AAPIP Voices

Member Spotlight: Headwaters Foundation for Justice


AAPIP recently welcomed Headwaters Foundation for Justice as an Institutional Member. We spoke with Program Officer Allison Johnson Heist, who shared about the foundation’s New Majority Fund and The Giving Project, two interrelated programs that prioritize community philanthropy and community organizing led by and for people of color in Minnesota.

  1. What is the Headwaters Foundation for Justice?

Headwaters Foundation for Justice was established in 1984 by thoughtful donors who built the organization around a grantmaking model that places funding decisions in the hands of the community. For over 30 years, we have relied on community-led grantmaking to provide financial support and organizational assistance to grassroots organizations in Minnesota. We prioritize community organizing as the core strategy to engage and empower communities to advance equity and overcome injustice.

Headwaters has grown its grantmaking from $357,529 in 2012 to over $1 million in 2016. Among our grantees’ many successes, we are proud to have supported important work such as a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis; the launch of the first retail janitors’ union in the U.S.; and black-led organizing in response to the killings of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile. To date, Headwaters has directed more than $12 million to organizations representing communities historically excluded from resources and power.

  1. What are the New Majority Fund and the Giving Project?

The Giving Project is an innovative new model for building power. We bring together a multi-racial, cross-class group of people who are passionate about funding social change and interested in building their skills in fundraising, grantmaking, and community building. Participants work together to raise and give out money to organizations that bring about significant, long-term solutions for justice and equity. In the past two years, nearly 60 Giving Project participants have raised over $355,000 to support community organizing in Minnesota.

In 2017, the Giving Project focus was to raise money for the New Majority Fund, which supports organizations that are led by and for communities of color. These grantee organizations have an organized constituency base; a clear analysis of structural causes behind the challenges their community faces; and concrete goals and strategies to build power and change systems. Our New Majority Fund Giving Project participants were able to raise $215,000 in just four months to fund 9 organizations with 2-year grants.

Beyond the grant dollars, Headwaters is making additional investments in the organizations funded through the New Majority Fund. We are launching the Movement Leadership Program, a year-long effort with the goal of building transformative leadership practices and relationships among our grantees.

  1. Who is participating in the New Majority Fund and the Giving Project? What issues do they work on? How and why does Headwaters engage AAPI communities to participate in these programs?

The Giving Project is a multi-racial community, and each cohort has had at least 50% people of color as participants. We’ve had strong participation from folks in the AAPI community in each Giving Project including community organizers, nonprofit professionals and people who are generally interested in making lasting change in their community.

Asians are the fastest growing ethnic group in Minnesota, and Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to one of the largest Hmong communities in the nation. When we disaggregate the data about AAPI’s in Minnesota, it’s clear to see that there are major differences in health, education and quality of life across various communities.

Headwaters engages AAPI communities directly in both the fundraising and grantmaking work because we know that each participant brings an inherent wisdom and knowledge of their own culture and community into the process of making grants. Having people who are directly impacted by the injustices in our state as grantmakers means we are making better decisions with more equitable outcomes.  This year, we funded Hnub Tshiab: Hmong Women Achieving Together and Asian American Organizing Project, two organizations committed to deep leadership development and civic engagement.

  1. What are you learning through these programs that either challenges or reinforces existing ideas about social justice philanthropy?

Headwaters’ model focuses on teaching the skill of grassroots fundraising in a one-to-one relational way. We expect each participant to ask at least 10 people in their network to contribute to the collective work of the Giving Project. We’re learning that many participants of color have not seen themselves as fundraisers or philanthropists, because society has taught them that that is the role of older, white men.  So, instead, many of our participants gravitate toward the term donor organizer to describe the work they feel called to do — mobilizing resources in their own communities to move toward social justice and collective liberation.

It takes time, training, and support for folks to uncover how their upbringing and the context of their lives today shape people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors around race and class. The Giving Project is training up the next generation of social justice philanthropists.

  1. What’s next for the New Majority Fund and the Giving Project?

We plan to offer the New Majority Fund grant every other year, so in the meantime, we are gearing up for our next Giving Project, which will have a democracy lens. As part of the Giving Project Learning Community, we are collaborating and learning from other foundations across the country to make the model stronger and to raise more resources for organizations doing truly transformative work.

Allison Johnson Heist is a Program Officer at Headwaters Foundation for Justice and a Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellow through the Minnesota Council on Foundations. She is passionate about belonging, connection and working alongside people as they transform their communities for the better.

[Photos courtesy of Anna Min, Min Enterprises Photography]