A note from Dennis Quirin, Executive Director, Raikes Foundation
When I left Oakland in late 2019 to move to Seattle with my family to become the new executive director of the Raikes Foundation, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me. Not only did I need to get up to speed on the organization I was now leading, but my kids needed new schools, my family needed a home, and we needed to get to know Seattle. I had barely worked out my dog walking routine when COVID-19 hit.
One of the reasons I was excited to take on this new challenge is that Tricia and Jeff Raikes seemed open. They and their foundation had reached a place in their learning about systemic oppression and racial equity where they were actively incorporating new ways of working and were eager to go deeper.
My roots are in community organizing, and true to those roots, I offered this to Tricia and Jeff: I believe that philanthropy’s next chapter should focus on mending a society riven with individualism. Finding our way out of these acrimonious and chaotic times requires building back a real sense of community and responsibility for one another, and philanthropy has a role to play in both mending the rifts it has created and creating a new, just world. I struck a chord.
If we look around it’s easy to see how the crises set in motion last year are each exacerbated by an increasingly individualized society whose belief in a common cause has dangerously eroded. A global pandemic requires mutual sacrifice and a strong safety net to combat; advancing racial justice requires a shared understanding of our history and the inequities it produces; a healthy democracy requires the collective will to build a more perfect union for everyone, not just a privileged few. In 2020, the shortcomings of an overly individualistic worldview were exposed for all to see.
That exposure is the silver lining of a tough year. Crisis has sharpened our vision. In response to George Floyd’s murder, millions took to the streets to demand justice, many for the first time. In response to a corrupt and racist president who refused to fight the pandemic, more people than ever made their voices heard at the ballot box, despite multiple hurdles put in their way. Crisis has momentarily jolted all of us out of our comfortable reality and forced us all to adapt, including our foundation.
The Raikes Foundation has always believed in long-term systems change work versus short-term emergency response. But last year required something different from philanthropy, and we’re fortunate our trustees and our grantee partners see the value in adapting to the moment. We have deep relationships with our partners and the trust we’ve built over the years allowed us to get the kind of candid feedback we needed to make shifts, like converting much of our 2020 funding into general operating support. We tried out new ways of working, which you’ll read about in this report.
In 2020, we saw both how challenging it will be and how possible it is to begin to transform America into a more equitable nation. We saw a country capable of mass demonstrations and civic engagement that demanded responses from elected officials, corporations, and yes, philanthropists. At times we managed to break through a fractured media environment and create the shared experiences essential to believe in a shared destiny. In ways big and small, we all connected with our friends, neighbors, and strangers through kindness. Those acts of humanity point us in the right direction. If we follow this path together, if we can build the kind of resilient communities and connections that renew our belief in a common fate, we can turn this momentary adaptation into enduring change.
Washington State Student & Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund
In early March, as Washington’s schools shuttered to slow the spread of COVID-19, alarm bells were going off for those of us working with homeless young people across the state. For all students, school provides the daily stability they need to grow and learn, but for students experiencing homelessness, schools also provide essential services like meals, hygiene, and safety, as well as emotional support. Couple those losses with the challenges of online learning without a stable home, a computer, or internet access, the barriers to education for students experiencing homelessness are immense.
As we grappled with how we would respond to COVID-19, it was clear to us that students and young people experiencing homelessness must be a top priority, and that our usual systems-focused approach may not meet the needs of the moment.
“We’ve always worked to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness through a long-term, systems-focused lens, but the pandemic forced us to acknowledge that our community needed help now. They needed housing and access to proper sanitation to avoid infection. They needed financial support to ensure housing stability, regular meals, electricity, and internet access. For students, staying connected to school was critical.” – Paula Carvalho, Program Officer
Working with our longtime partners at Building Changes, we quickly established the Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund. Within weeks, Building Changes was able to establish a streamlined process for frontline service organizations and schools across Washington State to receive flexible grant dollars which could be used on anything from housing to personal protective equipment (PPE), internet access, or healthcare.
