While Native American communities are barely on the radars of philanthropists in many parts of the country, concerns about indigenous tribes are front-and-center for a select few funders who are in tune with local needs. For example, the Northwest Area Foundation (NAF)—which awards grants in an eight-state region that stretches from Minnesota to Washington, Washington—recently devoted 40 percent of its new grant dollars to Native-led organizations, which added up to 46 grants worth more than $5.7 million across four funding portfolios.

The share of NAF’s grants going to Native-led groups was not random. Since 2012, this anti-poverty funder has been explicitly committed to using 40 percent of new grant money to support efforts that “produce good jobs, financial capability, and community wealth-building in Native communities.” The foundation says that there are 75 Native nations within its grantmaking region.

There are very few other funders that contribute such a large percentage of grants each year to Native-led organizations, so it’s worth taking a closer look at how NAF support plays out and what it looks like in terms of grant distributions.

Catalyzing Business

Much of NAF’s Native grantmaking relates to the economic development of these communities and helping local residents become more self-sufficient. Several new NAF grants are providing business loans to Native Americans as a way of supporting small business entrepreneurship. Business loans are part of partnerships with local banks and made in hopes of building local economies for long-term, multi-generational impact.

In addition to providing some initial capital for Native-led businesses, NAF is also interested in supporting enterprise development to drive entrepreneurship forward as a means of community investment. These grants typically go to neighborhood development centers, entrepreneur programs and community development corporations that provide training and technical assistance for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Financial Coaching and Workforce

Teaching financial literacy skills and promoting financial inclusion is another priority of NAF, both within Native communities and in the funder’s broader scope of focus. Financial coaching and education services in Native communities has the potential to drive interests in entrepreneurship and boost the future economy. Beyond just inclusion for financial matters, NAF looks to support other forms of Native inclusion too through grants, such as the $22,5000 one to the National Native American Hall of Fame to record interviews with Native inductees and inspire Native youth.

For immediate needs in Native communities, NAF looks to expand workforce programming through its quarterly grantmaking commitments. For example, the funder recently awarded $400,000 to the Denver-based American Indian College Fund to support work opportunity development at six tribal universities and colleges and also address the challenges that tribal college students often face in the workplace. Even more significant, about 75 percent of these educational institutions will receive additional grants in subsequent years from NAF for this purpose.

Census Representation

A timely interest of NAF in local Native American communities is the 2020 census because these communities are historically very underrepresented in censuses, thereby affecting the allocation of resources and political representation. To address this need, NAF awarded North Dakota Native Vote a $75,000 grant to step up its census outreach efforts in Native communities. It awarded a $175,000 grant to the Native Governance Center to do the same in South Dakota and Minnesota. This grantmaking is part of a much larger push by foundations across the U.S. to ensure that the 2020 census fully counts marginalized communities.

Nonprofit Capacity-Building

NAF is also onboard with the capacity-building trend that has been gaining a lot of steam among funders lately. For example, NAF provided a $100,000, two-year grant to Community LendingWorks to support its capacity-building initiative and help it better serve Native Americans and other minority populations. Other recent capacity-building support from NAF includes a $750,213, three-year grant to Longmont, Colorado-based First Nations Oweesta Corporation and a $240,000, three-year grant to the Billings, Montana-based Native American Development Corporation.

Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, NAF typically only accepts new grant proposals on an invitation-only basis. But it is open to new ideas from grantseekers that are submitted at any time by email or called in to the staff by phone.

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