Grantee Reflections

On Hidden Leaf Foundation’s Value and Impact


In spring of 2018 we devised a 20-question survey as our “midterm report” for grantees. We typically ask grantees for a midterm reflection on some topic that is current for the field of transformative social change; we take this approach in hopes that our collective reflections help increase the value and impact of awareness practices within progressive change movements. In 2018, Hidden Leaf was in the midst of our own internal “Legacy and Lessons” scan, a deep-dive research project to assess the value of our grantmaking over the last fifteen years. Given the timing, we thought we’d use our midterm reflection request as a broader inquiry to our grantees regarding the value of Hidden Leaf’s partnership over time.

For our own research, in 2018 we were looking at: What has proven most effective in Hidden Leaf’s approach to grantmaking and field-building? What challenges linger? What might this mean as we prepare to transition to a new Executive Director? And how might Hidden Leaf assume a more active role in the field, deepening funder alliances and building stronger grantee partnerships? We hoped our grantees could help us understand the impact of our support from their perspectives. Below are some quotes that highlight the impacts of Hidden Leaf’s funding streams, as well as some challenges and possible next steps for us as a funder.


Impacts of Transformative Change Grants to Frontline and Advocacy Groups

  • The process of applying to Hidden Leaf for funding compelled us to identify, define, and share our approach to equity and transformation among our staff and membership. The grant funding application process has served us in communicating our commitment to transformative work with other stakeholders—foundation funders, board of directors, allies, and more.
  • As a nonprofit organization with one full-time development staff it is challenging to find funding for “non-programmatic” initiatives such as somatics; this work takes time and isn’t completed in a year or even two. With HL funding we have been able to do somatic work that includes all our staff members and to begin to train some of them as trainers and facilitators themselves. Our multi-year commitment to this work, buoyed by HL’s multiple grants, has meant that a somatic methodology is integrated into every aspect of our work from our internal operations to our programs and campaigns to our work with our local members and allies.
  • Our organizational culture has shifted toward a collective understanding of our values around long-term sustainability grounded in an individual self-care focus. It has prompted a collective effort to create a healthier physical space that will contribute to our overall emotional and mental wellbeing.
  • Daily transformative practices have become routine for our team. The teachings from our transformative trainings have been well integrated. We cannot set out to have an internal or external meeting without a POP in place. We constantly challenge ourselves to have courageous conversations with each other. Hidden Leaf Foundation has “legitimized” the importance of this work.
  • Meditation practice is part of daily operations. Internal mindfulness program developed to support senior leadership and staff. Foundation for the development of a staff-led Equity Program. Creation of externally focused informational online curriculum focused on the building mindfulness and equity practices with our broader activist network.
  • Through our decade-long relationship with Hidden Leaf, we have deepened our commitment and practice of transformation at all levels and in all facets of our work: it is now part of the “air we breathe,” which doesn’t mean we don’t have to consciously and continuously apply our practices to our work, but we now have a sense of what our benchmarks for excellence around transformative practice can be/should be.
  • Giving us head space to think creatively about new ways to do things and encouraging us to get off the deliverables treadmill and take time to reflect and discover.
  • Hidden Leaf’s support has allowed us to experiment, to challenge ourselves, to reflect and grow and to sustain our internal coach and the work she does, as well as to try out new things together and move forward—like finding our place and work in racial equity both internally and externally, figuring out how we work at the intersections of class, race, gender and more, and digging into strengthening our leadership team and our organizational culture and systems. Hidden Leaf has helped make all of this possible and has given us freedom and space to do this with flexibility and curiosity.

