Across the United States, grassroots activists, leaders, and advocates are organizing to advance racial equity in their communities. But many of those leaders have struggled to access sufficient resources, including the platform provided by fiscal sponsors like New Venture Fund.
NVF has committed to an ongoing process of self-inquiry and action to center racial equity both within its organization and among its peers in the fiscal sponsorship community. As part of this process, NVF partnered with Provoc, a strategic communications agency that roots its work in racial equity, to explore the role NVF and other fiscal sponsors could play to support the work of constituent-led, grassroots groups advancing racial equity and justice.
The result of that inquiry, a report titled Leveraging Fiscal Sponsorship for Racial Equity, complements previous research and provides recommendations for how fiscal sponsors, both as individual organizations and as a field, might address the needs of grassroots groups by leveraging their assets, skills, resources, expertise, and networks.
While we hope that this report helps further the conversation on how the field can better meet the needs of grassroots racial equity groups, we acknowledge that the people and communities most impacted by racial inequity have long led work toward equity and justice, and it is the position of our organizations and of this report that supporting racial equity requires centering and amplifying their leadership, experience, and expertise.
Report Methodology and Findings
The team at Provoc reviewed existing literature on the needs of grassroots groups, largely focused on how these groups want to work with fiscal sponsors or other intermediaries rather than what services they need. They supplemented this background research with interviews with 14 leaders of currently or formerly fiscally sponsored grassroots groups, five deep equity fiscal sponsors, and three large technical support fiscal sponsors/intermediaries. (Deep equity fiscal sponsors are organizations with a fiscal sponsor offering that have and act on an explicit commitment to advancing racial equity, serve groups who share that commitment, and provide services with a culturally relevant approach aligned with that commitment. These sponsors are often Black-, Indigenous-, and other people-of-color-led, and center lived experience and community connections)
The team found that grassroots groups are not a monolith, and so need resources to find the fiscal sponsor that best meets their unique needs, shares their values, will collaborate in a culturally relevant way, and understands the challenges leaders of color face.
Fiscal sponsors and other intermediaries can provide a number of benefits to grassroots groups, potentially serving as “translators” between grassroots groups and vendors and funders. But unequal and unacknowledged power dynamics contribute to feelings of mistrust between some grassroots groups and fiscal sponsors. Fiscal sponsors must invest in relationship building to establish trust, while potentially increasing willingness to take on risk and pursuing more creative interpretations of policies in order to increase equity.
Fiscal sponsors could be doing more to better serve grassroots groups, but the scale to meet this need requires more deep equity fiscal sponsors.
The report generated both organization-level recommendations for working with grassroots groups as well as broader, field-building recommendations for collaboration.
Three organization-level recommendations for working with grassroots groups:
- Recommendation #1: When directly supporting grassroots groups, prioritize trust-building through investing in relationship-building, for example, using fit assessment tools to match grassroots groups with the fiscal sponsor best suited to their needs.
- Recommendation #2: When directly supporting grassroots groups, prioritize trust-building through taking action for racial equity. Technical support fiscal sponsors should allocate budget and time to engage experts for their own organization’s learning journey.
- Recommendation #3: Provide supports (either directly or through partnership) that help grassroots groups overcome barriers exacerbated by racial inequity.
Three field-building recommendations for collaboration:
- Recommendation #1: Resource known gaps that exist across the field that would be of particular benefit to grassroots groups, potentially creating a fiscal sponsor directory that filters sponsors based on criteria specific to grassroots groups.
- Recommendation #2: Assist fiscal sponsors who are already successful in supporting grassroots racial equity projects.
- Recommendation #3: Bridge the gap between grassroots groups and funders. A funder education campaign is needed to overcome persistent misunderstandings of fiscal sponsorship and advance narrative change.
Like racial equity work in general, these recommendations require action, leadership, investment, and some risk. We hope that fiscal sponsors reading this report will join the New Venture Fund in evaluating the changes they can make in their own organizations as well as how to bring their assets, skills, resources, and expertise together into a community of practice.
The team at New Venture Fund is proud to share this report with our peers and will be working over the coming months to identify the next steps to implement recommendations.