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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 The Foundation Center 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 individuals.
  • 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 nations.
  • 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 Superior Chippewa.
  • The Northwest Area Foundation's Tribal Ventures program 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 communities. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has used these funds to provide workforce development, build capacity for financial literacy, develop partnerships for economic growth, and improve data collection about the needs of reservation members.
  • 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

Native Voices Rising: A Case for Funding Native-led Change
Document
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
Date: 2013