Creating a Partner Network

In Story by Esperanza Pallana

In 2018, I was a new grant writer at a Black-led childcare, family, and resource-sharing collective in my hometown of Louisville, KY. We were a small, scrappy collective doing big things. We made meals together, learned together, organized together, and led affirming educational spaces for Black children together, all out of our sense of love and collective care.

In my excitement to connect with funders about our transformative and healing work, I was quickly let down. Though our community loved us, many funders did not value our work. They did not trust our impact or believe in our dreams. Funders saw us as too informal and believed we lacked the capacity to maintain big dollars. To funders, that perceived lack of capacity was a failure that we could not overcome. Instead of listening to the community and leveraging their positions to help resource our important work, funders often ignored our requests or turned us away.

My experience - all too common in nonprofits - helped shape how I embody my role as Director of Programs and Movement Support at Food and Farm Communications Fund. We see the success of our grantee partners as a success for the movement and as a success for all of us. We leverage our access to power, resources, and opportunities to help build the long-term infrastructure of our partners. We don’t see an organization’s need for additional capacity and support as a failure – we see it as an opportunity for greater learning and growth.

FFCF practices listening to our partners’ needs and offering optional capacity building opportunities with movement trainers like Justice Funders, Social Movement Technologies, re:power, Vanguard Communications, and Yates Creative. We make space for our grantee partners to identify their communications and organizing needs and connect them to 1:1 and/or group advising to support those needs.

In recent years, we’ve heard from partners a desire for additional connection. They named a need for peer-to-peer networking opportunities to learn alongside other values-aligned organizations in the food and farm systems movement. So, in 2022, we co-created FFCF’s Partner Network, made up of current and former grantee partners, to support that connection. The network aims to:

    *Connect the narrative and culture shift work of food and farm system transformation organizations
    *Amplify the work of network members and partners
    *Share opportunities for training, financing, and other resources
    *Create space for collaboration among network members
    *Provide communications training and capacity support

At first called the “Grantee Network,” we changed the name to “Partner Network” after a suggestion from one of our former grantee partners and Grants Advisory members. The name change from Grantee Network to Partner Network helps signify who the partners are, outside of just their connection to us as grantees: they are partners in the movement for food and farm justice, and partners in the creation of powerful counter-narratives to transform our food and agricultural systems.

The Partner Network began with 35 participants and has since grown to 60 organizations and more than 70 individuals. In early 2023, Yates Creative led a group training series for the network focused on media skills building, social media strategy, and website messaging & communications – all topics selected by the partners themselves. In October, we hosted our first virtual Partner Meet-up, also suggested by the network, where participants gathered to connect, learn, and share about their communications and organizing skills, passions, and needs. FFCF staff attended the meet-up and provided light facilitation, but for the majority of the gathering, we got out of the way. We wanted to cultivate space for connection and a community of care that could last well beyond an organization’s grantee relationship with FFCF.

This is just the beginning for FFCF’s Partner Network and movement support work.
As we enter our 5th year of movement support, we are committed to being partners who don’t limit our support to just a check. Money alone is not enough. We will continue to work alongside our partners; learn about their needs and support them on their journey to building capacity, learning and sharing together; and help them forge strategic connections with new partners and funders. We are investing in what’s needed to help them reach their dreams.

The collective I worked with in Louisville has since found its way forward using our community’s expertise and knowledge alongside supportive and trusted funders who we’ve connected with over the years. But the lessons from those experiences are still with me. Now, as a funder myself, I am proud to work with a participatory grantmaker and movement partner like FFCF, an organization who recognizes that by strengthening grassroots organizations and networks, we strengthen our movement as a whole, helping us all to win.

About This Series: Over the last three years, Food & Farm Communications Fund has shifted its role and practices to center movement partnership. We onboarded staff and sought out advisors who are practitioners in movement building, community organizing and participatory processes. We have found many ways to strengthen, amplify and resource the work of our grantee partners. We came to understand that being true movement partners extends beyond organizing within an insular group of grantees. Philanthropy has a great opportunity to build a path as movement partners to leverage resources that support frontline leaders. This series will explore funder practices that can build stronger community relationships and highlight the relevance of a funder’s role in movement work.

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Shavaun was raised in Louisville, KY where she learned from her family and neighbors the power in community. She has worked in food systems, cooperative economics, and communications strategy for more than 15 years and is passionate about co-creating the healthy and abundant spaces that our communities need. Shavaun is the Director of Programs and Movement Support at the Food and Farm Communications Fund, a participatory grantmaker rooted in collaboration and community power. She co-leads FFCF’s initiatives to resource grassroots and frontline food and farm systems change organizations and manages the fund’s participatory decision-making process. She has spent most of her career organizing coalitions and is committed to working collaboratively to find solutions. Shavaun lives in her hometown where she is active with a Black-led childcare and family collective she helped co-create in 2017, Play Cousins Collective.