similar?
I’d ask, what is your goal? If you want to create a society that consists of healthy people who become generous of spirit, then this is a good way to go. If you want to empower ordinary people to creatively help others in their community, this is a good model. The most important insight we’ve gained is the ability to listen to those in our community who recognize a need for action instead of going into a community with a “my plan”. In this way, one gets to see how a community comes together to solve its problems, and how deeply generous and creative ordinary people are.
Why does Micro-Granting matter to you?
Bread for the Journey is founded on clear principles of grassroots, small-scale giving that make it easy to make a difference with out the long, drawn out application process. Since Bread for the Journey grants are small and strategic, a small amount can go farther. People have the opportunity to give in their own community and see the results. It’s a perfect way to get to know the many people doing great things locally. We trust our ability to recognize recipients who are energetic and insightful. We are inspired by their dreams. We trust them, follow them, and help them get what they need. Bread for the Journey welcomes anyone and supports diverse causes. We believe it takes many ingredients and efforts to make a community whole. Just as our logo represents, we feel there is a place at the table for everyone. At its heart, Bread for the Journey’s work is about inviting people to participate as an agent of change to make their local community more vital, healthy, beautiful, and just.What this type of philanthropy does is help to create people whose organizational generosity spills over into their personal giving, the giving of their time, the myriad ways generosity can be expressed in the span of a lifetime. It awakens one to the deepest meaning of the word philanthropy: Love of Humankind.