Episode 5: Operationalizing Trust Based Philanthropy with Ashley Clark

We sat down with Ashley Clark, Knowledge and Grants Manager at The Libra Foundation, to talk about how technology enables values driven work, particularly the principles of Trust Based Philanthropy. 


We talked about: 

  • Making right-sized technology decisions that are values aligned, and the importance of high-level alignment and buy-in.  
  • The process of selecting and implementing a new grants management systems. 
  • Technology and Trust Based Philanthropy—how Libra reduces the administrative burden on grantees, collects, categorizes, and tags all the right information in emails, webinars, etc., to build deep partnerships with their grantees. 

Learn more at thelibrafoundation.org or democracyfrontlinesfund.org. Learn more about the Trust Based Philanthropy Project.

Come see us at PEAK2021! We’re thrilled to be leading a session on May 6th at 3pm, Where Intention Meets Action: Operationalizing Trust Based Philanthropy. Or swing by the exhibitor hall to chat with one of our friendly team members.

Episode Five Transcript:

Ashley Clark:

Who is at the intersection of a lot of the challenges that we're seeking to solve? We see people of color working hard, working hard because they're having to navigate through these issues and working hard because they have solutions and they want to solve these issues. And so when we think about who we're funding, we're seeking to fund the organizations that are led by people of color in particular, who are experiencing needs issues.

James Law:

In philanthropy, the path from setting strategy to seeing success can be a little difficult. Here, we dig into the experiences of grantmakers, figuring out this journey for themselves to help us all better understand how to operationalize our mission and our vision. I'm James Law, Director of Innovation here at Grantbook. And this is The More Good Podcast. 

We sat down with Ashley Clark, Knowledge and Grants Manager at the Libra Foundation, to talk about how technology enables values driven work, particularly, the principles of trust-based philanthropy. We talked about making right sized technology decisions that are values aligned and the importance of high level alignment and buy-in in any tech project. We then reviewed the process of selecting and implementing a new grants management system and how Libra used the system to reduce the administrative burden on grantees in order to enable some of those trust-based principles. 

Hi Ashley.

Ashley:

Hi. How are you?

James:

I'm doing all right. I'm rushing towards the end of the year here. How are you holding up?

Ashley:

Both of us. I am rushing and limping at the same time.

James:

I hear you. I feel like that's almost indicative of this year. That was 2020. It feels like so much of us were rushing to stay safe and get settled and try to figure it out. But at the same time, it's rushing with the limp. There's definitely something dragging us all back.

Ashley:

Yeah, you're totally right. And I think we're all ready for a fresh year. We don't know what that will bring, but hopefully it'll bring some good things along with just change from what we’ve been experiencing in 2020.

James:

Definitely. The novelty of this year has worn off pretty quickly. So I just wanted to thank you as we do with everyone we invite here. Thank you for taking the time to come on today and share with us. And just to lead a little bit for those who are listening, one of the reasons we wanted to chat, and we've been planning and talking about chatting for quite a while now, there's a story there too. But the Libra Foundation is just doing such wonderful things. And I think when we work together on technology, we're always curious here at Grantbook, how do those aspects work together? How does picking a tool allow you to really fulfill how you want to work in and do those wonderful things. And so thanks again for taking some time today to explore that with us.

Ashley:

I'm honored to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

James:

So maybe to get us started, we can just talk a little bit. Maybe you can introduce yourselves, who you are, where you work, a bit about your background, how you landed at Libra, and then we'll go from there.

Ashley:

Sure. So thanks again for having me. A few things to know, what can I tell you? So I'm originally from Tennessee where much of my family still lives. I am a kid mom, a dog mom, sister, runner, yogi, all kinds of other things. My work role is, I'm the Knowledge and Grants Manager at the Libra Foundation, which is a family foundation that's based in the San Francisco, Bay Area. And I am on a team of amazing women with really diverse perspectives from across the nation. And I think the thing that's special about us is that we're skeptics of philanthropy. So we're always questioning how things are done. We question the power that we hold and push one another. And we try to push the rest of the field to do things a little bit differently.

