Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series of posts featuring NCRP nonprofit members.
As discussed in our recent post on PICO National, there is a movement of congregations uniting people of faith to confront racism and decry economic exclusion. Faith in Florida is finding its footing in one of the most dynamic states in the union, striving daily to redefine the way Floridians of all creeds interact with their communities and transform their compassion into civic action.
Philanthropy could be a tremendous asset to their development, so long as funders are willing to forge partnerships with Faith in Florida that are open, dynamic and empowering.
The foremost challenge slowing religious organizing in Florida is the racial segregation of its congregations. Few relationships exist between white, black and brown institutions of faith. As such, stereotypes and assumptions have proliferated among these disparate groups, and they persist unchallenged because the communities are so isolated.
A primary goal driving Faith in Florida’s work has been to create a space in which people, especially black and brown people of faith, can see their issues and potential campaigns as part of a larger story. This remains a work in progress, but Faith in Florida is making its way there.
The organization has collected more than 7,000 signatures in favor of putting the restoration of voting rights for returning citizens on the ballot statewide in 2018. If the initiative is successful, it would dismantle a policy that disenfranchises 1.5 million Floridians – a disproportionate number of whom are persons of color.
Another fundamental challenge in organizing faith communities arises when combatting dominant, but disingenuous, media voices who filter all discussion through a Christian-nationalist lens.
Instead of their divisive and exclusionary rhetoric, Faith in Florida promotes a vision that’s predicated upon unity and inclusion. Clergy members are uniquely qualified to spread this message and can use their practiced storytelling skills to lift up the values driving this movement.
Their leadership in contesting the moral contradictions infecting much of the discussion around religion’s role in public life could shift the paradigm dramatically, breaking through to those who have been misled by the counterfeit.
Here’s where philanthropy comes in: Building out the capacity to change the message around faith will take time, and some trial and error. Organizations like Faith in Florida need general operating support to take risks and find creative ways to bring their values to the public, and that funding needs to cover multiple years so their efforts can gain traction.
This doesn’t mean that accountability has to be thrown out the window, but the metrics used to evaluate Faith in Florida’s success should be mutually agreed upon and finely-tailored to the organization’s mission and goals. Communication is critical.
Wes Lathrop, Faith in Florida’s executive director, relayed a story about a funder who abruptly stopped backing his organization without warning. He never received any feedback from the grantmaker as to why they cut Faith in Florida off, and wishes they had had some form of regular check-ins prior to their decision so Wes could have understood how the funder saw his organization and engaged them accordingly.
In-state philanthropy has been hesitant to invest in social justice work, but Florida funders should see Faith in Florida as an opportunity to evolve beyond direct services and community development by partnering with an organization that wants to tackle injustice at the system level.
And for funders outside the Sunshine State, Wes encourages them to visit the communities Faith in Florida serves so they can understand the norms that govern this constituency firsthand. Funders who have already bought into Faith in Florida’s vision could help mobilize these prospects to invest in racial and economic justice work.
Faith in Florida is dreaming big. If it had all the resources it needs, it would build a chapter in every county in the state across all lines of division, and build a network committed to radical inclusion and interconnectedness.
Given how broad the religious community in Florida is, Faith in Florida could transform how state legislators think about their voters and to whom they feel accountable. This could lead to the end of Stand Your Ground laws, an increase in the minimum wage, the reversal of excess prison spending, and an investment in schools and social services.
So it’s time for philanthropy to dream big too. Partner with faith-based organizations who want to eradicate social injustice from this country and watch them soar.
Troy Price is NCRP’s membership and fundraising intern. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.