The Hummingbird Collective

The Hummingbird Collective is organized collaboratively by representatives from seven grassroots organizations in Arizona and six young people from across the country with access to wealth, which we refer to as donor organizers. (This has been put together by Margot Seigle, donor organizer, and Cesar Lopez, Arizona-based organizer. While we hope it reflects the sentiments of the collective, it is from our unique perspectives and experiences.)

Pollinating Resistance & Resilience

Please describe The Hummingbird Collective’s approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.

The Hummingbird Collective is organized collaboratively by representatives from seven grassroots organizations in Arizona and six young people from across the country with access to wealth, which we refer to as donor organizers. Our approach has been to create a shared decision-making process that centers the voices of those most directly impacted by injustice while including the donor organizers perspective and responsibility to take leadership on the logistics, fundraising, and overhead of the fund.  Over our 4 years of grantmaking, we have moved a total of right around $500,000.  Together, we aim to treat the fund as “family money,” a term coined by a member that quickly caught on.  This requires a baseline of trust that is not the norm in a culture full of endless paperwork and hierarchical decision-making. While traditional philanthropy assumes that those with wealth know best how to use it, we reject this notion by sharing decision-making power with those on the ground.  While traditional philanthropy often erects walls between the donors and the grantees, Hummingbird works to knock down barriers that divide us across lines of race and class by building authentic relationships. We listen deeply to one another and open up our homes, hearts, and minds in our work to move towards that vision.

There was a moment when your story began. How did you come to practice philanthropy in this way?

In April 2010, SB1070 was signed into law in Arizona, criminalizing the act of being in the U.S. without papers and legalizing racial profiling. The law explicitly named a strategy of attrition through enforcement for the undocumented community in Arizona, making it practically impossible for families to live in peace. While the immigrant community had been under attack for decades, this level of overt xenophobia marked the start of a major crackdown by right-wing leadership within the state, a trend soon to be followed by states across the country.  In reaction, the migrant justice movement, led by grassroots communities and organizations in Arizona, used this moment for massive mobilization and action.  Many of the groups part of Hummingbird either started around this time or were at a critical moment in ramping up their organizing but lacked the access to resources to do that.

The following fall at the November 2010 conference put on by Resource Generation (RG) called Making Money Make Change (MMMC), two organizers from Arizona, Carlos Garcia and Marisa Franco, led a workshop framing the crisis in Arizona as Jim Crow 2.0. Out of that workshop, a small group of young people with wealth came together to wrestle with the question, “What does it look like to leverage our class privilege for the migrant justice movement in Arizona?”  After months of educating themselves about the fight for migrant rights in Arizona, learning about other alternative giving projects, and getting to know one another via conference calls, they accepted an invitation from organizers in Arizona to see the crisis first hand.  In April 2011, one year after the passage of SB 1070, they met with organizers and member-leaders in Phoenix and Tuscon.  Deeply impacted by what they saw, both in the unimaginable treatment of undocumented communities and the struggle of resistance and resilience born as a result, they returned home with renewed commitment to the migrant justice movement.   Since Arizona was home to both the birth of the anti-immigrant policies and innovative and impactful resistance strategies, the donor organizers made a strategic decision to focus on this particular state.

Together, we — Arizona organizers, the national donor organizers, and two Arizona-based, class-privileged organizers — set out to build a structure to shift wealth from communities with class privilege to people of color, working class communities on the ground in Arizona. Community organizing from the ground up is primarily about relationships, so the pre-existing bonds the two local organizers in Arizona had formed provided a basis for deepening trust and connection.  After months of conference calls, one-on-one meetings, and an in-person retreat, we collectively agreed on a structure for a fund that gave Arizona organizers majority voting power (+1 vote) in grant making decision but included donor organizers as decision makers.

Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism when using Community-Based Decision-Making? What specifically were the concerns, and how did you respond?

Throughout our fundraising efforts, we experienced push back from some prospective donors regarding the legitimacy of the fund. As an all-volunteer operation we had to prioritize relationships, building a structure and the logistics of moving money over building out a thorough website or writing lengthy reports that often mark a fund as “legitimate” in traditional philanthropy. Other donors pushed back on our lack of extensive deliverables. Sparing organizations the time spent on endless paperwork, we collectively decided to have groups do one-page reports and present at an annual in-person report back and celebration. These practices required a high level of trust between donors and organizers that was often hard to convey to prospective donors.

You likely encountered challenges as you started implementing your strategy. Describe the challenge you feel has the most lessons for other funders, and what those lessons were.

This answer is written from the perspective of a donor organizer:
While in Arizona, we came to many of the groups with the question; “What should we do as young people with wealth to support the migrant justice movement?” We were waiting for someone to give us an answer. Eventually, we realized it was up to us to assume leadership and create a structure to invite participation. We did research on other models, incorporated input from the collective, and created a proposal on how to move forward.  At the beginning when Hummingbird was growing into a cross-class collective, we struggled to move the group toward one vision since most of us didn’t live in Arizona. Organizing a well-prepared and facilitated retreat in January 2012 to determine the structure together was crucial.

