Theory of Liberation
In 2019, the Solidaire Network created its first-ever Theory of Liberation (ToL) that articulated its three-prong strategy. This six-month-long planning process was co-led by its Board of Directors, its new Executive Director, Rajasvini Bhansali, and Staff, supported by a small team of consultants.
This digital report is an abridged version of a longer narrative report completed in July 2022 by independent professional evaluators of the past three years of Solidaire’s funding work.
The purpose of this reflection cycle is to [e]valuate* and learn from Solidaire Network’s implementation of its ToL since 2019.
In April 2020—just seven months after Solidaire finalized its ToL—the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic turned the global community upside down that required prolonged periods of sheltering-in-place, no travel, and all in-person gatherings replaced by video conferences.
We acknowledge this externally imposed context that significantly limited Solidaire Members’ and Staff’s ability to gather in regional hubs and other in-person programming designed to build and deepen community. It is in this particularly challenging backdrop that we reflect on and [e]valuate what Solidaire has accomplished. Moreover, it underscores the significant progress Solidaire has made on the implementation of its Theory of Liberation, as well as the breadth and depth of its achievements.
*Note: We use the term [e]valuation to expand the traditional, narrow understanding of grant ‘evaluation’ into a much richer sense of adding value and seeing the inherent value in movement work.
We also capitalize Members, Staff, and Movement Partners (grantees) to accent Solidaire’s belief that there is no singular source of excellence; we’re in this together, we need each other, and each is a significant group of justice innovators.
Results and Opportunity
From our research and listening to Solidaire stakeholders’ candid reflections with us, we can confidently say that since the articulation of its Theory of Liberation, Solidaire Network has:
Hover or tap on each illustration: ①
Experienced dramatic growth
Solidaire has more than doubled its membership from 113 (with 12 institution members) in 2019 to 300 today (198 individual members and 102 institution members).
Using members’ own reporting, this evaluation estimates that Solidaire will, directly and indirectly, move ~$878M by the end of 2024 — and therefore is on track to surpass its $1B goal for 2029.
Transformed its members
Members with wealth have been inspired through high-quality political educational programs, peer-to-peer storytelling, and concrete tools to inform their financial plans and actions.
Shifted power dynamics
...dismantled walls, and role-modeled mutuality paradigms between funders & grantees. Movement orgs perceive Solidaire as a trusted and supportive partner that is accessible and communicative, “walks its talk,” and is steeped in love and justice.
These results are a testament to the openness of Solidaire Members and Staff to an adaptation of wealth transfer practices that represent important divergent turns away from traditional philanthropic behaviors. Solidaire Members shared powerful stories about their own personal transformation and relationship to wealth, because of community building and political education. Members who represent institutions found support from Solidaire to implement innovative philanthropic practices to transform their relationships and grantmaking with movement leaders and organizations. Solidaire has engaged, enlarged, and meaningfully activated its Members rather successfully in these critical ways. Solidaire is well-positioned to grow and advance its role as a critical resource mobilization arm for Movement Partners.
For quotations used throughout:
= Solidaire Member feedback
= Movement Partner feedback
Over the past three years, Solidaire has matured on many levels. Its work has grown in both breadth and depth. As a result, Solidaire faces a number of strategic questions — as the country and world look very different than it did just three years ago. A clearer long-term vision for itself and the field may be needed to take full advantage of the lessons this learning and reflection effort has uncovered.
We can peel back the learnings from this [e]valuation to each of the three prongs of the Theory of Liberation:
Donor Engagement & Activism
Donor Engagement & Activism
Grow and engage the Solidaire network to 300+ Members, engaging them through regional hubs through consistent community building, political and popular education, membership meetings, and innovative programming. Members are also engaged through three working groups focused on Indigenous sovereignty, decarceration, and climate justice.
1. Donor Engagement and Activism
In 2019, Solidaire Network had 113 Members, of whom 86% were individuals. There were 16 Institutional Members (14%).
But as of June 2022, Solidaire has more than doubled its membership to 300, a 265% overall growth. This is a breathtaking growth rate, especially when we consider the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic of sheltering-in-place, limited travel, and almost no in-person gatherings. The network's strategy is to grow deeply and authentically, not quickly.
‹ Swipe › to compare 2019 and 2022:
To break down the numbers a bit more (feel free to hover over the charts above), we see that 14% of Solidaire's Members were institutional ones in 2019. Today, that number is 34% of its total membership. It represents a 538% growth of Institutional Members in three years.