And how I landed here, my goodness, it's such a long story, but maybe I can say it succinctly, for years, I think I was following a path that just didn't feel like the right fit for me. And I felt like I was spending time exploring career paths that other people wanted for me. And it took me a little bit of time to realize that I needed to slow down and listen to myself and ask myself what would make a meaningful career and a meaningful life for me.

And so I've kind of made a pretty hard career pivot. I think it's been about maybe eight years ago or so, went from for-profit work to the social impact sector, and have gradually found my way, kind of had to learn a whole new landscape and learn how to plan a career in a completely different sector, but wish I had done it so long ago because it has led me to such fulfilling work, meaningful work that's helped me process everything that's happening around me and help me feel like I have a way of handling what's happening in the world through my work in a way of processing what's happening in the world through my work at Libra.

And like wrestling with pretty thorny topics like racism, power privilege. We get to talk about these things all day, every day, and it informs how we make grants, how we fund and how we want to show up in the world. I said I was going to do it in a short fashion, but that was longer than I meant. But anyway, that's how I ended up at Libra. 

And maybe a couple of other things to say about Libra is that we fund in the areas of criminal justice, gender justice, and environmental and climate justice. Our grant making budget is around 25 million a year, but in this past year, our board made the decision to double our payout. So we have done just about 50 million in grants this year, since it's such a consequential year for so many different reasons that I don't even have to get into.

James:

Totally.

Ashley:

So, maybe I'll stop there and let you ask what other questions do you have.

James:

Yeah, totally. No, thank you for that. And it was pretty succinct, but I feel like these journeys are important. These journeys are really important because we all go on them and I think they matter, they really put context to everything. And I think maybe if we can continue to explore a little bit on the work that Libra does, and how it does it more in particular, because I think you had just mentioned a lot about what goes on in this world across racism, across justice and you getting to explore that through your work at Libra. Just wondering how that intersection works for you. How do you see Libra working in response to those things and those explorations?

Ashley:

Well, I think one of the most critical ways I see that kind of coming to life is maybe a guiding principle that we follow and that we think about through our work, which is really that we seek to fund the organizations that are led by and for those who are directly impacted by the problems that we seek to solve. And we think that's important because the people who are actually experiencing these issues are the ones that have gained the deepest experience and wisdom from going through these challenges firsthand. And so they have a really intimate understanding of exactly what their communities need, exactly they know the solutions to these problems. They need a little bit more power and more resources in order to actualize those solutions. So, when we think about our work if we look at maybe our criminal justice portfolio, for example, that means that we're thinking about funding organizations that are led by those who are themselves formerly incarcerated or the family members of incarcerated loved ones, because they understand exactly what the criminal justice system does to a family.

They understand what it does to a community. They understand how difficult it is to re-enter society after a prison term. They're best positioned to offer solutions around policing and what it means and what it takes to build safe communities and how to re-envision the criminal justice system. So, I think believing in that and having a shared understanding of that helps us think about funding differently and helps us honor the wisdom and experience of people with those lived experiences and seek to funnel as much of our funding to those organizations that are led by in for communities that are most impacted. And I think if you click down maybe like one level deeper, I think the part where I was talking about the fact that we talk about racism, race, power in our work, we look at who is at the intersection of a lot of the challenges that we're seeking to solve?

We see people of color working hard, working hard because they're having to navigate through these issues and working hard because they have solutions and they want to solve these issues. And so when we think about who we're funding, we're seeking to fund the organizations that are led by people of color in particular, who are experiencing these issues to give them the funds that they need to help their communities navigate out of these challenges. So I think that's maybe one key kind of guiding principle that undergirds all of our work. And then I think the other piece is that we are proud followers of trust-based philanthropy principles. So, it's our belief that these are the experts, the people that we're funding, they know exactly what they're doing.

