Common Counsel Foundation advances equity and environmental health through a combination of direct grantmaking and strategic philanthropic advising for client member funds and manages projects focused on organizational development, leadership sustainability and donor education. Native Voices Rising is a research and re-granting project of Common Counsel Foundation (CCF) and Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) designed to support grassroots groups led by and for Native communities in American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.

Funding Method


Indigenizing Grantmaking: Partnering to Support Effective Native-led Change

How do you do your funding? Please describe your organization’s approach and process, explaining how it is different from conventional philanthropy.

Native Voices Rising (NVR) establishes a mechanism for donors to invest in organizations led by Native people through a grantmaking vehicle whose decision makers are members of Native communities.

The purposes of Common Counsel Foundation’s (CCF) and Native Americans in Philanthropy’s (NAP) collaboration on NVR are:

  • Profiling strong Native-led community organizing and advocacy groups in which funders might invest and highlighting thematic issue areas of importance to Native-led community-based organizations by surveying Native groups
  • Developing new funding resources to support Native-led social change groups that are engaging community members in taking collective action to improve their lives, which includes impacting the rules that govern them
  • Providing the opportunity for funders to invest in Native-led organizing and advocacy efforts through re-granting,
  • Educating donors and funders, and
  • Indigenizing the grant award decision making process.

How did you come to practice philanthropy in this way?

From 2000 to now, total U.S. foundation giving to organizations and activities that could be identified as benefiting Native American (not necessarily Native-led) has ranged between 0.3 to 0.5 percent of grant dollars. NAP assessed the persistent challenges and disconnects between Native non-profits and foundations and identified the following:

  • Capacity Building
  • Competition for Resources
  • Persistent Infrastructure Challenges (rural access, internet, roads)
  • Size of the Population
  • Use and Exhaustion of Personal Resources by Native Leaders
  • Grant Awards with Burdensome Requirements
  • Lack of Fit Within Issue Silos
  • Relationship Building Time
  • Restrictive Grant Agreements that Prohibit Advocacy
  • Limited Foundation Capacity and Priority for Outreach and Due Diligence with Native groups

NVR provides new resources to build the capacity of Native-led groups to engage in collective action for change and indigenizes the model of grantmaking.

Have you ever been met with resistance or criticism? What specifically were the concerns, and how did you respond?

There were donors who wanted to participate in the grant-decision process. However, it was important to NVR to maintain the integrity of the vision of an indigenized model of grant making. The regional grant decision making bodies are composed of Native philanthropists and community leaders.

NVR has received requests to do more — including more donor education and site visits. And NVR holds a vision of creating an online searchable database of groups, offering capacity building training to Native-led groups, producing additional research pieces and convening cohorts of grantees. NVR is interested in developing its resource base to be able to meet these other components of its vision and to be able to respond to the requests from the field in the future. Meanwhile, Native Americans in Philanthropy provides a wealth of resources for philanthropists and NVR continues to conduct some donor education through a variety of funder associations and network meetings.

Describe a challenge you feel has the most lessons for other funders, and what those lessons were.

NAP and CCF underestimated the time needed to design and implement the program. Both organizations committed significantly more institutional resources to the program than was envisioned to build a website, create a press release, conduct outreach to grantees, develop workshops and presentations for different funder association audiences, author articles for funder associations, identify and recruit Native philanthropists and community leaders to serve as regional grant decision making teams and create a webinar-style orientation that incorporates best practices to train community decision makers, as well as develop and rightsize the applicant survey, LOI, and proposal forms and create elements of the proposal that were culturally appropriate, including the recording of oral answers to proposal questions in alignment with storytelling traditions.

The anchor funder experienced a leadership transition and shifted strategy. After the transition NVR was funded only to conduct the pilot.

What can you achieve through this style of funding that might not be possible using conventional philanthropic funding models?

The funding model places decision making authority in the hands of Native community members or leaders, thereby shifting the conventional power dynamics at play in a philanthropic engagement.  It builds community strength and skills. It increases Native organizations understanding of and access to funding processes. It brings new money to the Native community. It provides support for Native-led organizations that aren’t otherwise seen by philanthropists. It increases the exposure of applicants that are utilizing organizing and advocacy strategies.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to a funder curious about doing something similar?

  • Engage community leadership in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
  • Listen deeply and with a real intention to do things differently than you might have envisioned on your own.
  • Be willing to think outside of traditional structures and workflows.
  • Test and Evaluate. Modify practices based on the evaulative feedback of all stakeholders.

Why does Indie Philanthropy matter to you?

Building the leadership and skill of Native community members to act as philanthropists enriches the sector and creates the possibility of more informed grantmaking by other institutions. Collecting stories and data that can be shared with the field helps to maintain focus in the philanthropic sector regarding the need and potential for funding this constituency. Developing new resources to support Native-led social change helps to redress historic inequities.