Achievements to be celebrated
From our research and listening to Members, we believe that Solidaire’s membership growth is notable for the following factors:
Click or tap on hotspots
Inside this figurative “big tent,” our team heard many stories of personal transformation where Members contributed money, time, and other material resources to movement leaders and/or their organizations. These stories illuminate the depth of Solidaire’s work to support Members so that they can grow and strive to become highly conscious, politically-engaged people of wealth committed to journeying alongside Movement Partners in the most critical social movements today.
Solidaire’s growth in membership numbers that is coupled with transforming how Members see themselves as a part of the movement for justice and liberation are achievements to be celebrated.
Tap ‹ arrows › for additional quotes:
‹ Swipe › for additional quotes:
“[Solidaire] has helped me accept my own full humanity and messiness and [that] I deserve to bring my whole self into spaces whether multi-racial or multi-class.”
“The practice that I love so far is being in community, learning from others to ally with, with groups I may not have known about before. I step into this role as a love donor, that’s really new for me. They’re huge and changing my life!”
“Something about Solidiare helped [a member] break through those internal barriers…she and her kids have much more money than they need, but she wasn’t able to pick up her giving. She’s mentioned Solidiare as being part of that transformation. Part of it is peer modeling.”
Solidaire sees itself as being a “political home,” a place where Members’ political activism is anchored. This work is made possible since most of Solidaire’s Staff are long-time community and political organizers with longstanding ties to and relationships with movement activists.
With such roots, capacity and competence, Solidaire’s Staff have provided Members with consistent political education, connecting Members to movement leaders and organizations and supporting Members’ chosen actions and activism.
“I’ve been moved by the work of Indigenous people and the support of the opposition to the pipelines. There was this one action that summed up Solidaire members, where there was work happening on the pipeline, and they put a piano in the highway and played music.”
“We went up last summer twice to protest when they were calling for people to come up and get arrested. I didn’t manage to get arrested.”
“I’ve been involved with shareholder activism, which is very local for us. We had an electric utility that is a Fortune 500 company, and they have a lot of problems.”
As Covid infections surged globally, everyone has had to adjust and adapt. Pivoting to online programming presented an enormous challenge for organizations and their communities. Solidaire Staff artfully developed its Beloved Friday program, which offered a consistent and welcoming virtual gathering space for its Members.
2. Resource Mobilization
Liberate wealth and increase donor investments in a range of power-building strategies for intersectional and interdependent movements and serve as a critical resource mobilization arm for movements.
At the July 2019 retreat, about 30 Solidaire Members, including Board members, set a goal of mobilizing $1B within ten years (2019–2029). They aimed to measure progress by collectively aggregating and estimating the funds moved toward this goal.
Using Members’ own reporting, this evaluation analysis estimates that Solidaire will, directly and indirectly, move approximately $878M by the end of 2024. It is therefore on track to surpass its $1B goal in ten years, with more than seven more years to go.
Solidaire is on track with more than seven more years to go.
Despite the pandemic, Solidaire was able to meet the moment in 2020, forge ahead, and mobilize significant resources. Focus groups and interviews highlighted the following reasons for its success:
Capable and Ready Staff Leadership
“We needed someone with the expertise of building organizational systems and building an institution. I feel like Vini really helped [do this].”
Three years ago in 2019 when it put down its hypothesis on how change and liberation will come about, Solidaire knew it needed an audacious vision. Building internal structures, capacities and systems proved to be key pillars to deepen cross-class, multi-racial solidarity.
Leadership is crucial, and that alone is not enough to move the mountains we face in the climb to liberation. Network-building is not an easy or episodic job. Yet, when done well, it is a major contribution overall.
“One of the greatest accomplishments has been that they were ready when 2020 happened…with the pandemic, the uprisings, and election. So many wealthy and cross-class people were ready to dive in. Not many places were ready… Solidaire was one of the very few places that was ready to receive people and give them things to do—resources, community, and a way to channel that energy into something productive instead of twirling around in angst. It’s a huge accomplishment. As a result, people were able to move millions of dollars.”
Four years in, Solidaire is seeing the early fruits of having a leader who believes in leading with joy, is authentic, and approaches the people and the work with humility and respect. Solidaire today has nearly 20 Staff members, leading, managing, and coordinating complex and multifaceted work, deepening trust with and working alongside Movement Partners; engaging and animating Members’ activism; and changing the old paradigms of grantee-grantor dynamics to something we’re just starting to name and practice in the sector.
Systems for Greater Accountability
“The team are real powerhouse leaders who know how to do hard things… In philanthropy, you attract people who seek a lot of comfort. A lot of people who want to work at places and not be held accountable. That is not what Solidaire is…we have chosen to be accountable and have really great staff.”
