Why Philanthropy Needs a Community Bill of Rights

The Community Bill of Rights from Full Frame Initiative

As part of Fund for Shared Insight’s ongoing series about funder listening tools and resources developed by other organizations (such as ProInspire), we invited the Full Frame Initiative to introduce their Community Bill of Rights and Centering Community Self-Assessment Tool.

If you’ve been in conversations about strategic philanthropy over the last few years, you’ve likely heard the term “community engagement” as a best practice. But what is it, really? We all know intuitively that true change doesn’t come without the voices and involvement of those most impacted by that change. And we know philanthropy can still cause and perpetuate harm, even when well-intentioned. This is because philanthropy, as a sector, hasn’t arrived at a shared understanding of what it means to show up in a community-centered way. To not just listen, but to truly center community experiences, needs, strengths and ideas. It’s too easy to say, without doing, or do, and fall short. It’s time to shift the paradigm by holding our systems accountable and shifting toward an engagement model that works – centering community.

Our wellbeing comes from community. Solutions should come from community as well.

Funders should ensure that on-the-ground actors they fund fully understand the communities’ needs. I watch them give money and give money and engage and give money and have focus groups and promote trauma, and not actually address issues that we’re having.

Over the course of several months in 2022, the Full Frame Initiative brought together sixteen national leaders from communities around the country to explore what was needed to do better. Here’s what we learned.

During our working sessions, despite differences in geography, age and other factors, similar themes emerged: extraction of community knowledge, ignorance of history and culture, disrespect for community needs, tokenizing, and more. The experience and wisdom came together to produce a set of principles to close the trust gap between communities and institutions and build a bridge to ensure equitable change.

The result of these national leaders’ efforts is the Community Bill of Rights, which is a starting point for centering community, shifting power, and healing systemic harms. It’s a statement of eight fundamental rights communities have when engaging with systems and philanthropies. They deliberately chose the title to signal the belief that these rights are fundamental to ensure justice, equity, and liberation from systemic oppressions. We know that the Community Bill of Rights can:

  • Reverse patterns of exploitation and extraction so that communities and institutions can work together from a place of mutual trust and respect.
  • Be a guidepost for institutions and systems to reach equitable and better solutions for harmed communities.
  • Serve as a tool for communities to demand accountability from institutions and systems.
  • Begin the deep healing and repair between systems and communities.
  • Advance centering community as a new best practice for all change efforts.

For philanthropy, the Community Bill of Rights serves as a guidepost in its collective work to reach equitable solutions to challenges like housing, food insecurity, digital equity, and education access. It can also be a tool for internal alignment: between program officers and board members, between generations of a family, or between an advisor and client. There are also mutual benefits for philanthropy through centering community. Co-designing alongside community helps ensure more sustainable solutions that stick. Sharing power helps to bring shared responsibility where the community is leading the charge for change.

The Community Bill of Rights creates the opportunity for more meaningful relationships between communities and funders. That takes time and resources, which I know philanthropic organizations understand the importance of. This is a tool to better facilitate those relationships that center community.

Too rarely are those served given a mechanism to provide feedback or hold grantmakers accountable for intended outcomes. Indeed, too much reward is given to good intentions alone. The Community Bill of Rights is intended to not only help philanthropy shape its practices and principles, but also to fill the fundamental gap in accountability that exists in the philanthropic process. To be sure, providing feedback is an engagement strategy. And, creating the structures to ensure that philanthropies act on that feedback in accountable ways is community-centering. It then follows that community members can use the Community Bill of Rights to exercise fundamental demands for outcomes and dignity from institutions and systems wherever they are.

Centering community is a practice that allows for social justice efforts to build the durable solutions needed to address systemic problems. It offers a means to show up and act in a genuine, dutiful, and unified way. It’s a journey. One that needs bridges along the way. The Community Bill of Rights provides the necessary steps – the bridges and the guideposts – for systems change efforts to have the impact they were intended to deliver.

The Community Bill of Rights shines a light on the community experience. When you give people the ability to participate in the decisions that affect them, when you hear their voice and you honor them for their lived experience and expertise, you end up with better solutions for that community. The community is better off because you don’t just have one person or one organization driving change, but a whole community of people who understand the role they have to bring about change.

Here are the steps that make it happen:
  • Use the Community Bill of Rights as a set of guidelines and commitments whenever you engage with communities. Adopt it formally and share your commitment with grantees.
  • Use the Centering Community Self-Assessment Tool to recognize if and how you’re centering community in your grantmaking. Discuss and reflect on it as a team. What are you already doing? Where are you falling short?
  • Stay accountable. Work with a group of grantees to revisit your process and goals. Invite their suggestions about specific applications and opportunities.

We at the Full Frame Initiative would love to hear from you: Which principles of the Community Bill of Rights are you already implementing? Which principles could you be doing more of? 

To connect, see us on LinkedIn or reach out to Jessica Lee, VP of Philanthropic Initiatives, at jessica@fullframeinitiative.org.