Finding a Place Under the Big Tent
The Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship, a program operated by Social Venture Partners and funded by the Brainerd Foundation, was inspired by Paul Brainerd’s belief in the importance of passing the baton to a new generation of conservation philanthropists. Here’s the story of one participant’s philanthropic journey.
Jane Harvey arrived early at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle. Along with a handful of other volunteers, she organized nametags at a front table. She helped prep the main hall for a day of presentations, panels, and table talks. She set up a buffet of food in the back. And on the hour, she greeted people as they began to filter in for the first statewide gathering of community leaders of color for a daylong discussion on environmental justice.
“It went from this nascent idea in the summer of 2014, to a statewide coalition of 60 community of color groups,” Jane explains. “I was honored to be part of that.”
Jane and her husband Charlie joined Social Venture Partners (SVP) in 2011. But it wasn’t until 2013, the first year of the Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship, that she set out on what would become a philanthropic journey. It would lead her to become an early supporter of Front and Centered, and a devoted advocate for environmental justice in Washington.
“The year my daughter was graduating from the school on whose board I sat, I kind of realized that I had strayed from the work that meant the most to me.”
“At the same time, Janna Rolland, the director of the Conservation Philanthropy program, approached me about the conservation fellowship,” she says.
Jane spent the first part of her career as a land use and water attorney, entrenched in controversial issue areas like reclaimed water policy. Tied to for-profit law firms, she had hopes of making the transition to the nonprofit and advocacy legal side. But she never quite made the move. In fact, raising a family combined with a growing interest in the education sector led her to leave law firm work altogether.
“When I was practicing law, I was working in the environment sphere,” Jane explains. “So I said, ‘My volunteer gig is going to be in education,’ and then education just sort of took over everything.”
In the decade following her departure, she sat on the board of Middlebury College in Vermont, took up school board roles at her children’s schools, and helped found Community and Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, a former SVP investee.
When Janna Rolland approached her about the Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship, she realized this was a chance to reassess her commitments and learn the local landscape, and she jumped headlong into the fellowship, as well as that year’s SVP Environment Grant Committee.
Each year, the Northwest Conservation Philanthropy Fellowship catalyzes an average of ten highly-committed philanthropists who have the leadership skills and resources to create measurable change. Over the course of three intensive months, they delve into environmental issues, develop a theory of change for their philanthropy, and commit to making a personal grant of $10,000 or more.
“I describe it as a combination of self-directed seminar and support group,” Jane says.
Whether studying a specific issue area or campaign, or analyzing their own philanthropic approach, participants are guided in matching their work to their values. They’re pushed to consider if they see themselves as someone who would start a foundation or an effort, or someone who connects to groups already deep in the work.
“It’s all just an incredible opportunity to step back and take a look at ‘Where am I?’ and ‘Where do I want to be?’” Jane explains.
In the end, her first draft theory of change focused on carbon pricing in this state, as part of the western region, to influence policy development on carbon pricing nationwide. But even while her theory of change centered on policy — which she attributes to her background in law — she knew that the intersectionality between people and the environment could take her goal much further.
“I started asking around about what work was happening on carbon pricing in the state of Washington,” Jane recalls. “I kept digging and digging and asking questions.”
She sat in meeting after meeting, until she ended up in front of OneAmerica Executive Director Rich Stolz. He had just returned from a meeting between several organizations from around the state that represented communities of color. The gathering was the first step to building the first coalition of communities of color groups around climate justice, including the goal to advance carbon pricing.
It was as if the clouds had cleared and the sun had shown; Jane had found what she was searching for. Ultimately she sat down with Aiko Schaefer, who was coordinating the different organizations.
Jane laughs, “Basically I just said to Aiko, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do. If you want me to analyze policy options, put together a fundraiser, meet with somebody to ask them for money, or help polish a grant proposal.’ We joked that I’m sort of on-call.”
The group would later become a coalition of over 60 organizations called Front and Centered. And about a year after Jane met Aiko, members gathered from across Washington at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center to discuss climate change and its impacts. It was the first statewide environmental justice meeting of its kind.
Young leaders sat alongside veteran leaders on panels to discuss their communities’ issues and the solutions they envisioned. Most had never sat on a panel together, because their work had always been focused in particular geographic areas of the state or within the community or group they represent. The excitement and inspiration in the air was powerful.
In between activities Jane introduced herself to as many people as she could, many of whom she had spoken to via email or read about in her own research. Otherwise, though, she stood at the edges of the hall absorbing the energy and helping SVP Partner Ellie Humphries make sure everything ran smoothly.
“One of the hardest moments for me was learning my appropriate role in this effort,” Jane explains. “My father always taught me, you know, ‘Step up and speak your mind!’ and then you realize, oh wow, different roles for different venues.”
“As Front and Centered was coming together, it became more and more apparent that my role was in the background,” she continues. “As a white person in a convening of leaders of color, I’m there to support and help.”
Navigating the fine line between ally and bystander, Jane has become a key fundraiser for the group, as well as an occasional advisor and policy consultant. In other words, she has followed through with her promise to Aiko three years ago that she’d help in any way she can.
“I am definitely of the idea that the big tent is a very powerful thing,” Jane says.
By and large, the organizations that make up the Front and Centered coalition are small grassroots groups working on big issues in their communities. Adding in climate looked like a big ask for any one of them. And yet, across the board, joining was a no-brainer. Having a voice at the local and state level depends on standing together. It’s the notion of building power that’s at the heart of Jane’s commitment.
“It’s about who gets to define the policy,” she says. “Who do we consult? Whose voices are heard?”
“I really strongly believe the people who are affected first and worst are the ones whose voices should be most prominent in the conversation defining policy.”
Looking back at her experience in the conservation fellowship, Jane says she was exposed to a whole variety of routes she could take in her work. To the point where three months becomes awfully short for developing a vision and strategy for change. But, she points out, that’s one of the key takeaways.
“You’re always learning something new, and that informs what you want to do and what your strategy might be,” Jane says. “If you’re actively involved, and listening and reading and learning, then it’ll be a moving target.”
“My [fellowship] mentor, Jabe Blumenthal, spent many patient hours talking through lots of different options that I was interested in,” she recalls. “I went down a number of rabbit holes, studying all sorts of different things.”
At the close of the conservation fellowship and grant committee, Jane joined SVP’s Environment Collective Action Team (EnviroCAT). Simultaneously other efforts were forming. That same year, SVP joined the Statewide Capacity Collaborative, a group of eight other grantmakers committed to pooling funds to strengthen the capacity of the nonprofit sector. Shortly after the Front and Centered summit at Daybreak Star, the EnviroCAT awarded funding to the Center for Social Inclusion for a pilot project that would provide a cohort of twelve environmental and community-of-color organizations with training and technical assistance to more effectively address equity in their work. Meanwhile, also in 2015, the city of Seattle launched the Equity and Environment Initiative that focused on building a partnership between the city, the community, and private foundations to deepen Seattle’s commitment to race and social justice in building a more sustainable environment.
The timing of all these new cohort-based approaches to building power informed Jane’s work at every turn. And in so many words, the evolution of her philanthropy can best be characterized by the constant imprint of community. Every effort, coalition, or collaborative further bridged the silo’d divide between the environmental movement and people.
“Now more than ever it’s critically important to mobilize voices and voters — and to do that through community,” Jane says. “Together, we’ll have that much of a better chance at advancing the policies that we believe in.”