At Social Justice Fund NW we believe in activating donors and funding progressive movements. This process would not be possible without change.
For many, the New Year is a time of reflection, change and new beginnings. At SJF we will embark on a new chapter in 2020 as our Executive Director, Mijo Lee, has decided to move on and pursue a consulting practice in mid-March. See Mijo’s personal message.
We are incredibly grateful to Mijo for her wisdom, leadership and dedication during her nine year tenure at SJF. Mijo has been an integral part of the success of the organization, working alongside our partners, grantees, members, staff and board. Her years as Program Director and Executive Director have been a time of remarkable organizational growth in some very challenging political times.
From 2011 to 2019, our grantmaking grew exponentially, from $115,000 to over $4.5 million, including donor-advised funds. Our Giving Project model has improved, strengthened and grown, becoming our primary grantmaking program — granting out more than $1 million annually — and it is now being replicated and adapted by eight other organizations around the country. At the same time, we have deepened our commitment to anti-racism, including an explicit commitment to Black liberation. In all our work, the participation and leadership of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have deepened and grown.
Ultimately, the success of Social Justice Fund in recent years is due to collective contributions from our community — members, grantees, and staff. Our grantees have continued to be on the frontlines of social justice organizing, winning victories and evolving in their strategies for change; our members have participated in SJF programs, donated to our work and expanded the reach of donor organizers; our staff (above, at the annual dinner in 2019) has grown rapidly in recent years and is a powerhouse of talent ready to lead the organization in new and exciting ways. Now in our fifth decade as an organization, SJF is stronger and more dynamic than ever before as we begin this next chapter.
SJF is an organization that leads with our values and we’re confident our staff and board — working together, with advice from grantees and other partners in the community — will implement a strong transition plan to carry us forward. Just as we trust our grantees, we ask that SJF members trust our process, whether it’s our democratic, participatory grantmaking model or our overall organizational development trajectory.
For now, you can be part of this moment of transition by making a contribution to SJF to help ensure our growth and success continues. And if you’re in the Seattle area, look out for more news about a celebratory happy hour for Mijo in March.
Nine years ago, I walked into Social Justice Fund’s old office at 6th & Stewart as the newly hired program director. I’d been a member of grantee organization, a donor, and a longtime fan, but now I was staff – excited, nervous, a little intimidated by the legacy of this organization, and utterly energized by the challenge and opportunity before me. The organization was at a moment of huge transition. Months before, SJF had completed the pilot Giving Project, with success far beyond their goals, and had decided to go all-in with Giving Projects as the primary grantmaking strategy. We were sailing into uncharted waters with a small crew (the staff had just gone from two to four overnight) and a big vision. We were driven by our accountability to our grantees. We believed we had a responsibility to do everything we could to create a stream of funding to the most courageous, innovative, transformative grassroots funding in the Northwest, to bring resources to them in a way that was more accountable, sustainable, and human. We knew that abundance was all around us and that redistributing that abundance would require hundreds of people coming together, not just as donors but as organizers themselves, committing all of the resources they had: their stories, relationships, time, energy, and heart, as well as money.
We did that. We kept doing that. And at the beginning of 2016, I stepped up as Executive Director – again excited, nervous, intimidated and energized. We didn’t know that later that year the nation would elect a president that would represent the worst values of our past and present, that he would breathe new life into the most dangerous movements in the country, that our grantees would have to fight even harder for their survival and their vision of a better world. We also didn’t know that those who share our commitment to justice would respond with generosity, compassion, and urgency, recognizing this moment as a call to share more of your time, energy, and money than you had ever done before. But that’s exactly what you did. Together – grantees, members, and staff – we understood that this was a time for principled, courageous risk. So in the last few years the SJF staff have tried to honor your trust and courage by aiming higher, asking more of ourselves and one another, and leaning harder into our values. I hope we’ve done that.
Years ago a Giving Project member said to me, “Working with you was like getting a big hug and a kick in the butt at the same time.” It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received and one that I have to give to SJF. This organization – this community – has been the biggest hug. It has been my home, my family, my source of hope and joy when the world was full of despair. It has also been the biggest kick in the butt. It has challenged me, again and again, to do more, love harder, think bolder, dream bigger. It has made me a better person.
As I look ahead to new challenges, I feel so proud of the work we have done together. I cannot wait for the work we’ll continue to do and the innovations and transformations ahead. SJF has always been much more than its staff, so although I won’t be on staff, I will be part of the organization. I look forward to seeing you in SJF community, and in the larger movement for social justice.