“Due to COVID, I lost my job for two months and drained all of my savings to take care of my two children. Once I got a job again, I was starting from negatives. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep internet access going for my daughter who is in school or keep clothes on my growing 8-month-old. This help has made all the difference.” – Young adult, sharing about her experience with Unkitawa, a grantee of the fund
After consulting directly with young people who had previously experienced homelessness, the fund incorporated a focus on racial and LGBTQ+ equity into its approach, as well as geographic diversity. Youth advocates stressed the importance of ensuring young people in rural areas of the state had equitable access to vital services like shelter. Youth advocates also stressed the importance of making funding as flexible as possible so that recipients could respond quickly to their most urgent needs.
“The things that Building Changes is paying for are things that nobody else is paying for – diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products… we’ve been able to have tents for both sun and rain and hand out everything that people need and pay [staff] to be there when we wouldn’t usually be open.” – Leslie Van Leishout, North Thurston Public Schools, sharing about their drive-through resource center
To date the fund has awarded more than $4.1 million in grants to frontline organizations and schools in more than 20 counties across the state. More than 75 percent of the funding has gone to support BIPOC youth and students.
Key Lessons Learned
- “This fund helped us put a lot of things we talk about, like centering the voices of young people and breaking down complicated grantmaking processes, into practice. For us, this process further solidified how critical it is to include communities and young people from the very beginning of the process so that those being impacted have a voice in decisions each step of the way. We wanted this response fund to make a real difference in people’s lives, and it did, because the people most impacted by COVID-19 had a seat at the table.” – Paula Carvalho, Program Officer, Youth and Young Adult Homelessness Strategy
- “By centering young people and community and ensuring the fund was responsive and easy, the results ended up being far more impactful and equitable. More young Black, Indigenous, and people of color were served. Funding went out to many organizations who didn’t previously have a connection to us, but who were deeply grounded in their communities. Hopefully, the enduring results will be that these organizations will continue to receive public and private funding, the field of student and youth homelessness providers will diversify, and more BIPOC young people and families will get the support they need and deserve.” - Casey Trupin, Director, Youth and Young Adult Homelessness Strategy
- “Supporting our partners in the field to respond to the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on young people experiencing homelessness has helped us build new muscle as a team. We learned how to move with the urgency based on the need in our community, how to follow the lead of young people with lived experience of homelessness, and how to work across our internal teams to advance the systems change that we hope will ultimately prepare our communities to support all young people through the next crisis.” – Zoe Stemm-Calderon, Director, National Education Strategy
National Education Strategy
Our national education strategy is focused on redesigning our country’s inequitable education system so that all young people have access to rich, challenging educational environments that instill a sense of belonging and supports them to thrive.
In 2020, education leaders navigated a sea of intersecting national crises, all of which disproportionately impacted BIPOC students, low-income students, and students experiencing homelessness. The emergence of COVID-19 left students, families, and educators scrambling to adapt to online learning. At the same time, a deep economic crisis caused millions of students to experience housing instability, food insecurity and a host of mental health issues, while further exacerbating resource inequities in schools. The racial and social reckoning caused by the murder of George Floyd spurred nationwide protests that dovetailed with local and national organizing for safe and equitable schools. Together, these overlapping crises laid bare the urgent need to redesign schools and systems in service of equity and highlighted the need to create environments where all students feel a sense of belonging.
Last year we adapted our work in three key ways.
First, we moved to meet our grantee partners’ immediate needs. We shifted a number of our grants from program-specific funding to general operating grants to allow for maximum flexibility, provided additional strategic support to aid adaptation in a rapidly changing environment, and connected our grantees to new funders to help organizations weather an uncertain funding environment.
Next, we adapted our existing strategies to meet the emergent needs of educators and systems leaders. The pandemic, as well as a growing awareness of structural racism by education leaders, created an acute demand for rapid response guidance and implementation tools. We met that demand by supporting our partners in the BELE Network to develop and disseminate the BELE Framework, a guide for educators, system leaders, and communities to ensure schools have the tools to build learning environments that foster positive student experiences and reliably produce equitable student outcomes. Our partners in the Student Experience Project developed tools and resources to help post-secondary students and educators adapt to the pandemic. The Student Experience Project also launched Copilot/Ascend, a data-driven professional learning program that enables college instructors and administrators to learn how their students are experiencing courses and what they can do to make those experiences more equitable, more engaging, and more supportive of student success.
