The Cleveland Black Futures Fund has amassed more than $4 million since inception on Sept. 1, 2020, to invest in and strengthen Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations.
updated march 31, 2021, 9 a.m. EST
An Introduction to the Fund
This summer, in the midst of a global pandemic, we have borne witness to what is believed to be the largest civil rights movement in the history of the United States. As more people across our community and our country engage in a long overdue reckoning with the ugly reality of structural racism in America, many of us are thinking about our experiences and roles in this reality – individually and collectively.
In the field of philanthropy, we must be honest about our historic shortcomings in addressing the devastating racial disparities that so directly impact our work. The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) has reported on the significant inequities that exist within the national philanthropic field at a time when outcomes and disparities for Black children, families and neighborhoods in many areas have widened.
While structural racism is a problem affecting our entire country, the movement for Black lives has resonated in Greater Cleveland for deeply local reasons. According to 2018 research from The Center for Community Solutions, Black residents in Cleveland are more likely to experience higher rates of infant mortality and childhood poverty, be overrepresented in the criminal justice system, be disproportionately represented in lower wage occupations and have shorter life expectancies – all of which cross socioeconomic boundaries.
The Cleveland Foundation and our donors have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve education, housing, job opportunities and access to healthcare in our community. And while these investments have improved the quality of life for individuals and families in Greater Cleveland, they have not yet eliminated the disparities that exist along racial lines. More than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act, our city remains one of the most racially segregated in the nation – both geographically and in terms of educational, economic and health outcomes – among other measures.
The launch of the Cleveland Black Futures Fund, seeded with $2.5 million to invest in and strengthen Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations, is just one step in what must be a long-term community-wide effort to dismantle racist systems that have made communities of color vulnerable for generations. As the Greater Cleveland community’s foundation, it is incumbent upon us to respond to the place where the need is greatest, and there is no doubt that the need is great in Cleveland’s Black community. With the understanding that those who are closest to the problem are often closest to the solution, the fund will elevate specific interventions to strengthen the ecosystem of Black leaders and Black-serving organizations in Greater Cleveland by providing intentional resources to help grow organizational infrastructure and capacity. Long-term, the foundation aims to deepen the field of leaders working to dismantle systemic racism and advance the community toward racial equity.
The Cleveland Black Futures Fund builds on the ongoing work of the African American Philanthropy Committee of the Cleveland Foundation (AAPC), which has promoted awareness and education about the benefits of wealth and community preservation through philanthropy since 1993. Established in 2010, the African American Philanthropy Committee Legacy Fund supports a variety of organizations within the African American community of Greater Cleveland. The Cleveland Black Futures Fund will complement the impact of the AAPC and its Legacy Fund, offering an additional pool of resources to support the Black community in Greater Cleveland.
The Cleveland Foundation recognizes that racial inequity is not a simple Black-white divide. However, the needs of various racial and ethnic communities are too vast for one fund to address. The effects of systemic racism on non-Black communities of color must be addressed through interventions that are designed and tailored to the specific needs of each community. As we launch the Black Futures Fund, we are laying the groundwork for future population-specific strategies to address the needs of other ethnic and racial communities in Greater Cleveland.
The launch of the Cleveland Black Futures Fund represents a new and more intentionally anti-racist approach in the Cleveland Foundation’s work, a direction that is necessary if we wish to move our entire community forward. We do not yet have all the answers, but we will continue to listen, learn and act. We hope you will join us.
A Message to Winter-Spring 2021 Fund Applicants
We are excited to get to know more about the dedicated leaders in our community through these proposals.
With that in mind, we wanted to make sure everyone who has applied knows a few key considerations for this round of grantmaking.
- The majority of grants will range between $25,000 and $100,000.
- Proposals that cannot be fully funded will be considered for partial funding.
- We do not yet know how many applications will be funded in this round, but any organization that cannot be funded in this round is eligible to apply for funding in subsequent rounds.
Due to the high volume of inquiries received, notification of proposal status will be delayed until April. We ask that you do not submit questions or inquiries about the status of your proposal at this time. Responding to individual inquiries will delay the overall review process.
Thank you again for your application. If this is your first time applying to the Cleveland Foundation, we hope you will consider this the start of a relationship. And if this is not your first application, we thank you for continuing to consider us a partner in the work you do.
