NCRP Identifies Philanthropy’s Best in Announcing the Winners of Its 2021 Impact Awards

Written by: Elbert Garcia

Selection Committee of 10 philanthropic and nonprofit leaders spotlights the exemplary social change funding efforts and practices of the California Wellness Foundation, Four Freedoms Fund, Nellie Mae Education Foundation and Third Wave Fund.

Washington, DC –This week, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) proudly announced the winners of its biennial celebration of philanthropy’s best actors, the IMPACT Awards.

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (“Changing Course” Award for Incorporating Feedback), the California Wellness Foundation (“Get Up, Stand Up” Award for Rapid-Response Grantmaking), the Four Freedoms Fund (“Mover and Shaker” Award for Bold Peer Organizing) and the Third Wave Fund (“Smashing Silos” Award for Intersectional Grantmaking)  were chosen by a committee distinguished philanthropic and non-profit leaders for displaying the kind of exemplary leadership and funding practices that philanthropy should be pursuing in service of the common good.

“An increasing wave of donors and funders say they want to practice the kind of bold leadership, innovation and commitment that is necessary to help tackle the nation’s most pressing problems. Yet, we know that for deep, systemic change to go viral, people need to see these values in action,” said NCRP’s Aaron Dorfman, President & CEO. “The four selected foundations have moved beyond proposals and theories and offer an extended glimpse of a future where funders embrace transparent, intersectional, community-centered grantmaking in order to help create a more just and equitable world.”

Winners will accept their awards at a virtual ceremony during the CHANGE Unity Summit on Wednesday, October 27th. Those interested in attending the virtual celebration are encouraged to sign up for the event (and the CHANGE UNITY summit) before registration closes on October 22nd.


Dorfman thanked the members of the Selection Committee for their time, energy and insights, especially given the increased personal and professional challenges of the current pandemic. The outstanding leaders that served on this year’s committee were:

–       Nikki Brown-Booker, Program Officer, Disability Inclusion Fund, Borealis Philanthropy
–       Jennifer Epps-Addison, Network President and Co-Executive Director, The Center for Popular Democracy and CPD Action
–       Jorge Gutierrez, Executive Director, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement
–       Taryn Higashi, Executive Director, Unbound Philanthropy
–       Daniel Lee, Executive Director, Levi Strauss Foundation (NCRP Board Member)
–       Vivek (Vik) Malhotra, Strategy and Organizational Development Consultant (NCRP Board Member)
–       Sudha Nandagopal, CEO, Social Venture Partners International
–       Shaady Salehi, Director, Trust-Based Philanthropy Project
–       Erik R. Stegman, Executive Director, Native Americans in Philanthropy
–       Tim Wallace, Director of Development, Legal Aid Justice Center

NCRP’s Senior Engagement Associate Eleni Refu. who staffed the committee, said that this year’s Impact Awards specifically reflects and honors the ways that grantmakers fund social justice movements, leveraging their own power for systemic change, and sharing decision-making and governance with communities that too often are excluded from the conversation.

Winners were selected based on these three criteria:

Exemplary Grantmaking – Funders had to demonstrate evidence of allocating a relatively high percentage of annual discretionary giving to social justice, marginalized communities, general operating support and multi-year grants. Its grantees have a visible effect on promoting systems change and empowering underserved communities.

Philanthropic Leadership – The funder’s leaders also had to publicly demonstrate a commitment to systems change strategies such as public speaking or writing about funding social change strategies and marginalized groups, serving on committees or other initiatives that promote social justice and signing on to Philanthropy’s Promise.

Diversity, Inclusion and Equity – Finally, the funder shows a demonstrated commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity, especially along lines of race and gender, in its staff and trustees.

While many in the sector have stretched beyond their usual comfort zones to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and in support of racial equity and Black Lives, Refu said that the Committee felt that these funders stood out from all the rest:

Nellie Mae Education Foundation
The “Changing Course” Award for Incorporating Feedback is given to the funder that has shifted their strategies and operations in response to feedback from their stakeholders, particularly those most affected by inequity and injustice.

Refu: “The committee chose the Nellie Mae Education Foundation for its dedication to authentically listening and incorporating feedback from its stakeholders and for its commitment to realigning is strategies and grants to more fully support racial equity in education.”

Gislaine N. Ngounou, Ed.L.D, Interim President & CEO, Nellie Mae Education Foundation: “We are so honored to be selected for this award. Over the last four years, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation has been on a journey to review and redesign our organizational strategy, culture, and practices through the lens of racial equity. The road has not been easy, but the Foundation is succeeding in advancing a grantmaking strategy that explicitly focuses on racial equity in education by intentionally shifting practices. co-creating and building strategy with a set of community advisors, supporting more general operating and multi-year support, and co-creating goals and outcomes with grantee partners. We continue to see the positive work that happens when communities, grassroot organizations, and educators are provided the space and resources to name and advance their own agenda”

California Wellness FoundationLogo of the California Wellness Foundation
The “Get Up, Stand Up” Award for Rapid-Response Grantmaking goes to a funder that provides timely, flexible resources and adjusted processes to respond quickly to urgent movement needs, especially those of smaller grassroots, frontline groups.