They've been doing this for decades. They've been doing this for generations. And it is our goal to figure out what we can do to fund them most quickly, most efficiently with as little red tape as possible. And essentially get out of the way and just let them do their thing and minimize the amount of time that they spend pushing papers around so that they can get back to the critical work that they're doing. That informs a lot about how we build our processes to be respectful of their time, to help us think about every part of our process we want to think about how we're deepening relationships with our grantees and not wasting their time. I don't know, I think that's kind of special about how we and many others do follow trust-based philanthropy principles as well.

James:

I think that's a really good description and cross section, if you will, of how Libra works. I think for folks listening, it really gives insight into how so many of those values intersect at different levels. I think as a Knowledge and Grants Manager, I imagine having spoken to other folks, maybe in similar roles, you're often like part of that tissue, I think that keeps so much of that alive and well, because there is I think mission and vision and how we want to work, which is so critical. And then at the end of the day, everyone still comes back to their desk. I mean, largely, or some sort of interface and you have to put something in a system somewhere, that's sort of the nature of work I guess that we've defined in this time period.

And so one of the ways we interacted with each other when we met was really about picking a right sized grants management system. And I kind of want to reflect on that in a little bit of the context of what you've just described for us in terms of how Libra works and the values that Libra pursues, how did you at that point, maybe when we first met, technologies sort of maybe capping how you want it to work or limiting how Libra wanted to work, what was some of that stuckness like at that time?

Ashley:

Yeah. So I've been in this role almost three years, and when I first came in my now boss, a fearless leader, Crystal Hayling, and I had some conversations before I took the job around how do we want to do this work? And what can we blow up and what can we change and how can we do things differently? And she warned me before I started that she felt like it was going to require a different type of system than we had. And I thought, well, let me come in and I'll take a look at it and we can kind of figure out where to go from there.

And I quickly realized upon starting that our data was held hostage. I think that system that we had kind of helped move things along from bucket to bucket. And that was about all that it did, but especially being a new team, we started with two of us and now we're eight, but as we were growing, we had a lot of questions as I came on board as my teammate, Angie, after I came on board also joined, we had a lot of questions about where's our grant making gone historically? How can we analyze over time how it's changed? What does that look like versus what kind of grant making we want to do in the future?

How can we organize or tag the data that we're putting into the system so that we can better understand if we're realizing the themes that we want to have and not have to do such manual labor? We made jokes about the fact that we had to basically export all the raw data out of our old system and manipulate it to see what we want to see. And then it was a static picture because we couldn't funnel it back into the system at all. And the system itself couldn't show us our data and the way we wanted to see it. So I think we just felt limited. And I know I'm not the only one that had a series of shadow spreadsheets that felt like in a year at that time, 2018, 2019, that was severely behind where we needed to be and where we wanted to be in terms of ... I think everyone having that data.

If we have a bunch of shadow spreadsheets that I maintain, then other team members have to come to me to better understand, and not everybody loves to play around in Excel all day like I do. So, we were looking for a way or a system that could help us visualize our data better. We were looking for a system that would give the power of analysis to not just me, but to our other team members, to our fearless leader to be able to click a few things and look at our different portfolios. Look at different pockets of funding. Just a much more sophisticated way of viewing our data and understanding our data, reporting on our data that didn't require me spending hours and hours and hours in Excel only to have to redo it the next time I needed to look at it. So, those are some of the things that we were looking to solve when we came searching for you and Aisling.

James:

That's a common theme, in terms of finding us and seeking little bit of assistance. I think really just to unearth what's already there, a lot of the needs and wants are already there. It's really just about bringing them to light and doing a little bit of an alignment on them. And maybe this other thing we can get into then is as you decided to make the move and we started to work together, I am a little curious, how did you see that process go? Or how do you feel like that process went? And was there anything that met your expectations either how it was selected or even what was available? I'm just curious, looking back now, how would you reflect on that process of arriving at a new system?

