December 14, 2012

Progressive Grant-Making Collaborative Ceases Operations

The Funding Exchange, a 33-year-old organization that helped to pioneer social-justice giving, announced this week that it is ceasing operations.

Financial woes stemming from declining investment earnings from the group's donor-advised funds led to the decision, said Casey Cook, executive director of the Bread and Roses Community Fund and chairman of the Funding Exchange's board.

"Ultimately the board had to make the very difficult decision to cease operations at this time in order to be able to honor our existing commitments," she said. "The board acted on its fiduciary responsibility not to operate in a deficit."

In addition to its donor-advised funds, the Funding Exchange held an endowment of roughly $12-million that supported the 16 member foundations that made up the collaborative. The board has yet to decide what exactly will happen to the endowment, but it will continue to benefit member funds, she said.

Some observers said the grant-making network suffered from structural problems as well as financial ones.

Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and a Chronicle columnist, said that some members of the collaborative resented the influence of the national organization and the dues they paid. Those dues made up roughly 14 percent of the Funding Exchange's $1-million operating budget.

"The governance structure didn't make any sense," he said. "There was constant tension."

A Loss for Nonprofits

People at progressive nonprofits said they were sorry to see the organization disappear.

"During the past 30-plus years, the network’s unique activist-advised model to grant making has helped many grass-roots efforts across the country to bring equity and justice to our communities and has served as an inspiration for democratizing philanthropy," Kristina Moore, communications director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle.

The Funding Exchange supported advocacy and organizing efforts that few foundations support, said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.

"Many funders want to fund something they can physically touch. And organizing and advocacy, people in the street pushing for new legislation, doesn't always seem touchable," said Mr. Spring, whose group received $12,000 over three years from the Funding Exchange.

Ms. Cook said all existing grant commitments, like the one to Mr. Spring's group, will be honored.

Over its 33 years, the Funding Exchange awarded more than $66-million to 10,500 grass-roots organizations, the organization said. Its total budget last year, including grants and operations, was $3.4-million.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Preston.