How philanthropy can better partner with mutual aid

AIMS Kidz t-shirt speaks to the importance of community.

Mutual aid is so common, that it often goes unrecognized. If you see someone you know in need and provide resources to them -- or have received this kind of support yourself -- then you know something about mutual aid.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jacquis Robertson supported local mutual aid efforts and believes the defining characteristic of mutual aid is the relationships.

"Mutual aid not only allows for there to be a sharing of resources, but also for a community to be built and for a sharing of stories. This is the foundational pieces of creating any systemic and institutional change."

Mutual Aid emphasizes "solidarity over charity," Robertson explains. Building relationships, building partnerships, building community so when things, like the pandemic arise, you can lean on those around you.

During the pandemic, Iesha Williams and Sharon Hutchins organized AIMS Kidz to keep the children in their neighborhood active and intellectually stimulated during the summer. The moms paid for food and supplies for activities out of their own pocket.

The program started small and grew to nearly 100 children, increasing costs. To keep the program running, community members gave thousands of dollars to support the program through CashApp contributions and supplies donated directly to Willians and Hutchinson. AIMS Kidz received a grant from KZCF Community Urgent Relief Fund to support indoor space, supplies, food and volunteer stipends for community engagement and supporting youth in the virtual learning space.

In times of crisis, mutual aid efforts like AIMS Kidz, play a critical role in supporting communities. Like nonprofits, mutual aids have a long history of filling in gaps and being a viable vehicle for providing community care.

However, mutual aid efforts are often organized by individuals or grassroots organizations that fall outside the formal nonprofit classification. Traditional grantmaking parameters make it difficult for foundations to fund mutual aid efforts.

During the pandemic, it became increasingly urgent for the KZCF Community Investment to find solutions for working with mutual aids and grassroots organizations.

"Aside from funding structures, there are other reasons why these organizations avoid approaching foundations for support," said Kururama Masomere, Community Investment Officer at KZCF. "They are trying to move money and resources into community at a pace that’s faster and more direct that traditional philanthropy."

In response, the KZCF grantmaking team is investigating ways to be more compatible with grassroots organizations. Currently, the team is exploring the idea of a hub that would make it easier KZCF to fund and build capacity of grassroots efforts.

"The idea of this hub aligns with the feedback from focus groups and surveys we held last fall with our nonprofit partners" said Sandy Barry-Loken, Vice President of Grants at KZCF. "Our partners called for transformational, trust-based relationships; faster, streamlined support and for KZCF to take bold actions."

This article was featured in the latest issue of our UPDATE newsletter.
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