COVID-19 also brought resource equity to the forefront in all 50 states. Through our partnership with the Resource Equity Funders Collaborative (REFC), we accelerated our timeline for grants to grasstops and grassroot coalitions in eight states, moving critical resources to support education and awareness around the equitable distribution of CARES Act funding, defense against inequitable budget cuts, and efforts to expand funding to meet students’ needs. We also continued to support the field of research, advocacy, legal, organizing, and technical assistance organizations to work together toward the goal of equitable funding and resources for schools.
And finally, we sustained our work with partners to align the education field around the importance of centering equity, youth and community leadership, and the science of learning and development. Partners like the Student Experience Research Network, SOLD Alliance, Center for the Developing Adolescent, BELE Network all offered perspectives on drivers of inequity and evidence-based methods for addressing them. Communities for Just Schools Fund released their report, "Reclaiming Social-Emotional Learning", with the perspectives from dozens of youth organizing leaders on what makes schools holistically safe. In a white paper, Transcend explored how schools and systems can address near-term challenges from 2020’s crises in ways that set the stage for more equitable approaches to recovery and reinvention. And in an address to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Jeff Raikes highlighted the need for higher education to attend to student experience as a lever for equity.
Key Lessons Learned
- Strong relationships are essential to moving quickly during crisis. As COVID-19 upended the education field, deep relationships with our grantee and funder partners allowed us to respond rapidly to urgent needs. We are grateful for the strength of our partnerships.
- Our country’s inequitable education system is held in place by an inequitable democracy, and vice versa. It is essential that we continue to learn about power and practice shifting, ceding, and sharing power with the community to support and sustain transformational change.
- This year demonstrated the importance of strong narratives to support equitable change. As we look to 2021, we will work with our partners to build stronger narratives to advance equity-focused analyses and strategies across diverse audiences.
- The most promising paths forward for the education system lie at the intersection of the science of learning and human development, equity, and community leadership.
Youth and Young Adult Homelessness
Our goal is to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness throughout the United States. We envision a future where every community has a coordinated strategy and the resources it needs to prevent young people from ever experiencing homelessness and to quickly respond if a young person does find themselves without shelter.
The COVID-19 pandemic was uniquely challenging for youth and young adults experiencing homelessness. As public health officials pleaded with the public to stay home and practice rigorous hygiene, young people experiencing homelessness lacked stable shelter and access to basic sanitation. As schools closed, students lost access to regular meals, critical services, and stable relationships with caring adults. The economic fallout of the virus has very likely increased the number of young people experiencing homelessness, though the impacts of the crisis are still unfolding.
Last year we worked to balance the urgent needs of youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, their families, and our grantee partners, while also advancing key systemic changes to prevent and end homelessness.
In response to COVID-19, our team collaborated with the foundation’s national education strategy team and with our long-time grantee partner Building Changes to launch the Washington State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund, detailed in the spotlight above.
At the national level, our close grantee partner A Way Home America continued to make strides with the Grand Challenge, a project to end homelessness for LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color in 10 communities around the country. Four communities in the cohort have created by-name lists of young people experiencing homeless, a key milestone for ensuring a community can quickly house those young people, and a critical step to ensure every community will be pushing toward quality, reliable data on youth experiencing homelessness in 2021.
In Washington State, A Way Home Washington’s Anchor Communities Initiative has helped four communities achieve both by-name lists and quality data, and those communities are beginning to leverage that data to increase the rate of housing placements for young people and preventing young people from becoming homeless. The state’s Office of Homeless Youth also issued a plan detailing the efforts to stem the tide of young people moving from public systems of care (like child welfare, criminal justice, and behavioral health) into homelessness.