Impacts of General Support Grants to Intermediaries

  • Hidden Leaf’s support has allowed us to extend our impact by focusing on projects that lead us to new experimentation. Hidden Leaf’s support has always been something we are able to count on, a heartbeat that provides us with the continuous pulse to pursue innovative work.
  • Hidden Leaf’s support validated transformative work like ours in the early years when it was not well-understood or affirmed in social change and funder circles. Grants from Hidden Leaf have been foundational to our ability to build ourselves into a strong organization that provides programming that is affordable to poor and working class participants. This funding has also helped us get support from other funders.
  • Hidden Leaf’s general support funding has provided us with the capacity and flexibility to innovate and partner with the leaders we serve.
  • It ensured that the personal transformation aspect of the work always stays front and center with how it is presented and taught, which otherwise might be less explicit.
  • With partners like Hidden Leaf and its ecosystem of grantees and transformative change partners, we feel that we are walking a path with kindred spirits and strategic comrades. Because of Hidden Leaf’s partnership, we are able to more boldly reflect on, share, invest in, and deepen our transformative approach.

Impacts on the Broader Field of Transformative Social Change

  • The idea that organizers need to work on ourselves, our organizations, and our healing if we are going to heal the traumas of oppression has become more prominent.
  • Hidden Leaf has played a foundational role in recognizing the need to build a field of practice around transformative leadership and transformative organizing, and to seek out partners to collaborate on making this field a reality. This included the early mapping, the researching and commissioning of writing, the convenings that brought together funders and practitioners, the experiments of having funding collaborations include grantees (which presented real challenges and occasional tensions, but was nonetheless a hallmark of generative thinking and experimentation), and investing in a set of core organizations that were using or delivering training on these practices when they needed financial support and legitimization. Many of the ideas and practices now accepted by visionary movement leaders as the norm—mindfulness practices, somatic movement, using a format of deep listening and taking turns speaking, the acknowledgement of individual and collective trauma as it impacts our work—were elements of transformative practice that Hidden Leaf recognized early on as valuable and needed. The fact that many of the leaders who were active ten years ago remain active still is also a testament to the success of their investments. The number of successful collaborations are too numerous to list, but they have definitely altered the impact of our movements, and presented incontrovertible evidence that deep, authentic collaboration is possible and necessary if we are going to make progress. Finally, investment in building this infrastructure has paid immeasurable dividends in the current political climate, where sustainability practices can no longer be considered a decadent or extracurricular practice, but are absolutely critical to combating the constant chaos and exhaustion of the moment.
  • We would not have the depth of documented methodology that exists today without Hidden Leaf’s investments.
  • Funders have been able to witness the success of HL’s grantees in implementing transformative practices within their respective organizations. This has provided credibility to this practice and demonstrated that it is a critical component of social justice organizing and movement building. We have witnessed an increase in network and movement partners implementing some type of transformative practice to enhance their work and estimate that well over 50% of the social justice sector has been touched in some way by transformative practice
  • HL has listened to the field deeply through one-on-one conversations, facilitating sharing amongst and between us, and being a relational ground for the transformative intermediaries. We often feel connected to other intermediaries because we feel connected to you. This is harder to see; and this is important.
  • Just being in existence for 20 years now—with a sole focus on supporting this field—has brought validity to the work in the funding community and in the community of social change organizations. Many, many groups are now engaged in transformational practices that would not be happening without the support and encouragement from Hidden Leaf. We see the evidence that these practices are taking root in a significant way, and the movement is being woven together in a way that starts with recognizing ourselves and each other as beings centered in purpose and love.
  • The answer depends on one’s definition on the “larger field of transformative change.” I think it is indisputable that Hidden Leaf’s financial support, moral support, and assistance with networking has played a significant role in strengthening and sustaining one part of that field—namely US based “transformative organizing” that blends inner and outer change and uses techniques such as mindfulness and somatics. There is now an identifiable and growing infrastructure of groups that provide training, research, evaluation and other forms of support to this part of the field. This was not true even five years ago, and certainly not ten. But: “transformative organizing” and its associated infrastructure is only one, small part of a much wider field. I don’t get a sense that Hidden Leaf has been influential in a wider sense.