3. Shifting New Paradigms
Shifting New Paradigms
Shifting New Paradigms
Strengthen donor practices through praxis-based political education and peer learnings to shape a new paradigm that positively transforms relationships between donors and movements.
First, Solidaire has had a meaningful impact on institutional Members and their philanthropic efforts.
Solidaire has provided theoretical and practical leadership to its institutional Members to give to, for example, Black and Indigenous-led organizations with long-term support. This type of network guidance and role modeling has been well received by institutional Members.
“In this space, I go to push myself and my institution. From my early days with aligned giving, they asked people to make five-year commitments. At that time, most of our grants were 1-2 years. Immediately, I felt…why? Why five years? But we took that concrete inspiration. It’s now the norm of what we’re doing…Nobody else in the sector was saying this at the time.”
“The aligned giving strategy 1.0 was exciting for me and our [institution’s] Board Chair. This is something our foundation could do…We had never made a commitment that long and not required a grant report. It had taken me so long to get multi-year grants, and I didn’t see them agreeing to this… however, they had so much confidence in Solidaire as individual members that they agreed.”
Solidaire has become a model in the field and the go-to place for those with wealth to contribute to movement organizing. Moreover, Solidaire is a role model for other philanthropic organizations that aim to become justice-centric funders.
Photo: Joel Cadet / Scop.io
“…Our peers were a lot of traditional White foundations... After George Floyd[‘s murder by the police], we were doing a total strategy reboot and racial justice was not part of the conversation. We are just now figuring out what it means to center racial justice… We needed new relationships. Having Solidaire in our corner is super critical. We can't do this alone.”
“People with wealth are trying to figure out how to defund the police or themselves…there is a real backlash to it, even amongst people who should be allies. I’m really excited about the decarceration workgroup and ensuring and educating funders so they can let go of control…[Philanthropy’s] place is to have trust and have faith in [movement leaders]. This is what Solidaire gets me excited about...”
Shifting the paradigm in grantee-grantor relations in a capitalist society where money equals power is a tall order. Data from Members tell us Solidaire is moving in the right direction.
Solidaire has helped shape wealthy Members’ hearts and minds to align their resources with what Movement Partners want and need, helping them develop new habits, relationships, and behaviors, and thereby shifting the old paradigm of grantee-grantor to one where the bar is much higher, and filled with mutuality, respect, and genuine love for one another.
“When I am looking for movement orgs that are emergent, I always pick up the phone and call Solidaire because they’ve built those networks. Who is doing work in an area that is not getting enough attention? Who hasn’t gotten a national funder supporting them? The team has built it’s a bridge between philanthropy and movement organizations. It’s an achievement!”
“The achievement is raising Solidaire’s visibility in the field, and becoming a leader in the field is exciting. Other organizations are looking to Solidaire for trendsetting and opinion-making... The grants we’ve made are excellent.”
Second, Solidaire has had an overall positive impact on Movement Partners and their efforts. In an online survey that received 36 responses, the comments from Movement Partners speak to three areas that they value most about Solidaire:
Click or tap on hotspots
Support, trust, and partnership
Being accessible and with frequent & clear communications
An authentic commitment to mission, movement, love, and justice
Support, Trust, and Partnership:
Being Accessible with Frequent and Clear Communication:
Authentic Commitment to Mission, Movement, Love, and Justice:
Philanthropy as a field is overloaded with proclamations, statements, and fancy-sounding theories. From the words spoken by Movement Partners, we are able to see that Solidaire has strengthened Members’ giving practices through an effective combination of political education and practical tools, including powerful role modeling by peers within the network.
As with any reflection and [e]valuation efforts, the research team heard from a wide range of Solidaire Members and Movement Partners. They provided a rich trove of data to inform the arc of this story of Solidaire’s progress toward its Theory of Liberation between 2019–2022.
Solidaire’s successes, progress, and results do not exist as absolutes. In each strength or success lies an invitation to interrogate its dialectical opposite. Here, we lay out some of the areas that confound Solidaire stakeholders we spoke with, or areas that they wish and wonder could be different.
These stakeholders have helped name four notable dialectical spectrums that require more nuance and attention. These tensions are areas Solidaire staff and members will be interrogating and strengthening as they move forward.
MEETING MEMBERS WHERE THEY ARE on the transformational journey
and CHALLENGING THEM TO GO BEYOND THEIR COMFORT ZONES.
