This summer, 28 New York City high school students spent five weeks at Trinity Commons where they learned the craft of journalism. The student journalists focused on housing issues in their reporting and the cohort included students with lived experience with homelessness and housing insecurity. The CLARIFY program is a paid internship run by City Limits, a nonprofit investigative news organization for which Trinity Church Wall Street Philanthropies is a major funder. Trinity’s grant does not directly fund CLARIFY, which is funded by the Google News Initiative, The Pinkerton Foundation, and The Harmon Foundation, but the offer of classroom space in our building for five weeks was an easy call — it’s one of the ways Trinity seeks to walk alongside our grantees.
For Trinity, being a church is at the center of how we approach our philanthropy, and we are guided by the scripture “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18). We seek to be generous with our grantees and walk alongside them, a term which comes from our faith, but is also an attitude of mind that we hope has universal applicability. We are mindful that the term “partner” is often over- and mis-used in philanthropy, where dynamics of power and money make true partnership hard to achieve. We therefore prefer “walking alongside” and understand this as a way to be in relationship with our grantees, playing to our respective strengths and competencies. And — to stretch the journey metaphor a little further — to also stay in our lane: we seek to be additive and an ally, not an annoyance.
This year the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) conducted a Grantee Perception Survey for Trinity. Nearly half of Trinity grantees report receiving non-monetary support during their grant period, and nearly all of those grantees indicate it was a moderate or major benefit to their organization or work. As we use the feedback from grantees to learn and improve, it is of note that Trinity grantees who reported receiving non-monetary assistance indicated a more positive experience compared to those who did not. That’s a great incentive for us to build out our non-monetary assistance, our Walking Alongside Offering, further.
The Walking Alongside Offering has three key components.
In the Grantee Perception Survey, CEP asked grantees to rank what forms of non-monetary assistance they saw as most valuable. The leading suggestions were all forms of capacity building: communications assistance, fundraising, financial sustainability and management, and strategic planning. Of course, capacity-building is not a new concept in philanthropy. From the New York Foundation connecting grantees to legal advice to The San Francisco Foundation providing tools for nonprofits to access federal COVID response funds, there are models of how to support grantees well.
Learning from other funders, over the past three years Trinity has worked closely with the Nonprofit Finance Fund to provide financial skills and training for grantees, starting with a group of grantees — funded with support from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation — providing housing for women impacted by the criminal legal system. An expansion of that work to a larger group of nearly thirty grantees has included financial analysis, financial storytelling, and scenario planning. In supporting Trinity’s international grantees, many of which are churches and dioceses, we have provided funding for audits, thereby building their financial capacity and making it easier for them to apply for, and receive, further funding.
Convening and Connecting
Space is a precious commodity in New York City and Trinity is ready to share ours. We provide conference rooms, classrooms, and retreat space to our grantees, not just as a benefit to them, but also to us. We welcome the energy, serendipity, and learning that comes from people being in communion with each other. In addition to providing space, we believe there is value in making deliberate connections between grantees and supporting them in working together. For example, this spring we brought together grantees working in mental health at the Trinity Retreat Center in West Cornwall, CT. From that convening emerged a shared commitment to addressing low pay and high turnover amongst mental health professionals.
Trinity’s philanthropic goals, to end homelessness and advance racial justice, require systemic change. That’s why we fund advocacy work, and also seek to add our own voice. For example, Trinity helped establish Faith Communities for Just Reentry, a coalition of nearly 50 faith leaders, calling for access to health care and housing for fellow New Yorkers leaving the jails on Rikers Island. The coalition helped to secure an increase in the value of housing vouchers available to returning citizens, opening up thousands more apartments to rent, and continues to campaign for ending housing discrimination against people with conviction histories.
These three approaches — capacity-building, convening, and championing — are not exclusive. Indeed, the heart of walking alongside our grantees is being open to hearing from our grantees what their needs are. When Hurricane Ida damaged one of the LifeWay Network’s safe houses for trafficked persons, what they most needed from Trinity was help restocking the “dress for success” closet, and our staff and congregation jumped to do just that. Fundamentally, we look to approach the relationship with our grantees from a posture of generosity and grace. With that mindset, a walk together can soon become a run.
Neill Coleman is the executive director of Trinity Church Wall Street Philanthropies. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.