Want to learn more about racial equity initiatives in Greater Cleveland? Check out our Racial Equity e-newsletter archive:
jan. 21, 2021
Dec. 11, 2020
sept. 1, 2020
“The ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism in America cannot be separated from the COVID-19 crisis, which has disproportionally ravaged Black communities,” said Courtenay Barton, Cleveland Foundation program director for arts & culture and racial equity initiatives. “Similar to our community’s response to COVID-19, now is the time for philanthropy to show a sense of urgency to address systemic racism. Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations are the frontline workers in this effort, and we must invest in them just as we have invested in the workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Cleveland Black Futures Fund advisory committee guides the application parameters and grantmaking process for the fund. The seven-person group is comprised of community leaders working alongside foundation representatives:
- Courtenay A. Barton, Program Director for Arts & Culture and Racial Equity Initiatives, Cleveland Foundation
- Carrie Carpenter, Board Member, Cleveland Foundation
- The Rev. Dr. Robin Hedgeman, Board Member, Cleveland Foundation
- Constance Hill-Johnson, Board Member, Cleveland Foundation
- Treye Johnson, Regional Outreach Manager, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
- Shanelle Smith Whigham, Vice President, Sustainability & Social Impact, KeyBank
- Timothy L. Tramble Sr., President & CEO, Saint Luke’s Foundation
RFP Informational Webinar
This informational webinar explains the fund’s first Request for Proposal from 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, due Feb. 26, 2021. Watch to learn about the fund’s capacity building funding priorities and its special application process.
Radio One town hall
The town hall broadcast live Feb. 11 on the Z107.9, 93.1 WZAK and Praise 94.5 Facebook pages and on YouTube and explored how the Cleveland Black Futures Fund will be supporting the capacity of Cleveland-based nonprofit organizations that are both Black-led and Black-serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the funding priorities, and who is eligible to apply for a grant from the fund?
The overarching goal of the Cleveland Black Futures Fund (CBFF) is to strengthen the ecosystem of Black leaders and Black-serving organizations in Greater Cleveland by providing intentional resources to help grow organizational infrastructure and capacity. Long term, the fund aims to deepen the field of leaders working to dismantle systemic racism and advance the community towards racial equity.
In light of the acute crisis we face, the CBFF asks fund applicants to reflect on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the community. Please note: this framing is not intended to limit the applicant pool to strictly health, public health, or social services work. We believe strongly that work across sectors will be important to the health and resilience of the community during this pandemic, including environmental work, technology, arts, policy and advocacy, and much more.
We will consider applications for work that is ongoing or already in process, as well as existing staff positions that are partially funded; please share this information in the “anything else” response box when completing your application. For more details about the application form, please review the RFP here.
Who is eligible to apply?
The Cleveland Black Futures Fund will invest in Greater Cleveland-based nonprofit organizations that are BOTH Black-led and Black serving, with the goal of building organizational capacity. Organizations based in Cuyahoga, Lake or Geauga County may apply.
Applicant organizations may operate in a range of issue areas, but grants can only be made to organizations currently holding 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. Organizations that do not currently have 501(c)3 tax-exempt status are eligible to apply in partnership with a tax-exempt organization serving as a fiscal sponsor.
What is 501(c)3 tax-exempt status and how can my organization obtain it?
501(c)3 is a section of the Internal Revenue Code that describes the requirements for an organization to be considered tax exempt by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Organizations must apply to the IRS to receive 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. Your organization must also maintain its tax-exempt status over time by following certain rules. Learn more about applying for, and maintaining, tax-exempt status here.
The Cleveland Foundation can only make grants to organizations that are recognized as tax exempt by the IRS. If your organization does not yet have tax-exempt status, you may be able to apply for a grant using a fiscal sponsor.
What is a fiscal sponsor and how does that process work?
If you are doing mission-driven work, but your organization doesn’t have tax-exempt status, you may be able to apply for a grant through a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that is willing and able to serve as your fiscal sponsor. If you decide to apply with a fiscal sponsor, the sponsor will submit the application on your behalf and must indicate the sponsorship arrangement in the application. However, the application narrative and responses should be written from the perspective of your organization. If the application is approved, the fiscal sponsor will receive the grant funds and distribute them to you. Check out these resources to learn more:
- Fiscal Sponsorship for Nonprofits (National Council of Nonprofits)
- Fiscal Sponsorship: Who Does What? (National Council of Nonprofits Infographic)
If you have specific questions about whether a fiscal sponsor is a good option for you to receive funding from the Cleveland Black Futures Fund, please sign up for virtual office hours or email ClevelandBlackFuturesFund@clevefdn.org.
What do you mean by Black-led and Black serving?
For the purposes of this grant, we seek to support organizations that have Black chief executive leadership AND that serve the Black community. Unfortunately, national data show us that the race of an organization’s executive leadership has historically been correlated with its likelihood of obtaining grant funding. Therefore, this grant opportunity is designed to be intentional about providing grant funding to organizations with Black leaders. Organizations that serve Black communities but do not have Black executive leaders will not be eligible for this particular grant opportunity.
Why organizational capacity?
Candid.org states: “Capacity building can help make an organization more focused, efficient, and productive,” and this, “makes it easier to attract the money, leadership and visibility that nonprofits need to thrive.”
What are some examples of organizational capacity activities and components?
The Free Management Library describes a host of capacity building activities, including:
- Board development
- Business planning
- Facilities planning
- Financial management
- Information technology
- Leadership development
- Legal services
- Management development
- Program design
- Quality management
- Strategic planning
This is not an exhaustive list but is meant to provide some insight into the types of activities the CBFF welcomes in proposals. Learn more about capacity building activities here.
- What is the grant application process, and when is the deadline to apply?
