Liberty Hill’s Community Funding Board: Empowering LA’s Grassroots Through Community-Centered Philanthropy

June 24, 2021
By raymond

Miya Iwataki (from top left), Karen Bass, Barbara Metzenbaum, Victor Griego, Enrique Delacruz, Sharon Delugach, Khader Hamide (from bottom left), Sylvia Castillo, Lori Zimmerman 

Liberty Hill has always worked to support grassroots community organizations as they build power among those who have been disenfranchised. The Community Funding Board (CFB) is at the heart of those efforts, guiding decisions on both the selection of grantee organizations and the level of support.  

The CFB’s 28 members provide an important service helping identify and fund organizations that can make the greatest impact in their communities. Utilizing our assessment tool focusing on base building, leadership development, institutional change, racial justice, and capacity, CFB members interview applicants, conduct site visits, review organizational track records, conduct field reports, and draw from their own experiences and analysis in decision making. 

Based on these evaluations, the CFB makes its recommendations to Liberty Hill staff, who then use these recommendations to allocate grant dollars. 

A Model Grounded In Community Input

From its beginning 44 years ago, the composition of the CFB consisted of organizers and grassroots leaders, along with a few experienced donor representatives. The goal was to ensure the communities that receive support from Liberty Hill have a say in decision-making, and that grant applications are reviewed by people who bring deep knowledge and experience about organizing to the process.

“We are proud of our mission to advance social, economic, and racial justice by investing in people of color, women, LGBTQ people, economically disadvantaged people and others,” said Jenny Delwood, Liberty Hill Executive Vice President. “The Community Funding Board is one of Liberty Hill’s most powerful tools, because it ensures we keep our ears to the ground and that we’re funding both emerging activist efforts as well as established organizations.”

At the time that CFB was first formed, transferring some of the decision-making power to communities was a groundbreaking innovation in the philanthropic world. It was - and still is -  far more common for Foundations to award grants based on the priorities of their staff and Board of Directors. 

The CFB model quickly proved successful, playing an important role in the rise of some of Los Angeles’s most impactful organizations and organizers. Its members were adept at identifying organizations and campaigns that had the potential to be effective in the long run. 

Thanks in part to the CFB, Liberty Hill provided early seed funding to local organizations like Community Coalition—now a South L.A. stalwart along with LA Black Worker Center and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE). Several prominent community leaders have served on the CFB through the years, including Representative Karen Bass, City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, organizers and movement leaders Gilda Haas and Victor Narro, philanthropic leaders Surina Khan and Stewart Kwoh.

At the start, many of these emerging organizations were just getting their operations off the ground. Some would even meet in living rooms and other ad hoc locations as they formed the basis for successful local movements and campaigns. A core feature of the early CFB was bringing unlikely partners together—a youth leader from South L.A., a tenant organizer from East L.A., an activist from the LGBTQ community—to build relationships they could take back to their work. 

That diversity remains a priority of the Community Funding Board. Members are recruited with an eye toward representing the diversity of L.A. County. A typical board will include both new members as well as some veterans of the process. All understand the work of the organizations they will be visiting and reviewing, and some include activists and representatives of organizations who have applied for or received funds from Liberty Hill.

These members bring a diverse set of experiences to their work. One member, Dayana Ortega, is first-year undergraduate at UC Irvine and a community organizer with Communities for a Better Environment; Margarita Ramirez first joined the CFB in 1980 and subsequently served on Liberty Hill’s staff for nearly four decades. David C. Turner III PhD is a seasoned student organizer and educator, he currently works with Boys and Men of color in Los Angeles County as the Manager of the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition, a coalition of community-based organizations working to end the school-to-prison pipeline and decriminalize communities of color. Ranney Draper taught high school English for 28 years in LAUSD before retiring and taking a lead role at his family’s foundation. Dr. Andrea Garcia works as a physician specialist at the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, where her research work focuses on health and housing justice issues for Native Americans. Ten members of the current CFB have served as members before, underscoring their commitment to the process.

“Participating on the Community Funding Board helps make me a more well-rounded activist, both personally and in my role as a leader at Community Coalition,” said Leslie Cooper Johnson, Vice President of Organizational Development at Community Coalition. “It’s also a really exciting educational opportunity to meet other activists in the field and learn more about issues that we might not directly work on at Community Coalition—and also to help drive much-needed funds to organizations that might be in the early stages of their development.”

Like their historical counterparts decades ago, the current Community Funding Board members will continue to carry forward the mission of Liberty Hill, ensuring our resources continue to generate progressive change locally and serve as an example of community engagement in philanthropy.   

By helping activists discover common interests, approaches and ideas, the CFB will continue to be part of the connective tissue of the community organizing landscape in Los Angeles, helping link Liberty Hill to new and exciting organizers and cross-pollinating the many different organizing and campaign efforts across the County.