Indie Philanthropy: funding outside the box


Fatima van Hattum and Arianne Shaffer


In this time of escalating and immense social, cultural, ecological and economic challenges confronting our planet, how can funders and the philanthropic sector truly live up to their potential as leading-edge catalysts for positive change? How can we place a higher value on trust and equity in funding relationships? What philanthropic models are outdated and ready to be transformed?

There is a growing movement of foundations and donors who are ready and willing to try something different and to work outside the box for real impact.

Enter Indie Philanthropy

So many of the innovative solutions to the big, sticky problems of our time are emerging from thinkers, activists and communities who are not part of formal non-profit organizations, or don’t have access to traditional foundation dollars. We at Kindle Project began practising outside-the-box grantmaking in 2008, using whatever funding methods and structures best met the needs of our partners and would have the most meaningful impact. We have experimented with everything from gifts to individuals to funding non-profits, funding start-ups, flow funding and beyond.

Sparked by our belief in the power of the unconventional and a desire to bring more diversity, creativity and curiosity to the field of philanthropy, this year we gave a common name to these unconventional giving practices that have been used by us and many others over the years: Indie Philanthropy.

So what does this all mean?

Indie Philanthropy practitioners widen and even break open traditional funding spaces to give power and voice to the grassroots, effective changemakers who are working to shift our culture, planet and institutions. We place a high value on building trusting relationships and changing the sometimes unhealthy power dynamics inherent in funding structures. We are doing our best to reshape philanthropic culture to reflect the kind of world we want to live in and the kind of culture we need in order to get there. What would it look like if our funding practices and principles matched our deepest values? Could funding be collaborative, honest, experimental and innovative? We think so, and we know so from lots of trial risk-taking and practice.

But, really, what does this mean for philanthropy?

It really means that if funders use and give their money in more creative and sometimes more courageous ways, we will have a greater chance of creating the deep planetary and societal shifts we need. And that is what Indie Philanthropy is all about.

How do I become an Indie funder?

Think about what you fund, who makes the decisions, and how the funding process works. What could you change in order to have the way you fund be more aligned with the change you are seeking? Think about those same questions with more people, different people, people who might make you uncomfortable. Consider sharing the decision-making power over your resources, or maybe even entrusting others with that power – what would that look like? Contemplate giving without reporting or strings – what would that mean? There is really no one way to be, or become, an Indie funder.

However, there are lots of tools and stories to get you started. Kindle Project recently launched our Indie Philanthropy Initiative site, an online donor education tool to act as a hub for Indie Philanthropy practices and practitioners to develop and share more impactful and creative approaches to funding.

What does this look like in practice?

The Pollination Project is an excellent example of how Indie Philanthropy can work and take shape. Their funding model is a hybrid of micro-granting, funding individuals and funding start-ups – giving one $1,000 grant per day, 365 days a year. Theirs is a story of success, making big impacts with ripple effects across many communities. Their approach is to ‘bring in as many people as you can and then push power to the edges … reach and see the goodness in as many people as we can – applicants, grantees, advisors, followers, donors – and then find ways to empower them to engage with us and engage in our work.’ The Pollination Project really has created a model that allows for trust, equity and balance – and they are one of many who are changing the philanthropic landscape.

Even with innovators like The Pollination Project making waves, we aren’t convinced that the philanthropic sector as a whole is making the difference it can and should. We need to release some of our more stagnant pools of financial capital and allow for more dynamic grantmaking. Working together as funders and practitioners, we have a greater possibility to move larger mountains, solve heretofore intractable problems and possibly help create a more peaceful, thriving and just world. This is perhaps the most common thread of impact and change we’ve noticed from Indie Philanthropy practitioners and, we believe, a wonderful disruption to mainstream philanthropy.

Fatima van Hattum and Arianne Shaffer both work with Kindle Project.

Arianne’s Twitter handle: @arianneshaffer

Indie Philanthropy: @IndieFunder

Kindle Project: @Kindle_Project

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *