Paying What It Takes Case Study 2: Fundraising grassroots community-led organisations

Rachel Kerry, of the CAGES Foundation, and Tara Leslie from the Cullunghutti Aboriginal Child and Family Centre reflect on how a Pay What It Takes approach can enable self-determination and help restore power balances between funders and not-for-profits

Participants: The CAGES Foundation, Cullunghutti Aboriginal Child and Family Centre

The CAGES Foundation is a family foundation that supports Indigenous Australians. It has “…evolved our funding principles to foster Aboriginal leadership, genuine partnerships and capacity building, which have become core to everything we support.’’

The Cullunghutti Aboriginal Child and Family Centre was established under the Indigenous Early Childhood Development National Partnership Agreement (IECDNP), as a Closing the Gap initiative. We are a not-for-profit organisation, and self-managed by our Aboriginal community in NSW’s Shoalhaven area.

Contributors: Rachel Kerry, Executive Officer, CAGES Foundation

Tara Leslie, Chief Executive Officer, Cullunghutti Aboriginal Child and Family Centre

How do you see the practical application of the Pay What It Takes approach in your respective contexts? (From a funder’s point of view, and from a community organisation’s perspective.)

Tara: Allows for real self-determination and an ability to respond to needs as they arise allowing the organisation to follow their bigger strategy

Rachel: PWIT means that punitive discussions get relegated, the power balance is restored and once untagged funding is on the table you can have honest discussions with the funded organisation (and the community) about the opportunities that exist and what it will take to achieve them

Tara, the notes I have from the workshop says that Cullunghutti’s core funding is from the government. How often does non-government funding adopt a PWIT approach? What are the considerations for applying that framework for grassroots’ organisations? Rachel, what are the funder’s responsibilities in this space? Are they different to funding cause-driven, rather than community-driven programs and projects?

Tara: Cullunghutti has had an usually good experience with non-government funding via CAGES Foundation and FRRR. Both funders reached out and relationships based on trust and honest were built and not limited to an application process. The funders had recognised the great work of Cullunghutti, the alignment with what their organisations wanted to do and were keen to see how they could support this work to grow.

Rachel: A funders’ responsibility in this space, and any space, is to commit to full transparency in terms of managing expectations. People working at funding bodies shouldn’t talk to practices they aspire to if they know that their board is not ready to shift to that practice. Understand the role you can and will play and be honest about that…not the role you would like to play. I believe PWIT is not a different approach to cause-driven or community-driven programs and projects (not sure I understand this part of the question). PWIT is about giving with autonomy which can be aligned to any other approach.

What are the impediments/obstacles that prevents PWIT from being adopted more widely across philanthropy? Are there funding partnerships that lend themselves more to PWIT than others? Why/why not?

Rachel: Funders continue to work in very risk averse, often short-term, environments despite rhetoric about the role of philanthropy being to innovate and take risks. Noting here that at CAGES Foundation we think that often risk consideration in philanthropy is based on western, corporate structures and the risks are perceived and not well understood (small, responsive community-controlled organisations may seem “risky” however are anything but!) Also, funders/boards like tangible “heart-warming” short-term outcomes – in the early years space this often equates to provision of books, delivery of programs by external actors and the like. When more work is done on a theory of philanthropy and you consider what is really going to shift outcomes for children and families PWIT more sense – resilient organisations who have the trust of their communities, hold the strategy for success, good leadership and all the capabilities and resources – no brainer.

Let’s reflect on responsibility and trust – key components of any PWIT framework. What are your perspectives on how best to do that? Can you reflect on how that dialogue developed?

Rachel and Tara discussed: Taking time to build understanding, listening and hearing were critical in building trust. Moving at the pace the community/organisation is comfortable to move at is also important with PWIT. CAGES Foundation has learnt that giving with autonomy does not mean a loss of accountability. Interestingly there is accountability via reporting however there is much more accountability within the relationship in terms of understanding the work and the bigger picture of the strategy and direction and the journey towards that. Cullunghutti is accountable to community – the bar for responsibility within community is much higher than anything a funder could expect. It is important that foundations also take responsibility. If we are serious about recognising that power does and should sit in the hands of community where culture and expertise lie than we need to take responsibility for acting accordingly (see CAGES Foundation most recent APB and CIR report attached to demonstrate how we commit to being held responsible….)

Rachel, I was interested in a particular comment from the case study notes. You were quoted as saying that CAGES approach went one step further than PWIT – “we were building autonomy with the grant’’. What did that look like and how did you get there? Tara, what did that look like from your perspective?

Rachel: In philanthropy, we acknowledge country at our meetings, we declare that sovereignty was never ceded and then we begin to detail what success looks like for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, Aboriginal children and families. That seems ironic to me. First Nations people have proved time and again they have the expertise and knowledge to work in ways that set up an environment for families and children to thrive, the opportunity is for philanthropy to invest in this. It is rare for investors to come into companies within their share portfolio and dictate on mining/supply chain/telco/finance strategy so why here? Funders of medical research don’t assume they understand DNA chains, complex maths or biochemistry. We listen to strategy, we even provide input (if requested), we understand what activity will be undertaken, we clarify our potential role, we align around the outcomes we expect to be achieved (which in our time of funding may just be evidenced by KPIs along the way) if the organisations is resourced – we then provide funds. After that we can’t know exactly what twists and turns will occur throughout the journey, so the funding is given with autonomy, to be used as required. It may shift from program to operations to professional development and back again. From a practical perspective, as long as the overarching objectives remain the same, we don’t want to set up unnecessary bureaucracy for already busy people to report every time a dollar is shifted. As a values-based funder, this is also called trust.  

And what about your boards? What was the journey for Cullunghutti’s and CAGES’ boards in developing the dialogue at the heart of the partnership?

Tara: Cullunghutti board needed education around what philanthropy is and who. Cautious of partnerships with unknown entities and most importantly, values had to aligned. Ensuring the right fit for the organisation and community, not ticking boxes and getting any dollars but the right dollars. When values aligned the support and advocacy, particularly around Aboriginal controlled organisations and community, that comes with philanthropy was a value add. Funding funders that prioritised the best outcomes for community, as defined by community, is now recognised as an asset.

Rachel: It was important that the board shifted their thinking from short-term to long-term. We also did work around getting excited about potential long-term, sustainable outcomes, not glossy proposals that promised bells and whistles. Integral was the work we did around trust/risk – recognising that if we didn’t get this right, we would never shift understanding. Now small, community-controlled and endorsed organisations are perceived as low risk. We also recognised that the greatest risk taken, based on history and evidence of what has happened in the past, is by community. It is a privilege that so many communities still share their stories, aspirations, and knowledge with us.

What have you learned from this process that you could use to a) keep the relationship evolving and b) apply to another funding opportunity (from both perspectives)

Tara and Rachel agree: Keep communicating, talking, lots of cups of tea. Values must be right in any future funding opportunities. Let community lead the conversations.