Download the Request for Proposals (RFP) document here for detailed application instructions.
The tentative timeline for the first round of grantmaking is as follows:
- Jan. 25: Online application process opens at noon
- Jan. 28: Webinar (click here to register)
- Feb. 1-12: Virtual office hours (click here to schedule a time)
- Feb. 11: Virtual town hall with Radio One Cleveland*
- Feb. 26: Application deadline
- April: Applicants informed of funding decisions
All applications submitted by the Feb. 26 deadline will be given equal consideration; priority will not be given to applications that are submitted early. The grant funding term is one year.
A second round of grantmaking will be announced to take place in late summer-fall 2021. Organizations are limited to one grant from the Cleveland Black Futures Fund per year (e.g., an organization that receives funding in the winter 2021 grant cycle is not eligible to receive another grant in the summer-fall 2021 grant cycle). However, organizations that apply but do not receive funding in the winter may apply again in the summer-fall cycle. You can sign up to receive email updates about the fund here.
- Why a specific fund?
The Cleveland Black Futures Fund was established to acknowledge that Black residents of Cleveland face a higher likelihood of negative life outcomes solely because of the color of their skin. In the city of Cleveland’s historically redlined neighborhoods, where more than 90% of residents are Black, the life expectancy is nearly 24 years less than in suburbs a mere seven miles away, where more than 90% of residents are white.
According to 2018 research from The Center for Community Solutions, Black residents in Cleveland are more likely to experience higher rates of infant mortality and childhood poverty, be overrepresented in the criminal justice system, be disproportionately represented in lower wage occupations and have shorter life expectancies. Data indicates that these disparities in life outcomes cross all socioeconomic barriers.
The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) has also reported that significant inequities exist within the national philanthropic field at a time when outcomes and disparities for Black children, families and neighborhoods in many areas have widened.
We are guided by the principle that the people closest to the problem are often closest to the solution. We know that there are many dynamic, trusted organizations already working within the community to eradicate these disparities and more. This fund is an intentional opportunity to incubate and accelerate the visions of active Black community leaders, especially those who have not previously secured much institutional philanthropic support.
- Where did the money come from for this fund, and will it affect the foundation’s traditional grantmaking?
Foundation staff identified a restricted fund as the source for the initial $2.5 million investment, allowing for our traditional grantmaking to proceed unaffected, which includes funding for Black-led and Black-serving organizations that apply as part of our standard monthly and quarterly grantmaking cycles. Thanks to the contributions of generous donors, the Cleveland Black Futures Fund has amassed more than $4 million since its inception.
- Why the name “Cleveland Black Futures Fund”?
The Cleveland Black Futures Fund is part of a larger movement to address historic funding inequities and well-documented disparities in outcomes affecting Black people and Black-led organizations in our communities. When choosing a name for our fund, we felt it was important that the name be short, descriptive, and inspirational – and that it acknowledge the fund’s place-based and placekeeping focus. We sought a forward-looking name that stood for something rather than against something. The name Cleveland Black Futures Fund evokes the concept of Afrofuturism, defined by sociologist Alondra Nelson as describing, “visions of the future…through the experience and perspective of African diasporic communities.” We are aware of longstanding efforts and funds nationally and in other sectors with similar names or focus areas. The Black Arts Future Fund supports Black-led arts organizations nationwide. The name also draws inspiration from our peer community foundations that have launched similar funds, such as the Seattle Foundation’s Black Future Co-op Fund. We celebrate the work of these philanthropic advocates for the Black future.
- How long will this fund exist?
Dismantling structural racism is not an overnight project. This fund is designed to launch a long-term strategy of building Black-led organizations to lead in this work. This work should be additive to, not in replacement of, what we are already funding to improve the lives of all Greater Clevelanders. We must be committed for the long haul.
- Why were other people of color and marginalized populations not included in this funding list?
We believe in working with specificity and intention. Racial inequity is not a simple Black/white divide, and the strategies and tactics to address racial inequities must be specific and tailored to communities. Furthermore, the needs of all racial and ethnic communities are too vast for one fund to address; we felt it was critical to initially develop a strategy to address some of the funding inequities that have specifically affected the Black community.
At the same time, because solutions will not be one-size-fits-all, the Cleveland Foundation is working with partners to develop strategies that address the particular needs of other communities of color.
- I want to help. Can I contribute to this fund?
The foundation encourages individual donors, philanthropic foundations and companies to contribute to the fund. Donations of any amount are welcomed, and all contributions are eligible for a charitable deduction. You can give here: ClevelandFoundation.org/FuturesFund.
If you are a Cleveland Foundation fund holder and would like to recommend a grant from your fund, please log in to the donor portal or contact your donor relations officer for instructions.
- I have additional questions. How can I learn more?
For programmatic questions or information, contact: ClevelandBlackFuturesFund@clevefdn.org.
For application or technical questions, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleveland Foundation Racial Equity Historic Milestones
Looking to learn?
Learn how the Cleveland Foundation is taking steps to promote racial equity through financial operations and structures here.