Challenges Hidden Leaf Has Not Yet Addressed

Below are highlights that lift up the challenges to transformative change work (especially the challenges HL funding has not been able to address); and ideas from our grantees about what Hidden Leaf could focus on in the coming years. The primary feedback from grantees in these areas has to do with NOT ENOUGH FUNDING. In a significant number of responses our grantees point to the need for increased and alternative sources of funding for transformative work; the need for more funders to be educated and mobilized; and the need for greater connectively in the field, including philanthropy. Here are some highlights that address the need for more funding as well as some quotes describing other kinds of challenges and needs:

  • We need a more robust quantifiable way to analyze the impact that transformative work has had. (Maybe it is a pre-assessment of an organization before starting this work in terms of outcomes achieved in meetings and authenticity in expression. A mix of qualitative and quantitative data that is compared after a year of implementing transformative practices.) This may help to open up new sources of funding. If funders can see the virtue of this work in meeting deliverables and having a positive impact in achieving mission the pot may be deepened.
  • There is still competition for resources in the field of transformative change. Organizations are vying for the same financial and human capital resources as well as each trying to make their own mark within thought leadership for the field at large. While Hidden Leaf has made strides towards a culture of collaboration, we recommend broader network-building to ensure all organizations or individuals have the support they need to further transformative change.
  • The sector that the Hidden Leaf Foundation is seeking to support is relatively small, populated by many organizations that are characterized by the same burdens and bad habits, but all in the spirit of doing good work. Cultures that emphasize overwork, avoiding prioritization for fear of saying no, and chasing funding regardless of strategic integration lead to staff burnout and efforts that may meet the initial short-term goal but miss the mark on long-term systems or transformational change. Staff with specialized skills often move between organizations within the sector, also leading to all too common themes within our internal cultures which can often be expressed in our external work with constituencies and communities. It would be a worthwhile experiment to see if positive cultural change can be just as “infectious” as the engrained bad behaviors that we are all seeking to combat. An essential part of lasting change is reflection and analysis of impacts, often through interpersonal communications. If Hidden Leaf could help facilitate a community of grant recipients to share and learn from each others’ efforts in leading internal transformational change, the networked impact could be larger than that of the grantees in isolation. Additionally, this would provide an invaluable support community for the leaders within the grantee organizations that are taking on the very large task of shifting organizational culture. To have a cohort of colleagues pursuing a similar mission would bring great resiliency and optimism to their efforts.
  • Some challenges within the field of transformative change are finding experienced consultants and facilitators that can guide conversations about transformative change approaches, long-term sustainability and institution-building. Since Hidden Leaf has broader perspective in this field, perhaps connecting us and other grantees with experts, consultants, organizations and movements would strengthen the field.
  • Team growth and turnover. Strategies to keep organizations deepening their practice and at the same time bringing on new talent and getting them up to speed. With limited resources we often have to choose one over the other.
  • Training and leadership on metrics building and tracking. We know that change is happening, we know our commitment to transformative practice is impacting our staff and the larger movements we operate in, but it is very challenging to measure. We would like learn how other groups are doing this; how Hidden Leaf does this itself and what the foundation finds valuable. Some kind of training, or learning forum focused on a shared methodology for evaluating progress/impact would be helpful.
  • Hidden Leaf can also play a role in inviting transformative work to articulate and ground in a structural/systemic analysis in addition to a personal/spiritual focus.
  • It might help new grantees to get some sort of “mentoring” in the first year or so to help them integrate transformative change work into their organizations in the best way possible. It could include some written materials highlighting steps other grantees have taken in the first three years and the changes they have experienced; a quarterly phone call perhaps with a “matching” organization that works in a similar field and is a more veteran Hidden Leaf grantee; or some one- on-one time with Hidden Leaf program staff (even if only a couple of 30-minute calls a year) to hear more about the kinds of personal and organizational developments your funding has made possible for others.
  • We want to strongly advocate for Hidden Leaf to provide transformative change support that ties to racial justice and racial equity. In our view, this is some of the most transformative work we are undertaking and it is a lost opportunity to not tie this in with the tools and opportunities that Hidden Leaf is funding.
  • I think there has been an element of parochialism in Hidden Leaf’s approach which could be seen as loyalty to the same small group of organizations over time. I don’t get the sense that the Foundation has pioneered new areas of transformative work outside this community.
  • A challenge for transformative change work in my view is that it is not immediately accessible. One needs to have expertise and access in order to get this type of support and it feels more complex than it needs to be. For example, the index of terms and the number of terms tied to this work makes it a prerequisite to have a conversation around this work. An alternative would be to use simple language that promotes a transparent, accessible approach to the work that allows a wider swath of people to engage
  • Perhaps Hidden Leaf can help us and other organizations to elevate the value and impact of this essential work in the funding world but also in the social justice world that can still sometimes be resistant or stuck in urgency and transaction. I think especially highlighting the collective body of evidence and why transformative change work makes us MORE effective and successful and helps us build a mightier movement that can endure and thrive.

