Initially, we looked at our wealth as a gift to be shared with others, a way to give back to the ‘less fortunate.’ In the early years of the foundation’s history, our grantmaking focused on giving to organizations that provided direct service to youth; it was an accepted way of doing ‘good work’ for others. Inherent in this way of thinking was the idea that the service provider knew best about what was good for their clients. By providing funding to direct service providers, funders and philanthropists were ‘buying into’ the strategy that together they knew best what was good for the population being served.
Over time, PFF experienced a dramatic shift in its thinking, brought about in large part by its second-generation family board members:
Gradually, the conversations at the foundation began to shift and questions were posed about the process of making decisions for a population that had no voice in those decisions. Part of these discussions included facing the reality that not much was changing as a result of our philanthropic strategy. The problems seemed persistent as we and many other foundations continued to put money into program after program aimed at helping underserved youth. Many good services were provided for visible and immediate needs, but the needle was not moving for creating real change in young people’s lives. It is easy and admirable to provide goods and services to those in need, but it is not so easy to understand why these needs exist. Discussion around the root causes of these needs was limited, and real conversations with youth about their lives were almost non-existent. But listening to the voices of young people made total sense. Who better to know their experiences, aspirations and dreams than the young people themselves?
In 2018, as part of PFF’s ongoing exploration of how to better align our decision-making structures with our mission, PFF launched a community strategy council. The founding charge of the Strategy Council was to ensure that PFF’s work was aligned, strategic and accountable. By late 2019, the scope of the Strategy Council expanded to include decision-making authority on all PFF grants.
We recognize that in order to effectively execute PFF’s mission, the foundation’s strategies must honor, reflect, and intentionally activate the knowledge, expertise, and experiences of those living and leading social change efforts in the communities we serve.
After an 18 month organizational development and strategic planning process, we unveiled a new strategic framework. The new framework, which includes an updated vision, mission, values, and theory of change, makes our commitment to racial justice even more explicit and advances our long-term commitment to centering the leadership of Black and Brown youth in movements for racial and social justice. The strategic framework process also prioritized ongoing internal work with an intentional focus on how to engage and share power with the leaders and communities whose work we support.
We recognize the value, the importance and power of leveraging our resources to amplify young people’s voice and leadership as they create change in societal structures. We have funded youth-led social change for the past decade, and the social, political and historical events that have occurred during that time have made us reaffirm and deepen our commitment to social justice. As our external strategy has shifted, so has our own governance. Our change journey has been enhanced and accelerated by the addition of new Board members and our community Strategy Council, who are now sitting at a table historically surrounded only by family members. This power-sharing journey has included deep reflection about the power we hold as a white family and hard analysis of the social and racial inequities we have lived with and benefited from throughout our lives. Our fellow community members have contributed to our tough conversations with grace and dignity. It has been challenging work which does not end with this document.