DMF Board at
Saddle Peak Lodge


DMF Board Meets to Discuss Changing Role

by: Diane Middleton

Saddle Peak Lodge in the Santa Monica Mountains was a great place for a small group of board members and friends to meet on June 12, 2005 to discuss the role of progressive foundations and how to make them more effective.

Board Member Goetz Wolff circulated to the board and friends articles about the success of conservative foundations (like the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute and the Olin Foundation) in framing issues, providing the research to allegedly support reactionary theories and staying "on message."

The purpose of the meeting was to examine the nature of the work the DMF funds and re-examine our funding priorities.

We took a critical view of these articles particularly with reference to their definition of "progressive" since many of the articles looked only at a particular stance on one issue or another (the environment, education policy, etc.).

We all agreed that what differentiates the DMF is our underlying premise that any issue comes down to a question of whose class interests it furthers.

Board Member Tim Sandoval raised the point that "we have ideas but the real question is how we use the resources that we have". We talked about how the DMF has changed from its inception in 1998 when our only task was awarding grants. As we continued to host Conferences the role of the Foundation began to change and it is now clear (see accompanying articles on our March Conference and future plans) that we have a role to play as a clearing house of information/networking center and place where progressives can develop skills in a variety of ways. Alex Caputo-Pearl from Coalition for Educational Justice noted that the DMF has become a "convening force" and model for other progressive foundations. Alex sees us as a "stimulant for discussion".

Sean Arian suggested that we consider providing IT skills and perhaps joining with other progressive funders to create matching grants.

Board Member Dave Arian stressed that the DMF must continue its critical role in presenting to grantees a definite political analysis that furthers strategic thinking.

Based on our discussion we came up with the following concepts that will be incorporated into revised funding priorities.

We intend to specifically add that we will award grants for "strategic thinking and planning." What this really means is that we understand the importance for our grantee organizations to have a long term plan and to think about where they want their organization to be in 3, 5, or 10 years. It may be that the only way this will happen is if money and time are set aside to hold retreats, formulate plans, and set direction.

Further, we encourage "capacity building" with definite goals. All of us can readily agree that conservative forces have done an exceptional job of using media and publicity to get out a message. We want progressive forces to be capable of doing the same.

Further, although our current funding guidelines state that we have no geographic boundaries but we "favor grantees in Southern California", we want to make clear that a specific requirement of grantees is that they attend two DMF sponsored Conferences annually. Thus, if a grantee is not based in Southern California, they have to have a liaison that will attend the Conference and share information about the organization. A great example of this is the Student Farmworker Alliance (based in Immokalee, Florida) that sent Nick Laskowski from San Jose to share with the folks at our March Conference news about the success of the "Boot the Bell" campaign.

Finally, Board Member Patricia Aguirre suggested that we actually create a new grant category for "collaboratives" meaning that we encourage organizations to submit joint requests for funding.

We are a very small foundation but we are absolutely committed to working with our grantees, other progressive funders, and anyone else we can to leverage the resources we have and make every dollar we grant really count!

- Diane Middleton

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