Ashley:

The process, I don't even think I understood how many systems are out there that could do the thing, and then how many systems that could do the thing not that well, not according to what we needed. So, I didn't know what to expect when we went into it. And I think the most critical piece of that whole process was when we ... I'm coming at your question in a different way. Hopefully, I'm going to end up where you want me to. But I think we needed to kind of distill at a much higher level, which I think is something that you and Aisling helped us do, of how do you want to work differently as a team? What are the pain points here?

I feel like a lot of people that I talk to go straight to features. What are the things that we need it to do? But we had a much higher level conversations that I think helped set a strategic and thoughtful journey that then we were able to kind of stay a little bit above all the different features because we understood, what are we trying to get to? And so I think there were themes that came out of the kind of collaborative sessions that you guys facilitated and the individual interviews that you did with different members of our cross-functional team that helped some of those things come up like visualization or concerns that the accounting team may have had about who can touch what and how to make things more secure and have best practices around that and have a system that supports that and reinforces those best practices that we want to employ.

And so I think just starting at that level so that we could collectively envision and have buy-in from the whole team of how important this project is and how it touches each one of us, I think helped us, I don't know, stay sane, say then kind of went through this process where we go and look at these shiny things from each service provider. And I think for us, we were fortunate that we didn't boil the ocean. I mean, I think we had a good sense of what we were trying to do and what we were looking for. And I think maybe we looked at four to six total or something like that, which felt like a much more manageable number to explore and were able to kind of go through as a little concerned about the demos because I heard from so many people that everybody wants to show you the shiny things that they're not even the shiny things. I'm like, "What?"

James:

They do. It's shiny to them.

Ashley:

It's like shiny whizzbang, but it's not always the whizzbang that we wanted, but I think the interesting thing for us is that the system that we ultimately ended up going with was also the first demo that we did. And so it also set a really high bar because then everything that we saw after that just wasn't measuring up for us when we thought about what we needed. And I think kind of the tail piece of that was that ... I think the part that was maybe just tricky that I didn't necessarily anticipate at the outset of the process was how we were going to make the decision.

And I don't know if everyone thinks enough about: how are you going to decide? And I think coming into the conversation, coming into the process of the journey, I think my boss thought, "Well, Ashley's going to recommend something. And if I agree with her, then that's what we're going to do." And I think as I got closer to the end and I saw that we were looking at two pretty different systems, the final two. And your team, you and Aisling helped us think about what life would look like in each of those systems.

And we had to ask ourselves like, "Which one of those lives do we want?" Then I think I pivoted, I'll say to this idea that actually, no, this needs to be a collective decision and is a part of change management, I think we all need to wrestle with what does it mean to live in each of these systems and kind of come to as much consensus as we can so that the rest of this process can go much more smoothly and people can feel like, "I was a part of this decision," not just, "Well, Ashley made the decision, I don't want to use this thing that she chose," because I felt like then it's setting implementation and launch up very differently when you've collectively made a decision versus telling everybody that this is what we're going to use. I think it was a guided process, thankfully, and I thought it was going to be this dizzying thing and that it was still hard to make a decision. But I think the decision at a certain point became clear. And then it became just exciting to move on to the next stage.

James:

That's awesome. I think the insight of how talking through, or just getting a little clearer on how a team wants to make a decision is so critically important. It feels like through a guided process, it will become very obvious. And then though what you realize, as we did in this case, like for us, I don't want to say it was shocking, but I think even when Ashlyn and I looked at it, we're like, "Okay, they're very different futures, but they really hit the same objectives," which is kind of wild. But they are very, very different futures for the organization. So, understanding how to navigate such a gap, such a delta with an organization is so critical because people may end up in roles they didn't think that they'd want to be in.

Ashley:

And the fact that everybody's using this thing at a different level. But then even for those that are hardly touching it, if it's complicated and they're hardly touching it for them to really wrestle with what does that mean? How does that feel? Am I ever going to want to be in it if it seems complicated? I don't know. Versus something that feels much more intuitive. I think having everyone sit at least with their current roles in mind and how they would engage and see how that would be different in that they both would have been great, both of them for different reasons, but life would have been very different in either one. So, it was quite a journey.

