Grantmaking Overview

Grantmaking Strategy Framework for 2022 and Beyond: Transformation for the Sake of Building Power 

Our world is in crisis with mounting civil unrest, growing and grave economic disparity, and ecological upheaval—all of which put the question of our planet and our humanity’s viability at the center. Over the past 30 years, Hidden Leaf has been funding transformative change for the sake of building a stronger progressive movement. In the last few years we have been consulting with the field, funders, board, and staff on how we can be most strategic and most values-aligned to accelerate the much needed change our world seeks. We dig deep on transformative change because we believe in the ways practice builds vision and connections and can inspire real solutions now for the sake of our planet’s future. We are excited to share with you a refined strategic framework which we believe builds on our strengths and maximizes our efficacy as a small and deeply purpose-driven organization.

Below are our five strategic pillars followed by some baseline funding criteria.


1.     Transformation for the Sake of Building Power


We support organizations who are openly exploring the connection between individual and collective transformation, and who can articulate the power of their practice at the individual, organizational, and collective levels. This understanding will show up in how they:

  •     Develop leadership
  •     Structure their organization
  •     Are rooted in broader networks and alliances (where they may bring transformative practice to bear)
  •     Deeply engage community

 Transformation at these levels indicates depth and rigor. 

We have learned that power building is more than just political power, it also pertains to spiritual power. We see that investing in spiritual, emotional and cultural practice can nourish organizers and organizations, creating deeper relationships and new possibilities for transformation, and allowing for the conditions to build power that actually transform systems and culture. 

 Across the field we see a variety of (sometimes overlapping) areas of experimentation around transformation, including, but not limited to: 

  •     Deep embodiment (e.g. engaging the body—emotions, sensations, physiology—in order to align actions with values and vision, and to heal from the impacts of trauma and oppression) 
  •     Transformative organizing (which includes the following five elements: base building, campaigning, building networks and alliances, leadership development, and integrating transformative practice throughout)
  •     Democratic practice, at the levels of organization and base (e.g. inclusive and shared governance practices that are facilitative and include multiple voices and stakeholders) 
  •     Healing justice (a term and a movement, coined by the Atlanta-based Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective, that aims to address widespread generational trauma from systemic violence and oppression by reviving ancestral healing practices and building new, more inclusive ones)
  •     Re-indigeneity (returning to indigenous roots as a way of building core and strong identity); indigenous spiritual and cultural practice as an organizing principle
  •     Cultural practices (e.g. organizing from particular traditions, cultural identities, communities of place, or worldviews; bringing unique cultural, artistic, and/or community contexts into the center of organizations and strategies)
  •     Resiliency building; emotional resourcing; wellness (e.g. access to culturally appropriate mental health supports, therapy and coaching)
  •     Restorative justice (a principle emanating from indigenous practice that has expanded into wider culture, embodying a system of criminal justice—informally and formally—which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community)

We look to invest in grassroots groups using transformative approaches, those working on sustainable long-term leadership development, and those building the pipelines to support transformative leaders. While we focus on frontline groups and intermediaries, we also recognize (and have funded portions of) the broader ecosystem that supports both practice and deep change, including: research, trainings, gatherings, infrastructure, retreats, fellowships, publications and other media.

We note that a through-line of racial justice[1] and just transition[2] runs through this work. These orientations are clear expressions of a transformed relationship to power and oppression, and of a vision for human dignity and planetary flourishing. 


2.         Anchoring the Depths 


As a small funder and with our long track record of deep investment in those leading transformational change, there is a strategic opportunity for us to consolidate and leverage power for the field at a moment when acceleration is asked of us to support the bold solutions to the immense challenges facing our world. Looking ahead, we want to be clear on what we are anchoring.

  •     Anchoring deep, lived connection between practice and power. 
  •     Anchoring groups making explicit connections between individual, organizational, and collective practice in the service of building power for sustainable, deep systemic change. 
  •     Supporting groups who holistically “practice the world we seek.” This may mean relationally, ecologically, spiritually, economically, and/or democratically: organizations who are already operating deeply from the principles and values they wish to see rooted in the world now and in the future. 

 In the past we have funded some groups newer to practice. However, moving forward, in our core, multi-year grant making, we are no longer seeding experimental attempts or the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach in areas where transformative work is not already rooted. The landscape is different than it was a decade or more ago. Now there are many groups who operate with transformative methodologies already at the heart of their work. Thus, we will support groups who are built on transformation, where it is inherent in the way the organization came up; not those working to adapt existing traditional models or using practice as an add-on.