Refu: “The committee chose The California Wellness Foundation for its exemplary and rapid response to the COVID-19 epidemic and dedication to communicating effectively with its grant partners. The Foundation’s early support for health equity especially as it relates to race-based inequities also impressed the committee, as did its continued support for movement building.”

Judy Belk, President & CEO of the California Wellness Foundation: “What an honor it is to receive this award, especially from our colleagues at NCRP, who we view as committed allies in the fight for social justice. It’s an important recognition of the hard work that our team, our board and our grantees have tirelessly put in to respond to a global pandemic which has taken so many lives and highlighted the health and racial disparities Cal Wellness and our community partners have been addressing for years. We strive to both support and follow the lead of community organizations that continue to demonstrate that they have the social capital, the know-how, and most importantly, the trust of the communities they serve.”

Four Freedoms FundLogo of The Four Freedoms Fund
The “Mover and Shaker” Award for Bold Peer Organizing goes to a funder that centered their work on the needs of excluded and impacted communities, leveraging their reputation and convening power to advance systems-change strategies.

Refu: “The Committee chose the Four Freedoms Fund for their leadership in driving significant funding towards the pro-immigrant/ pro-refugee movement and for profoundly influencing the philanthropic sector to embrace and champion immigrant justice. Since 2003, FFF has infused the immigrant justice movement with over $180 million, supporting organizations in 30 states and Washington DC.”

Rini Chakraborty, Senior Director, Four Freedoms Fund: “We are deeply honored to be receiving NCRP’s “Mover and Shaker” Award for Bold Peer Organizing, particularly at this moment when fighting for immigrant justice could not be more critical and when the immigrant justice movement is leading the way – from restoring the promise of democracy to championing freedom and liberation for all. The FFF team is grateful for the privilege of supporting the immigrant justice movement in its work to transform our country’s systems to be inclusive, fair and just, and ensure that all immigrants have agency to determine the quality of their life, community, and future.”

logo of the Third Wave FundThird Wave Fund
The “Smashing Silos” Award for Intersectional Grantmaking is given to funders that worked in deep partnership with under-represented and vulnerable communities and supported multi-issue and cross-identity efforts to address systemic causes of social, economic or environmental challenges.

Refu: “The Committee chose the Third Wave Fund for their exemplary intersectional grantmaking including their efforts to prioritize trans and gender expansive folks and sex workers by funding and curating spaces at all the intersections in which they exist.”

Ana Conner & Kiyomi Fujikawa, Co-Directors, Third Wave Fund: “We cannot win without disrupting philanthropy as usual. Our vision of a just world stands out boldly in philanthropy because we envision and strive towards a world where young Black, Indigenous, people of color, and queer, trans, and intersex people are fully resourced and empowered, and no longer need to rely on traditional philanthropic funding. Receiving the Smashing Silos award affirms our unapologetic commitment to shifting decision-making power to the people and communities traditionally and continuously left out of philanthropy.”

This year’s recipients join a distinguished list of past winners that include the Libra Foundation, the Groudswell Fund, The California Endowment, Marguerite Casey Foundation. the Solutions Project, the Brooklyn Community Foundation and the Emergent Fund.

It’s a group that the Committee is looking forward to honoring and being inspired by on October 27th.

“The work that we do doesn’t happen in silos,” said Sudha Nandgopal, CEO, Social Venture Partners International. “We know that by celebrating people who are taking steps forward, it can help us create an entire field of movement where philanthropy is truly connected to racial equity, to the support and protection of our democracy, and to advancing systems change and justice in a multitude of ways.”

Erik Stegman, Native Americans in Philanthropy agreed.

“It’s a celebration of what’s going right in philanthropy and who is doing the best work for our communities.”


The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) has served as philanthropy’s critical friend and independent watchdog since 1976. We work with foundations, non-profits, social justice movements and other leaders to ensure that the sector is transparent with, and accountable to, those with the least wealth, power and opportunity in American society.

Our storytelling, advocacy, and research efforts, in partnership with grantees, help funders fulfill their moral and practical duty to build, share, and wield economic resources and power to serve public purposes in pursuit of justice.


Since 2013, NCRP has awarded 25 Impact Awards to grantmakers in recognition of support, leadership and partnership with grassroots organizations and community leaders around LGBTQ rights, minimum wage, environmental justice, health equity and other critical issues. The seventh edition of the networking and community building celebration was originally slated to be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A full list of past NCRP Impact Awardees is available on

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