James:

It was, but you got there, you're up and running, and between then and now there's this whole series of implementing a system. And I often feel like picking is enough of a journey. I don't think we're over-complicating. And I think that it is a big decision, especially in foundations. We're working on a grants management system, that's the core application. So, it does deserve some space and time, but then you move on to implementation and every system gets implemented differently. And so we always like to explore a little bit what that process was like for you and your team? How did you work through that? Anything you learned about that process. Can you take us through that?

Ashley:

So, implementation. They’re such different projects, but like the choosing is its own beast. It's hard to even describe. And I had had trouble wrapping my brain around exactly what it entailed and I talked to a bunch of other grants managers to try to prepare myself, to prepare you for it. And then you're wading around in like 17 years of data. So for us, I think it's a slog. And I think it is a slog just because of the volume of data that you're, for us, at least that we were wrangling in it, it just requires being thoughtful, which is again, where we were begging Grantbook for help again for this part of the process. And I think there was some beauty in this stage because we also, I think, didn't know that you guys were going to be able to implement it when we were going through the exploring systems.

And then it came, we learned that you could potentially help us with implementation, which was that piece was really helpful because then it meant that we didn't have to brief a whole new team on the dynamics of our team, how all the cross-functional pieces fit together. Who's doing what, you had already spent several months with us, I'd say Aisling had already spent several months with us, so that I felt like in some ways we were able to hit the ground ... that's the right thing, ground running. So, we already had very good rapport, we already had a great rhythm. And we were able to lay out, I think I could just understand, "This is what this process entails. This is how long it takes."

I think the hardest piece for us was the part that we had to own getting all this data out of the system and then cleaning it. We had never actually gone back to the accounting team and said, "Here's what we have. What do you have?" It doesn't matter as much what we have because the records that you have show what actually went out the door, so we need to make our records match. And for all of these years that had not been done. That process of even just like year by year and grantee by grantee, making sure that those pictures matched, and it was a little bit scary because you don't know what you're going to find.

James:

Totally, some skeletons or something in there.

Ashley:

I called them. I was like, "Oh my gosh." And I have to say that I was terrified every day that we were going to find a family of skeletons somewhere. And we did, we found a little piece of something that literally happened in the last few months that we could rectify, but I was grateful that we didn't find more. Every day, or not every day, but maybe every check-in with my boss, she'd be like, "How are things going?" And be like, "Oh my gosh, I'm so stressed." And it's just a matter of getting that data in good shape because we felt, and we had heard from others that it's like moving. You're not trying to take your dirty socks and that couch that your dog vomited on 15 times. You want to get things in great shape so that your new house is clean, it's organized, it has everything in it's drawers and it has a home for everything. So we did spend a lot of time upfront. I'm sure at some point Aisling was like, "We need to get that data."

James:

Yeah.

Ashley:

Sometimes I was like, “oh crap, I just need a little bit more time." And then thankfully I'd say that one of the critical pieces for us was taking the data from this huge data download that we had cleaned. Then we needed to get it into a migration template. And that was dizzy, which was a whole different orientation than the way our data had been built. And thankfully, Annie from Grantbook wrangled with that darn thing. So I was like, "My brain will blow up if I try to get our thing that I know intimately into this other template then it needed to be in order to be slurped into our new system." But I'd say that having a good partner to help us get things in the right template to get uploaded and to help us test was critical, because honestly, I think the hard work was the cleaning the data and getting it ready to migrate into the migration template.

I feel like the hardest work was done. And then we were just testing and honestly was prepared for a mess of what it was like to then go through and test and see a whole bunch of stuff. But things were in really great shape because I think the Grantbook book team really understood and worked closely with the GivingData team, which is the system that we went with, how things needed to look in order to have things migrate smoothly, and they did. And I'd say the biggest testament to how implementation went was that we learned that we were going to be doubling our payout, maybe six weeks after we launched our new systems we had the amount of grants that we make in a year, we needed to make immediately in a system that we had just launched and just kind of learned how to use. But we did it and we did it on time and we did it smoothly.