One of Solidaire's strengths is that members are accepted as they are, without judgment or pressure to be further along in their giving journey. Members also have questioned if they are enabling others to remain complacent. They ask if they should be doing more to inspire individuals to their interrogate their privilege, contribute their networks and access to power to movement work, and to spend down their wealth.
MOVING MONEY RAPIDLY, growing rapid response mechanisms
and BEING MORE STRATEGIC WITH LONG-TERM PARTNERSHIPS.
Members agree that rapid response giving is an exciting area where they can connect with Members to move lots of money quickly to movements. Members also also question if rapid response can feel transactional and does not align with the strategy of sustainable multi-year commitments.
Engaging in PROCESS THAT TRANSFORMS MEMBERS around their giving
and TRANSFORMING THE FIELD OF PHILANTHROPY.
One of the beautiful things about Solidaire is that Members can bring their whole selves and get vulnerable in spaces to challenge their core beliefs about giving and their wealth. Members are looking for Solidaire to retain this intimacy as the network grows. Further, members pointed to a need to strategize around the inevitable tensions that will arise from prioritizing intimate spaces while also meeting the needs of institutional members from large institutions and striving to make big impacts on the philanthropic sector as a whole.
LEARNING DRIVEN BY MEMBER PEERS
and LEARNING DRIVEN BY STAFF.
Solidaire is a network for Members to connect and learn from one another. Yet it has worked hard to recruit Staff who have diverse backgrounds and hands on experience working in the field of social justice. Solidaire must balance feeling Member driven and honoring the expertise of Staff.
These comments, ideas, skepticism, and even criticisms tell us something important: Solidaire Members are engaged, thoughtful, and care a lot about what happens next.
The opposite of love may not be so simplistic as hate; apathy certainly rises near the top. We don’t have that here in Solidaire. On the whole, the learning and [e]valuation team experienced high levels of passion from Members for Solidaire. They responded to the reflection process with enthusiasm, boldness, and willingness to participate.
Members urge Solidaire to stay authentic.
“Solidaire has lived its theory into practice. It’s real. And Solidaire will likely be co-opted because it’s ahead of its time. More funders will soon adopt the language of movement funding. There will be imposters, those who adopt the jargon while their practices remain the same. I want Solidaire to stay authentic and not superficial.”
To move away from the “donor” model.
“I feel like using the word donor too much, and donor organizing and philanthropy is just a way of shrinking our imaginations of how much money wealthy people can actually move… using the word donor less when it really means wealthy people…working class people are donors just like everybody… I think it's disrespectful of the cross-class nature of giving.”
And to refine Solidaire’s bigger vision for itself and the sector.
“What is our bold 30-year vision? I think we’re starting to do more of this [as a sector] like what the Koch Brothers have done on the right… Is the vision that we're moving to some sort of democratized vision of philanthropy? … governance and power and capital and there's a trifecta there… if all the [family] foundations [members of Solidaire] became more community-led [and about] power sharing models, that would be a pretty good step.”
Going forward, it bodes well for Solidaire to grapple with how best to catalyze greater resources to social movements, infuse new paradigms to influence and guide people with wealth who believe in freedom and liberation of those most invisible and without power, and transforming power dynamics between people and institutions with wealth to Movement Partners.
The complex truths on these pages tell us we are at the doorway to a new day. Solidaire has accomplished and moved intentionally and powerfully toward what it set out to do in its 2019 Theory of Liberation. In society and philanthropy, the old ways are dying. It’s exciting to witness a universe of complexity full of robust exchanges of tough, honest questions. It’s equally exciting to witness the range of transformative practices incubating inside Solidaire in service to the communities, grassroots organizations, and social movements that Solidaire ultimately is about.
The Solidaire Network Learning and Reflection process has been a true blessing to our organization. We set out to evaluate our progress against our 2019-2022 theory of liberation and we have accomplished that and so much more. Thank you to everyone who has supported this important process.
Through the insights of this report we understand ourselves as bold and successful. We also understand ourselves as committed to learning, building, and fulfilling more and more of our freedom dreams. We take our role seriously, as critical protagonists in the racial, gender, and climate justice struggles of our times. We are committed to enhancing our strengths and addressing our growing edges.
We will not waver in this orientation until long-term progressive power in the United States is a reality. We are consistent, responsive and trustworthy. We are a trusted and powerful partner to movement organizations. We will continue to respond to these extraordinary times with extraordinary vision and rigor.
As we develop a refreshed strategic direction, we know that our work has only just gotten started. Thank you to our evaluative consultants, movement partners, members, board and staff. You are each an indispensable part of this journey and propelling us forward.