A People-Centered Model for Philanthropy in Cities

Oct 24, 2017

Session Description

People’s Liberty is working to flip philanthropy on its head by granting directly to people. This new model is being tested in Cincinnati as a means to empower and activate residents in order to break cycles of poverty and joblessness and catalyze new kinds of deeper, bigger impacts.

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Eric Avner, CEO, People’s Liberty


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  1. Replacing trades in Junior and high schools is the fastest way to get rid of poverty in the inner cities! For some reason it has not been done, why?

    • Education reform is pretty complicated. Not sure I have the best answers for that. Sorry!

  2. How do the diversity and inclusion metrics compare for the participants of this program vs conventional grant making?

    • I don’t have diversity & inclusion data on conventional grantmaking from other foundations, but we are seeing what I believe to be exponentially higher diversity and inclusion results for People’s Liberty grantmaking. I’d attribute that to the intentionality of our outreach (via leveraging diverse media channels, via a wide array of neighborhood partners, accessibility via a lack of jargon), the intentional diversity of our jurors, and the positive impact of the community seeing successful projects from a diverse population. We also place a high value on diversity in the Residents we hire, so that our materials and communications are designed with different perspectives in mind. It’s been a virtuous circle. If you look through the website at the grants we’ve funded, you’ll see it doesn’t look like “the usual suspects.”

  3. How do you select your grantees?

    • We ask members of the community to be jurors. For each round of applications, staff review all of them to ensure technical compliance (residency requirements, no required materials are missing, that the applicant is an individual and not a non-profit or a for-profit, etc.).

      After that, there are multiple rounds of review by community panels who read and then rate the applications first individually (online) and then to reach a consensus as a group. Each application is read by at least three panelists in the initial round, and another three panelists in a final round. The final panel will submit a ranked list of their recommendations and then each of the finalists is interviewed to ask any additional questions the jury may have had.

  4. How do your direct grantees sustain their work after your initial grant?

    • We have a relationship with a variety of business and non-profit mentoring organizations who will provide consultation/advice to the grantee for potential future paths. If it maintains a charitable goal, sometimes the work gets sustained via follow-on funding from us (Haile Foundation) or other local foundations. Sometimes the work isn’t intended to be sustained, as the project was a single-time initiative. Sometimes the work transitions into a business opportunity. It sort of depends.

  5. How are you able to manage the administration for so many individual grantees? As I understand it, many foundations prefer to have fewer grantees and larger grants in order to minimize administration. What’s your solution for this challenge?

    • Candidly, it’s a lot of work. Two of our staff are dedicated to grantee communications/assistance. One of them focuses on current grantees (up to 21 are active at any one time), the other on former grantees/alumni. Current grantees agree to attend monthly check-ins (as a cohort) and we don’t grant the entire amount upfront, so there’s a constant communication flow when the grantees would like the next chunk of funding. The final check isn’t actually issued until we receive a (short) completion report for the project. We also built our own proprietary software platform to help us manage all of the applications and reviews. It’s complicated, but we seem to manage.

  6. One way Detroit has a combo of crowdfunding and grant giving is Detroit Soup. It usually happens once/month and the idea a certain number of people are tapped to make a Soup to the community members coming to event. Bring something to pass, admission is $5 and it gets you soup, salad, bread and a vote. Several presenters pitch their idea and the best one gets the funds collected for admission. Just a good way to get the community involved in making decisions on what kind of business they want to see grow.

    • We’ve definitely seen this and it’s a great model. I believe there’s still a Cincinnati Soup here too. There also was a Cincy Sundaes version of this that provided ice cream sundaes instead of soup. (http://www.cincysundaes.com/)

      We absolutely support all of the other smaller funding opportunities in the community as a way to strengthen the ecosystem of ideas for the region. One way was to create a website that lists them all (http://www.youshouldapply.org/) and then we (People’s Liberty) convene all the groups listed on this on a semi-regular basis. We’re all part of one community, and it’s been fun to help build that community of opportunity.


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