In King County, Washington, the number of young people experiencing homelessness has been steadily declining since 2017, however as of this writing, it is not yet clear what impact COVID-19 will have on that trend. Fortunately, the community is receiving more than $2.7 million annually from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to continue the interventions originally developed through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project, an initiative to pilot and implement solutions to end youth homelessness.
Key Lessons Learned
- Racial equity and youth empowerment are essential for justice and impact. When we give young people with lived experience decision-making power, solutions are more effective and equitable. In 2020, 17 of our grants (totaling more than $1.2 million) centered youth voice and leadership and/or race and LGBTQ+ equity.
- We cannot equitably address youth homelessness without focusing on preventing homelessness. Youth have advocated for increased focus on upstream systems for years, but the sector has been slow to respond. That must change if we’re going to end youth homelessness.
- When community and government take collective responsibility for ending youth homelessness, center the lived experiences of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ youth, and have the data they need to advance solutions, they can begin to reduce the number of young people experiencing homelessness.
Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative
The goal of the Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative is to support more donors to focus on equity, effectiveness, and systems change, and to give in ways that are aligned with impact-driven philanthropy principles and practices. Individual donors contribute 80 percent of the funding that flows to nonprofit organizations, and the Impact-Driven Philanthropy Initiative seeks support those donors to give as effectively as possible.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests, Americans were more generous than ever. Record contributions flowed to nonprofits via Giving Tuesday, from donor-advised funds, and through major gifts. Foundations and individual donors continued to recognize the importance of applying a racial equity lens to their giving and many loosened restrictions on funding, as exemplified by MacKenzie Scott’s $6 billion in giving last year. In partnership with the National Center for Family Philanthropy, Giving Compass aggregated more than 600 pooled giving funds serving communities across the country.
While 2020’s giving set records, challenges remain as we work to shift donors toward equity, effectiveness, and systems change. An analysis by Giving Compass showed that less than 5 percent of COVID-19 community response funds had an explicit focus on equity and systemic change, and only 14 percent even mentioned BIPOC communities in their framework. Roughly 30 percent of all giving is directed by individuals who are among the top 1 percent of income and wealth, most of whom are white. And, prior to 2020, the number of Americans who give had reached an all-time low. It remains to be seen whether the generosity we saw in 2020 is a momentary blip or can be sustained in ways which support a more just world.
In 2020, we worked to build a more equitable, accessible, coordinated, and diverse system of donor support. We also worked with BIPOC-led donor-support organizations and supported new models while sharing examples of donors who live into the core tenets to influence others.
Through the Impact-Driven Philanthropy Collaborative (IDPC), we helped more donor-support organizations strengthen their connections to one another, as well as deepen their understanding of power, privilege, and equity. Some organizations reported that through their work with the IDPC, they were able to not only influence their members’ thinking around racial equity, but also shift their organization’s strategy and practices. To help further our work to understand the field of donor-support, the IDPC completed a landscape scan of donor education organizations, which showed a rapidly growing sector. We also funded market research on those with significant wealth to guide the ecosystem’s efforts to reach and engage more donors.
Through our grantmaking, we deepened our partnership with BIPOC-led donor support organizations, like the Donors of Color Network and Camelback Ventures, as well as organizations advancing innovative approaches to giving and sharing power, like Just Fund and Hispanics in Philanthropy.
Key Lessons Learned
- Our hypothesis has been that there are barriers of “will” (e.g. psychology of wealth accumulation, racism and implicit bias) and barriers of “way” (e.g. access to knowledge, time, difficulty, etc.) that get in the way of more dollars being given in ways that promote equity, effectiveness, and systems change. In 2020, we saw significant shifts in “will” primarily driven by leaders of color, and some progress on “way” barriers (for example, an increase in the number of pooled funds that put decision-making in the hands of those with lived experience). We want to continue to focus on more solutions to “way” while sustaining “will.”
- We can serve as a unique connecting mechanism between mainstream donor support organizations and those leading on equity and social justice, while keeping in mind the importance of ensuring these leaders’ time is valued and properly compensated.
- Transparency about our work and objectives is crucial as we work to deepen connections with our current partners and build new partnerships.