ABHMS holds virtual ‘Converge: Palmer Grant Consultation II’

VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 11/22/21)—When American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) hosted “Converge: Palmer Grant Consultation II” virtually on Tuesday afternoon, in attendance were approximately 60 representatives of the 42 organizations that received grants from the Virginia and Gordon Jr. Palmer Trust last year.

In opening the event, the Rev. Rothangliani Chhangte, ABHMS’ senior associate for Grants, Partnerships and Strategy Alignment, said of the Palmers: “We are thankful for the tremendous, wonderful gift that they left behind.”

The speaker for the event was Joy Anderson, who works at the intersection of finance and social change as founder and president of the Criterion Group, a financially-focused activist think tank.

Anderson asked how grantees match funding to their projects since projects can challenge the systems of power. “How do we fund social justice activities when social justice activities challenge the power structures? The funding structures are embedded in the structures we’re trying to disrupt,” she said.

Noting that Jesus’ talk of money was actually about relationships, Anderson said systems of funding must be transformed into relationships.

The invitation for questions yielded queries from participants that included: “Where is the line from power to control in this ‘relationship’?” “If the institutions in power are funding programs to preserve their positions, are we serving their purposes instead of changing the system?” “What are the strategic ways of creating spaces to sit at the table with power and privilege?” “How do you know which relationship is the right relationship to seek to achieve one’s objectives? There are many relationships as it pertains to funding that are needed to create the change we seek.”

Anderson expressed concern with a macro shift at which time society began to defer to business as best able to create social change. “The mission of my organization is to change who sees themselves as able to use finance to create social change.”

She noted that grantees need to see themselves as more than recipients; instead, they need to actively shape power dynamics in the funding ecosystem.

Participants were divided into small online groups to answer the questions, “What are the power dynamics in your funding context?” and “What are our opportunities to shape those power dynamics?”

“In recent years, there is much more control exerted by those who give us money than there was before,” said John Holzhuter of Ottawa (Kan.) University. “Even with our American Baptist partners, when politics comes in, it becomes uncomfortable. I don’t want to take your money if I don’t want to take your position.”

Verónica Cotto of American Baptist Churches of Puerto Rico asked, “When should we seek to sit at the table and create a space for us and disempowered people? When should we flip the table and say, ‘No, we’re not going to be part of it?’”

Anderson agreed that it is stressful for an organization to take funding that isn’t directly aligned with one’s mission. “The answer to all of this is relationships,” she said.

Noting that best practices around fundraising are centered in building relationships, Anderson offered the following practices for relationship building:

  • “Engage in conversations that have no particular point.
  • Being hospitable requires an openness to be transformed by those you encounter.
  • Map the power dynamics in your ecosystem, and continually shift the picture you hold.
  • Borrow power from allies, and remember to give back.
  • Use your power of invitation, and reflect on what enables others to see themselves in your invitation.
  • When you finally engage in a transaction, structure it clearly and ask for what you need to be successful.”

Anderson added: “Jesus models how to transform relationships, which includes economic relationships.”

About Palmer grants

Application for ABHMS Palmer grants is by invitation only to American Baptist churches or American Baptist-related entities. In 2020, ABHMS Palmer grants ranged from $5,000 to $15,000. Awarded in a two-year cycle, ABHMS Palmer grants are distributed in November. Bearing a new theme for each cycle, the ABHMS Palmer grant theme for 2020 was “Christian Discipleship & Witness in the Time of COVID-19.” The next round of ABHMS Palmer grants is in 2022, and the deadline for applications will be determined this spring by the American Baptist Foundation.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.