And I think it was a testament to the new system and to the process that we'd gone through to get the data in there that that went so smoothly that after that was over, we looked back at it and we're like, "Oh my gosh, we just got out a year's worth of stuff on a system that we just learned how to use." But it happened and it worked and it was like a trial by fire. But now I think that helped us know the system pretty well, such that we implemented all kinds of other processes this year to be as responsive as possible to grantees. And I feel like having a new system and learning and understanding how it works and seeing it do all these things that we had hoped and wanted it to do has been like fulfilling and exciting and nerdy and fun all at the same time. So I'll stop and see what other questions you have.

James:

I think that's really awesome, especially the last part, but going back to the front of the journey, I think one thing you've described really well and very aptly is there's a bit of, I guess if you're like a hardcore capitalist, you can call it like a bit of data debt. I don't know. And if you're maybe more spiritual, I just call it bad energy. When you don't move a system and you use shadow spreadsheets for years, that's just all accumulating some sort of bad energy around it. And when you release that, that's what you had to go through. It's like months, weeks of slog and sludge to clean that up.

Ashley:

And you can’t get help with that. And I think that was another thing that someone told me is like, "You cannot hire a consultant to come and do this work because they don't know what significant, they don't know your organization. They don't know your grantmaking, that they can't see things the way that you can." You have to kind of clear the decks and you have to do that work at least in partnership with someone. Fortunately, I had just hired someone, thank heavens. She and I sat side-by-side at my desk doing this for weeks, and I think it was probably the best crash course to her new job ever. I don't know how great it was for her to be. She was just probably I didn't think I was going to be attached to her literally.

James:

[crosstalk 00:29:52]. Really intense onboarding, that's the glass door review.

Ashley:

[inaudible 00:29:58] about that, but yeah, it was critical I think to being able to hit the ground running in a new system.

James:

Definitely, because I think around this time when we were working together and we were getting a few data questions, I think Marie Condo was also really becoming popular. And it's kind of the same thing in that we can come and give you a process, we can take all the clothes out of your closet and throw them on the bed and be like, "Look at what you have," which is helpful I guess, but it is ultimately up to the organization to really know what's important and what's vital to mission and it maybe even personal value, because everyone who works in an org, they're attached to certain things and there's a navigation there of what's important to keep in and what's not. So, I'm glad you spoke about that because it is a huge pain point in every implementation. And if you're not really ready to do it, it can really drag.

It can make it pretty miserable if you're not ready to do it. But now I want to come back to that point that you left off on, which was you have to double your payout, you look back, you're like, "We did all that and a lot of the initial stuff that you envisioned like, "We're doing this." I am curious, how do you see then having moved to a new system? What are some maybe spaces and places you've really been able to actualize your values as an organization with some changes in technology recently? I am very curious about that.

Ashley:

So one of the things that I can pull out as, and this, I think aligns with our kind of trust-based philanthropy principles that we've tried to streamline and eliminate most of ... I'd say actually all of the essay fields for our applications in our reports, because we just want them to get back to work. But what that means generally is that you want to be in relationship with your grantee partners and you still need information, but we look for ways that we can get that information in non extractive ways. So, what that means is we noticed that if you're on the email list of all of your grantee partners, they send some pretty amazing updates every month. Why is that not a report? 

So, one of the features that I love that I geek out on, it gives me joy every time I use this feature is that we know how much information is locked in people's emails. And there's a function that just lets us like slurp emails and attachments directly from our email into our system and organizes them as interactions where we can see them on a timeline, they're searchable. So, I think that's been a game changer for us because simple things that if a program officer wants to refresh their memory on what's happening with the grantee, and they know that this grantee sends regular updates, they can kind of go back and review that. They don't have to try to ask for another phone call or they can review all those and have a deeper conversation on the phone call because they are up to date on everything that's happened. Or I'll think about our fearless leader, Crystal. She speaks on webinars and on panels all the time and the richness of these interactions that she can find in our system as a result of people, both saving down emails and files, and taking notes when we try to pop up everywhere our grantee partners are.

