Collaborating with Tribal Philanthropies
Funding for American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) organizations is low and declining as a share of total
foundation giving, according to the Foundation
Funding for Native American Issues and Peoples, prepared by Candid in
cooperation with Native Americans in
Philanthropy. Approximately 60%
of the funding for AI/AN programs and organizations come from 10 large foundations. Overall, the
median amount for a grant that focused on AI/AN populations was $50,000.
While the total amount of giving to tribal causes is relatively low, philanthropic funding is a critical source
of support for tribal health and well-being. Major philanthropic funders of tribal programs and initiatives
include national foundations, such as the Robert
Wood Johnson Foundation, and regional foundations, such as the Northwest Area Foundation. Community
foundations, especially those affiliated with tribal governments, are also key sources of funding for tribal
causes. For example, the Spirit Mountain Community Fund
of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has
provided over $77 million to nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and all nine of Oregon's
federally recognized tribes.
Examples of Tribal Philanthropic Collaboration
- The Paul G. Allen Family
Foundation works in partnership with Native communities to support health and wellness, economic
self-sufficiency, youth engagement, and professional development activities. For example, the
foundation has provided over $500,000 in grants to the SouthEast Alaska
Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC), a nonprofit health organization managed by Alaska Native
- Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) is a network that
promotes investment “in, with and for” Native communities. Through its Art
of Reciprocity program, NAP trains tribal staff about developing relationships with philanthropic
partners and creating feasible fundraising strategies. In addition, NAP solicits funding from a range of
sources to create a pooled source of money for grants for tribal organizations.
- The Common Counsel Foundation and NAP have partnered
to fund Native Voices Rising. This project has
funded over 40 tribal-affiliated organizations to support advocacy and community engagement
activities. One of these grantees, the Barbareño
Chumash Council (BCC), uses philanthropic funds to promote green
economy work and sustainability among coastal tribal communities in California. BCC's work is
also funded in partnership with the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous
Peoples, a Native-led nonprofit that supports the self-determination and sovereignty of tribal
- The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) is a sovereign
tribe and the largest philanthropic supporter of Native causes in the U.S. For example, SMSC has contributed over
$1,000,000 to support the rural Health and Wellness Center of the Lac Vieux Desert of Lake
- The Northwest Area Foundation provides large,
10-year grants to make long-lasting and impactful change in tribal communities. For example, the Cheyenne
River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota received $9.5 million to support poverty reduction efforts in 18
- Based in Spokane, Washington, the Empire Health
Foundation works with 7 counties and 3 tribal reservations to improve health outcomes, strengthen
health systems, increase the supply of physicians, and build nonprofit capacity. Empire Health
Foundation funds have been used to improve Native American health through programs focusing on
supporting elders via health coaching, coordinating care, improving social supports, and developing
frameworks for mitigating generational trauma.
Considerations for Implementation
A report by the National
Committee for Responsive Philanthropy suggested that philanthropies might be unaware of
the challenges that affect the health status of AI/AN populations. Lack of adequate data about tribal
communities' needs may contribute to low funding numbers. In addition, there is a lack of
representation of AI/AN individuals on the boards of major foundations, which could contribute to a
lack of attention on issues specific to tribal populations.
Staff at tribal organizations have also suggested that lack of organizational capacity to write grants is a
major barrier to
securing philanthropic funding for their communities. Additional challenges may include a misalignment
between foundation programming and tribal communities' needs. For example, philanthropic programs may
focus on one specific condition or topic area instead of taking a more holistic approach to health issues.
There are over 40 grantmaking organizations owned by tribal governments that provide philanthropic
support to tribal communities. Some tribal organizations and communities may be unaware that tribal
foundations provide funding for other tribes and Native-serving programs. The Rural Health
Information Hub has additional information about funding
opportunities for tribal health. Some of these funders are philanthropic organizations.
Program Clearinghouse Examples
Resources to Learn More
Voices Rising: A Case for Funding Native-led Change
Provides an overview of the Native Voices Rising project, which seeks to increase philanthropic
support for organizing and advocacy among Native peoples.
Author(s): Delgado, L.T.
Organization(s): Common Counsel Foundation, Native Americans in Philanthropy