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Member Spotlight with Jackie Downing: On Launching the Bay Area Homelessness Funders Network

Thursday, August 20, 2020
featuring Jackie Downing, Executive Director, Crankstart

These past months, we've found ourselves returning to the same question: are our plans still serving their purpose, or is there a greater opportunity made possible by the crises in which we find ourselves?

We asked NCG's board, staff, and membership to weigh-in on how they're balancing this question. Jackie Downing of Crankstart joins us to share more about the launch of NCG's newest network, the Bay Area Homelessness Funders Network, and how she's thinking about persistence and adaptivity right now. 

Background and Impetus for Creating a Bay Area Homelessness Funders Network

In February, a joint conference between the National Alliance to End Homelessness and Funders Together to End Homelessness drew funders from across the Bay Area together to discuss the rapid growth of homelessness in the Bay Area and the need for greater funder collaboration and philanthropic leadership on this issue. The group recognized the need to center racial equity, to work at the intersection of health, housing, and income needs, and to take a regional approach that would help each of us break out of our issue and geographic silos to finally tackle homelessness at scale. The challenge of homelessness requires bold action and philanthropy has an important role to play to drive more innovative, coordinated, and effective solutions at key intersections in the system. Through this network, we will create space to inspire, challenge, learn from, and support each other as we push the field forward together. 

What are you hearing from the region’s philanthropy and our broader partner-community on what matters most right now?

What matters most to our foundation and our community partners is ensuring that all human beings have the same fundamental things: food, water, shelter, health, safety, education and economic opportunity, and freedom. COVID-19, the recession, and the demise of democracy threaten these fundamentals, especially for Black, Brown, and other historically marginalized communities. What we hear most frequently from our grantees and other allies is the importance of responding quickly to immediate needs and challenges while never losing sight of our bigger goal to upend systemic inequality and ensure that these fundamentals are truly guaranteed for everyone.

What excites you about the Bay Area Homelessness Funders Network?

Homelessness is one of the greatest outward manifestations of inequality, and even prior to COVID-19, we could see how racial and economic inequality in the Bay Area were forcing Black and Brown community members into homelessness at wildly disproportionate rates. The global pandemic and mandate to shelter-in-place underscore just how fundamental housing is to every aspect of our lives – our health, our ability to work or attend school, even our ability to access information and participate in democracy. Homelessness is not random, nor is it a choice or a result of personal failings. It is a systemic problem that is deeply rooted in racist policies. What excites me about the funder collaborative is the opportunity to work with others to tackle this issue quickly, creatively, and at a scale that has not been done before. California has the largest homeless population in the country, but we also have more billionaires, foundations and nonprofits than many states combined. Through collaboration and an explicit focus on racial equity, I believe we can prevent most instances of homelessness and ensure that when it does occur, it is a brief, rare, and one-time event.

What’s bringing you joy right now?

Besides my children, the two things that bring me the greatest joy are the people I work with and the opportunity to constantly learn. My career in philanthropy has afforded me the opportunity to work with some of the most generous, curious, and humble donors and the most committed and passionate nonprofit and foundation colleagues. Even though we are apart, facing COVID-19 and racial injustice together has deepened many of these relationships.

How are you thinking about persistence and adaptivity in the face of great change?

This is a great question. When we select grantees, we look for ambition, determination, creativity, flexibility, and a collaborative approach. We strive to embody these qualities within our own organization. The bigger the challenge, the more one needs to work with others and adjust as plans unfold. Rather than going it alone or waiting until you have it all figured out, we believe it is important to build learning, adaptation, and collaboration into one’s design from the outset. And never give up.

What’s the best adaptation we’ve made at NCG?

I have been an NCG member for over nine years and the organization just keeps getting better. I find the staff at NCG to be incredibly responsive and creative. Programs increasingly tackle the most pressing issues, drawing on a fantastic array of leaders and practitioners. In addition to the programming, I appreciate that the staff at NCG actively work behind the scenes to connect funders with shared interests. Increasingly I see NCG adapting the curriculum and offerings to appeal not just to foundation professionals, but also to individual donors. As more individuals become wealthy and begin to give, it is so important that they learn best practices, center racial equity, and build relationships with other givers and nonprofit leaders, so I see this as a wise and natural evolution on NCG’s part.

Advancing innovative solutions to end homelessness

Learn more about the network