So they are on a lot of their own webinars where they're talking about their work or they're doing their own virtual updates with their constituents. And so we try to show up for those and just take notes on those and then upload those notes in our system that are also searchable. And we try to tag them in a certain way so that we can recall them so that when any of us are going to speak and we're looking for certain things, by the ways we've coded things in our system, even if we're looking to run searches on all the black led organizations that we fund, there are a bunch of different tags and ways that we can recall information, so that we've got stories that we can talk about when we sit on panels or we have speaking engagements.

So, I think that has just upped the game on how we're able to capture information and recall it, is I think in no other system or in our other system, at least I'll say that information would kind of get stored and locked, but was not easily recalled and was not searchable. So, it's super exciting that we can put things in there and get it out easily, which seems like a low bar, but it's just helped us with even reporting out activities for our board meetings of kind of showing how we're out. 

I think another piece of what we try to do is because we recognize that some of the ways we approach our work are different from how a lot of other traditional philanthropic organizations approach their work, so we try to do a fair bit of talking to other foundations and talking to our sector about how you could release more of the red tape, how you could fund more people of color led organizations.

So, we try to be out in the field talking about our work as much as we can. And then our assistant helps us catalog all of those speaking opportunities so that we sit with the board and talk about like, "Here's what we've done for the last quarter. And here are the people that are reaching out to talk to us about how we're doing things," so we can try to catalog and analyze the effects that maybe we could be having more broadly that is just as much a part of our impact we see is in addition to who we fund. So, those are some of the ways that kind of how we can capture information and recall it have helped us vastly.

And then I think maybe the other piece is just in our responsiveness. I think for us, like part of who we are and how we function in the sector is that we want to be responsive to grantee partners needs. I think some of that, another example of that that I think about is that we launched a fund, which we'd never done before, over I think it was September. So, it was early fall. Somehow it feels like yesterday and last year, all at the same time. But we launched a fund in partnership with 11 other funders. To a slate of 10 black led organizations, we raised $36 million over three years, or for grants to be made over three years. And our system helped. Both we heard from grantee partners of what they need and what these communities need, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

And then we were also hearing from other foundations that they want to support this work, and want to support it now, but don't necessarily have the relationships. And we're looking for some thought partnership on how to do that. And so we created a fund and a learning journey, and our system helped us be able to move fast where we basically launched something and basically said to ourselves and everyone else that like, "We're launching this thing and money for the first years funding needs to be out in four weeks," which is like, "That's fast for philanthropy.”

James:

Yeah, that's fast.

Ashley:

Real fast. And I think having a system that helps us, that includes a CRM component in it just helps us to be able to track, now we've got this whole other set of people that we have to engage with, all these individuals at other funders, all their contact information, what their titles are, special information that we need to know about them whether or not they want to be named publicly, all that stuff that we can catalog and keep in one place instead of extra separate shadow spreadsheets in the same system that we have information. All these slate grantees, and we're trying to talk to the rest of the funders about what it means to practice trust-based philanthropy.

So we've got to collect all this information from these grantee partners and be able to catalog it, find it easily. It just, having a system that helps us organize our information so well, and to organize information for non grantee partners that we have and have it all in one place, I think helped us launch a bold effort and then be able to stay sane. Watching something new like that and then we had to set up a fund and figure out like, "How do we capture that information now that we're managing this fund, in addition to all the other grantmaking that we do?" So I think maybe that's just another way that we want to be responsive and we want to be a vehicle to help catalyze other funding to groups that we know are doing fantastic work. And we kind of need the tools and are grateful that we found a tool that can help us make that job a little more efficient. And dare I say joyful, a little bit joyful.