What Next?

To summarize and lift up the range of good, specific suggestions from our grantees, here is a list of ideas for what Hidden Leaf could do in the coming years:

  • Meaningfully organize other funders to connect with, understand, and mobilize resources toward transformative change work. Help show the impact the work has on organizing and movement building, and in healing justice.
  • Focus attention and resources on transformative practice as a racial justice and equity tool.
  • Prioritize grantees that do or are partnering with organizations that do base-building work with poor and working class people and people of color.
  • Create as little process for grantees as possible, and increase grant amounts to all current grantees. Support new grants to the partner organizations of current grantees. Make no less than 3-year grant commitments to all grantees, with as little process in between grants as possible. Focus on relationship building and support beyond grant-making, guided by the needs of grantees.
  • Invest significantly in anchor groups in the ecosystem as a way to bring in more funding to transformational work from the philanthropic sector.
  • Influence the field of funders; for example, supporting and promoting case studies with peer funders, beyond reports but in more meaningful exchange. Investment in funder organizing is highly valuable, making the case for transformational work and advocating for the importance of this work in the philanthropic community is so needed at this time, in this moment in particular!
  • Organize a Transformative Change Grantee Convening— a space for us to come together, share, talk, listen, meditate, imagine and create, with other like-minded people and organizations.
  • Partner with grantees on pitching panel ideas at various funder conferences relevant to the grantee’s field of expertise.
  • Create a group of vetted great mindfulness trainers who are interested in working with NGOs on a pro bono or low-fee basis. We are too often reliant on volunteers – which becomes a challenge for scheduling (and, at times, you get what you pay for).
  • Get other funders to invest in transformative change work. Compile a study on Hidden Leaf Grantees to demonstrate the impact that your transformative change funding has had in the field of social justice work. Share models of how organizations have integrated transformative change into their work. Compile a list of 3rd party providers like the Rockwood Institute for grantees to have a reference for potential partnerships/contracts as part of capacity building work.
  • Identify groups that have an appetite to go deeper into their practice of transformative movement building specifically for young people of color, immigrants and refugees, Native communities, queer and transgender people, women and girls, and other low-income communities of color.
  • Fund clusters of organizations that are in coalition together.
  • Conduct bridge-building between grantees, sharing of lessons learned and best practices, highlighting examples of organizations that made a specific change to how they do their work and how that yielded concrete positive results • Blue Sky: A biennial networking and training event • Blue Sky: Advocating to other funders to fund transformative change goals: e.g., get them to take part in a 20% pledge campaign: for 3 years, provide an additional 20% to your grantees in the social and environmental justice space specifically for skills building (especially social and racial justice workshops, leadership trainings, and movement building training and events). EDGE funders could be great resource to Hidden Leaf for a lot of this kind of work
  • Do some sort of mapping exercise to establish what that field actually is, as a basis for discussion and planning. Without that it’s likely that Hidden Leaf will restrict itself to the same pool of grantees or groups that are already connected to them as it slowly expands.
  • Invite grantees to engage more directly with experienced members of the Foundation staff to help inform the thinking and possibly glean learnings from other grantee experiences.
  • Continue doing what you are doing: funding frontline organizations as well as the organizations that train/provide support to them.