Tiltings is a series of periodic dispatches from Don Quixote, muse to the Quixote Foundation.

Don likes to talk about topics that arise as we seek to support the most urgent causes at hand—even if they’re causes others don’t see. Please feel free to email Don with your questions or comments about Tiltings, or follow him as QuixoteTilts on Twitter.

The gift that doesn’t keep giving—or asking

Making gifts, not demands

We recently started writing “Thank you notes” in the form of one-time gifts to support work that moves us toward meaningful reproductive rights for all women. There’s no way to apply, no particular awards cycle, and nothing expected in return except for these bright spot organizations to carry on doing what they do best.

To kick off 2013, we’ve awarded $25,000 each for three organizations that develop leaders for the reproductive choice movement. They stand out for their concentration on youth as well as their innovative practices in communication.

  • Third Wave Foundation supports the leadership and resilience of young women, transgender, and gender non-conforming youth with grants that have totaled close to $2 million to date. Serious about representing their young community, Third Wave’s leaders typically leave the organization when they hit 35 years of age, including the recent departure of Executive Director Mia Herndon. We appreciate Third Wave’s focus on the youth who are often brushed aside in other organizations, and feel it’s especially timely to pitch in with a gift during this leadership transition.
  • Advocates for Youth helps young people make informed, responsible decisions about reproductive and sexual health, and provides a platform for discussion about related topics. Their communication work stands out as clear, inclusive, and truly bold. We especially appreciate the 1 in 3 Campaign, which aims to break through the stigma and silence surrounding personal experiences with abortion.
  • Choice USA has a long history of mobilizing emerging leaders for a youth-centered, pro-choice agenda. Their Sex [+] campaign recognizes young people’s right to sexuality, encouraging them to talk openly and make safe, empowered decisions about it. We also love their Bro-Choice initiative engaging young men in reproductive rights and justice work.

As Quixote Foundation works toward spending everything, we’re finding ourselves more focused on the specifics of what our particular contribution toward free people, fair societies and a healthy planet will be. At the same time, we feel less constrained than ever, open to new ways of getting there. We’ve always been inclined to bend the boundaries of traditional grantmaking. In many cases, that’s meant investing in intensive, long-term partnerships. In contrast, these “thank you notes” are an experiment in giving without creating a debt — our attempt to avoid making nonprofits feel like receiving a modest grant is a heavy obligation.

This approach was inspired in part by our awareness of the ways that foundations can sometimes unintentionally make nonprofits feel beholden. At Quixote Foundation we strive toward true partnership and frank communication with grantees, but we’re fooling ourselves if we pretend that money doesn’t weigh into the power dynamics. Whether we’re asking nonprofits to be more transparent than we’re willing to be, expecting flashy metrics and detailed reports on a regular basis, or giving our schedules precedence over theirs, we catch ourselves in some ingrained behaviors that reflect philanthropy’s assumptions about who has the upper hand.

The “Thank you notes” are a practical way to break some unconscious habits and create a more balanced portfolio of strategies for Quixote Foundation. This approach wouldn’t be right for all our interest areas, but in reproductive rights we believe the best way to be effective is to show our appreciation and get out of the way. The first set of notes went to policy and public awareness organizations, this set emphasizes youth, and we look forward to finding more bright spots in a variety of sectors. Here’s to simple support for what already works!