James:

That is such a good word to bring up in that we often talk about how to make things easier or faster, but I think especially in the sector in which we work, I think it's really important to bring those other words in like joyful. I don't know, grateful, open, all those other things I think are so critical to this, and everything you've just mentioned about how tech has helped enable to a certain extent, a lot of these ideas and quick action. I feel like we could spend so much time just even dissecting that deeper because there is such a wealth and richness of knowledge there. Maybe as part of us sort of winding down a little bit here, Ashley, if folks want to learn a bit more about how Libra has really pursued this, because I think it is, I don't want to say it's entirely you're the only ones, but I think it's fairly unique and there's a lot of really good work being done. How can folks learn a little bit more about the work you're doing or the principles more generally?

Ashley:

Yeah. That's a good question. So, there are few different ways. I think one is, I'd say if there is a website that I am going to provide you with… 

James:

We'll throw it in the show notes.

Ashley:

In the show notes, there's a trust-based philanthropy project that spun out of the Whitman Institute. And I think they're a great resource that can really help you understand or help an organization understand what are the key principles and how can I practice them and how can I move more in that direction? How can I get started? And there's a learning community of other organizations that I think we get together quarterly or so to kind of hear from one another, what we're working on and how we're pushing ourselves so that we can learn from one another. So I think that is a phenomenal kind of resource that you can just plug into in terms of their website of learning. And then potentially if you're really committed either already practicing some of these principles or want to start practicing these principles to kind of join this learning community. So I think that's thing one.

I think the thing too is I think we all have a personal goal at Libra of trying to talk a little bit more and write a little bit more about what we're doing in case it could be helpful for other people to learn more of how we're doing our work. And I feel like we've been racing so hard with the grantmaking and the fun building that we haven't had as much time to do the writing and to do the sharing. But I'd say just keep an eye out if someone from Libra is speaking, we also try to post things that team members have written on our website, the Libra Foundation data work. So you can go and pop on there. You can learn about the Democracy Frontlines Fund that we launched, which is the democracyfrontlinesfund.org that talks about the multi funder $36 million effort where we raised money for black led organizations that do movement and power building work.

So those are a few ways. And I think we're all friendly humans that like to talk about the work that we do and want to learn about what others are doing. So I think the other piece is just reaching out that my fellow team members and I are always happy to kind of brainstorm. There've been so many other people whose ideas and creativity we've tapped. So, it's kind of our duty to keep sharing that as others have shared with us and others have helped us learn. So, I think the other piece is just reach out and we're always happy to talk to you and share and learn more about what you're doing too.

James:

That's wonderful. That's so invigorating, insightful. I think for me, it's a great conversation to have as we try to close out this year. Thanks so much, Ashley, for taking the time today to speak with us and share. I think it's just been such great stories and experiences today. So, I really appreciate your time again.

Ashley:

Thank you for having me. It's been a delight to just chat with you and there's something special about the reflection process. I feel like all of us have probably been racing so hard this year that we haven't had as much time to slow down. So, I feel like our conversation was a little reflection moment for me too. So I appreciate it. I really appreciate the opportunity.

James:

Of course. We'll be in touch and thank you so much.

Ashley:

Thank you. Take care.

James:

All right. Bye-bye.

Ashley:

Bye.

James:

The More Good Podcast is produced by Sara Saddington. Grantbook is a strategic technology consulting firm for grantmakers around the world. Don't forget to subscribe to the More Good Podcast wherever you get your audio, and learn more about our work at grantbook.org.


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Sara Saddington

Content Lead

Content Lead

Sara Saddington is a content marketer with experience crafting compelling messaging for B2B companies at the intersection of technology and service delivery. As a lifelong reader, writer, and editor, Sara brings an innate understanding of narrative structure, a passion for data-driven story-telling, and an eye for clarity and consistency. Sara is excited to support the Grantbook team in their mission to help foundations around the globe plan, design, implement and optimize their digital strategies so they can activate more good in the world.