By Michele Lord
Over the past 30 years, NEO Philanthropy has been witness to many changes in philanthropy and the world at large. But something about the last couple of years have felt different. I think it’s safe to say that we have all experienced a shift in the philanthropic space. With greater attacks on the freedoms of many, philanthropy has stepped up to be more innovative, responsive and proactive than ever. We have had to take action as the political landscape continues to shift ominously. The recent announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court has placed the fate of reproductive freedom, LGBTQ+ rights, voter engagement and so many other issues at the core of NEO’s mission in jeopardy. The stakes are now higher than ever. In this new reality, we realized it was time to redefine NEO’s role as a philanthropic intermediary to meet the changing needs of our funders and grantees as they respond to these shifts.
Why the need for change?
More funders and advocates asked us to support our grantees and fiscally sponsored projects more deeply – through leadership development, coaching, field building, capacity building, fundraising, strategic communications, risk management, financial oversite and c3/c4 compliance, to name a few needs. In addition, we stepped up our grantmaking, especially in our collaborative funds, with rapid response support in reaction to headline making emergencies. What our grantees and partners really needed was the kind of wrap-around support that would allow these promising – but higher risk – social justice and human rights organizations to grow into a real movement.
We decided to not only embrace our role as an intermediary, but also dramatically expand and redefine that role to meet the changing needs of our times. NEO has moved comfortably into the role of a true partner, offering high-touch service to cutting-edge projects aligned with NEO’s mission. We have become an incubator for leadership, social movements and progressive innovation. We’ve continued to invest in the capacity of our grantees and partners, shoring them up for immediate battles and strengthening their leadership and organizations for the long term. In the past decade, NEO awarded more than 200 capacity building grants totaling some $12 million to 90 organizations around the U.S.
Not only has NEO been focused on building the capacity of our partners, we’ve also been evaluating our own internal policies and practices. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, preventing violence and all forms of harassment in the workplace is a top priority for most organizations. At NEO, our focus goes beyond prevention and we are working to ensure that the culture that supports misconduct cannot live within our walls. We understand that robust and effective anti-harassment policies is the only way to move policy into practice by creating a culture of full transparency, accountability, sensitivity and respect.
As a social justice organization, we must be a part of the solution and empower our employees and partners to be agents of change and accountability. We are in the process of strengthening our existing policies and finding creative and sustainable ways to operationalize our values, including increasing our HR capacity, interactive trainings, reporting protocols and more.
I’m proud of the changes and expansions that NEO’s staff and partners have made to answer the growing needs of the field. We have become a more thoughtful organization by increasing the capacity of our partners, upgrading our systems for better efficiencies and answering the call for more transparency.
In the coming days, months and years, NEO will continue to adapt to the world we live in – it’s imperative and it’s our job. We look forward to continuing our work with you and answering the rising social justice call we at NEO and people of conscience everywhere hear loud and clear.