Our distance from Arizona also made it challenging to maintain relationships during the gaps of time between visits. At times, this made it hard to make informed decisions because we didn’t totally understand the on-the-ground dynamics. In addition, since we had been communicating separately as a group of donor-organizers before the fund got off the ground, we often had conversations just amongst ourselves without a clear intention as to why. This was likely a result of our internalized classist practices. There’s also the complicated question of to whom we are accountable to, because although we developed a cross-class decision-making body, in the end we held the power in deciding who was part of that body. We also had the power to decide that the fund would end after the committed three years, how much we would each contribute to the fund and fundraise.

This answer is written from the perspective of an Arizona organizer:
Hummingbird Collective was born during an intense time for our community.  We were in the midst of working around the clock to build power against the attacks on our communities by developing models that prioritized undocumented social actors to assume leadership in defending our communities. Our major challenges centered around our overwhelming workload, an already existing deficit of resources, a lack of experience in building an alternative funding model and internal group dynamics. Our workload often made it difficult to find time to communicate with the collective and to build relationships with collective members, especially since we were geographically divided.

Not having worked in a cross-class collective previously,  we did not have a model nor did we have a shared analysis of how to work with people with access to wealth to shift the power-dynamics of traditional foundation funding.  It was difficult for Arizona organizers to trust new initiatives and to believe that Hummingbird donors truly had the intention to shift traditional top-down funding dynamics. This resistance came from the history of other funding initiatives that had broken community trust and had too many restrictions on how communities could best use the resources. In part, SB1070 was the result of old funding models failing to support and develop community power to successfully counter such attacks on our communities.

Although cross-organizational work existed in Arizona, when donors arrived there was no formal statewide grassroots migrant justice coalition.  Thus donors had to bring together the seven organizations that comprised the collective in order to build a collective decision-making body.  We were making decisions around resources together, yet because of the diversity of our work and geographic distance, we were not always working closely together, which at times felt challenging. Arizona organizations answered this challenge by sharpening our culture of collectivity and trust. We communicated first within our organizations’ community bases and then across organizations to develop our proposal for the fund. Hummingbird created a new space for our organizations to come together and through careful work we embraced the work of shifting funding dynamics in favor of community-based guidance and relationship building.

How does your funding practice affect the overall impact you are able to achieve?

The model of the Hummingbird Collective allows organizations in Arizona to do the liberating and transformative work they’ve set out to do without all of the red tape and time-intensive paper work. Since the donor organizers are moving money as individuals and not as foundations or institutions, their bottom line is accountability to organizations and not foundations five steps removed from the frontlines of injustice. This has also allowed us to move money without restrictions, including emergency funding in a moment’s notice.

On a more personal level, our model allows for a level of connection between donors and organizers that traditional philanthropy does not. The theme of interdependence has been stirring since we initially came together over three years ago. It’s a complicated interdependence, but a connection across differences with all of us both receiving and giving. For underfunded grassroots organizations, sitting down at a table with funders who respect what organizers do is a unique experience. In the ending reflection of the retreat, Kat Rodriguez from Coalicîon de Derechos Humanos said, “I’ve had to deal with … grants, and that world is very foreign to me and it doesn’t feel comfortable, and now I know that it isn’t just that I didn’t know what was going on, but that it’s not how it should be. This feels like how these conversations should be happening.” For Hummingbird donors, being part of the migrant and borderlands justice movement has had a tremendous impact, transforming them from individual young activists with class privilege to a collective of people who are an intentional and strategic piece of the movement.

What is the most important insight you gained specifically through funding in this way?

The most important insight was that the power dynamics around money are more nuanced and subtle than we could have imagined. We thought that by bringing those dynamics to the surface we could easily work through them. However, we came to realize that these patterns are so systemically ingrained in all of us — our psyches, our bodies, our communities — that it will take generations of doing this kind of work to get beyond them. We see the model we created through Hummingbird as a step in that direction.

One piece of advice we would offer is that prospective donor organizers plug in to already existing grassroots structures. This creates more time for fundraising because donor organizers can plug right in to a decision making structure that already exists.  It also allows for more interdependent decision-making, as groups are already working towards a collective vision.

At the same time, there are other moments when we must build new relationships with new people, oftentimes women, queers, youth and young adults who have not been involved in coalition-building or asked about their visions. New resources from individual donors and foundations, can help cultivate and nurture those who have been at the fringe and could play pivotal roles, if they are given a chance.

Lastly, the capacity to build relationships is crucial.  Before starting a project like this, be sure to evaluate if your group is willing and able to take the time to get to know one another and the folks on the ground!

Why does Indie Philanthropy matter to you?

Indie Philanthropy matters to us both for the impact it has on movement building and on those involved in the process. In our case, both donors and organizers were changed through the process. For donors, it showed us that we can give more than we ever thought possible.  It showed us that we can lean in to trusting frontline communities to navigate the redistribution of wealth alongside us. For organizers, it showed us that it is crucial to build movements across lines of class and race. We learned that movement building includes folks that are in different sectors of the social justice movement. We learned a new level of trust. We learned that innovative funding initiatives can be used to counter the devastation on our communities from laws like SB1070. For donors and Arizona organizers, we learned that it is possible for money to bring communities together rather than break them apart.  We learned that we have the capacity to work together, even in times of crisis. We learned that we grow from owning our places of privilege, from making mistakes, and from extending trust to one another. The Hummingbird Collective—created by us and for us—presented a model of genuine movement building we are all proud to be a part of. Taking into account the lessons we learned, we believe the model of Hummingbird should be shared, adapted and taken to the next level by future “indie philanthropy” initiatives.