We choose to bolster anchor groups because we believe this will help them battle the stormy waters we are currently in and because deep support gives anchor groups the capacity to innovate and lead on the solutions we need now.  


3.         Influence and Networks


We have a belief that transformative approaches have a ripple effect. And the bedrock of transformation is relationship. This being our theory, we fund those who are building the field through their relationships and breaking traditional sector and strategy silos. Further we see this as a hallmark of building broader power.

  •     Networks and collaborations are indicators of reach.
  •     When a group is in a network, we are interested in how specifically they influence the network. Can one network member be a gateway to broader engagement with the whole?
  •     As a funder we also have a role in making connections and supporting the building of relationships across grantee organizations, and in building our own philanthropic networks.


4.         An Integrated Capital Approach


Hidden Leaf is now looking at the whole picture: how all our resources (grants, investments, relationships) can support transformative change. 

We intend to invest in projects that increase the ability of our partners to deepen their transformational impact by making their work more economically sustainable and decreasing their dependence on philanthropy. We want to amplify their grants with investments through an integrated capital approach, investing (as we have done with grantmaking) at the intersection of inner and outer work with the intention of enticing others to do the same. 

We are looking for opportunities to partner with transformative change organizations around plans to build their own self-sufficiency and to increase their transformational power—through land and real estate acquisitions, venture and cooperative development, economic incubators, and community-led revolving loan and investment funds, etc. We believe our capital can be medicine to help heal and transition an extractive economy into a regenerative one. We see community-owned assets as a baseline for a healthy, regenerative community and we wish to rectify the reality that asset ownership has not been made accessible to all.

Community investments are not just about shifting capital, but about shifting power. By taking up an integrated capital approach, we are moving out of a charity model and into one that more resembles mutual aid or symbiosis. By building the capacity of organizations to take on loans in ways that work for them and are aligned with our values, we move into a more transformative relationship with our partners. 


5.         Relational Funding


A strength of Hidden Leaf has been our relational way of working with grantees, our attempts to address power imbalances and to be a true learning partner for the sake of the larger field. We want to be “in” with our grantees in as many ways as are useful; to do this requires trust and a strong relationship.

Ideally we hope to be in a symbiotic relationship with our grantees, neither overly directive nor totally hands-off, wherein we are working together toward the same goal and North Star—toward the world we seek together. This symbiotic relationship is indicative of understanding our role in movement; we are not merely as a bystander. This means building individual relationships on terms that are appropriate for each grantee, knowing that such a symbiotic relationship requires trust and time. This approach can’t be “one size fits all,” and we are committed to offering the time and vulnerability that is required.

We also recognize that transformation does not happen overnight, and we want to be in for the long haul with folks who are innovating and growing this field. When we signal early on that we are committed for many years, we change the quality of the conversation from one-way power to a two-way dynamic about what we are learning: a true dialogue. And we recognize that longer grant terms allow for innovation and experimentation within the organizations who are anchoring practice for the field and responding to the needs of their communities. 

  •     We will start 5-year partnerships with a set of core grantees that embody the principles in this framework. Again and again, we hear that multi-year grants are the best tool we have as funders for building trust, centering relationship, and truly supporting the vision for social transformation we share with grantees. 


Baseline Criteria for New Grantees (in addition to alignment with the above):


  •     Organizations that are both deep in practice and more established so that their staffing, financial systems, programs, vision of building power, and solvency are not a question at the outset.  
  •     Budget size: We aim to support organizations with annual budget sizes of (approximately) $5M or less. Because of our relatively small grantmaking budget, we believe we can make the most impact with our dollars by supporting small to medium-sized groups. 
  •     Keeping our core set of grantees within an overall 1:3 ratio of intermediaries to frontline groups. This is a suggestion from our advisors, in recognition of the fact that frontline grassroots organizations are where practice is rooted, evolving, and spreading in the service of progressive change. When we support intermediaries (i.e. leadership development and transformative training organizations), we fund only those that are working directly with frontline groups to help them integrate awareness practices into their work. 
  •     While not necessary, we are interested in groups that may have investable projects and can articulate how this is connected to their vision of transformative change and building power. 




[1] A racial justice lens brings into view the confrontation of power, the redistribution of resources, and the systemic transformation necessary for real change.
[2] Just Transition is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. Just Transition describes both where we are going and how we get there. (from Movement Generation)