Navigating Game-Changing Grants

Financial Management

Case Study
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Case Study: PolicyLink

PolicyLink is a national research and action institute advancing racial and economic equity. Michael McAfee, President and CEO of Oakland-based non-profit, PolicyLink describes his first reaction to receiving the windfall grant as “the kind of liberatory investment needed.” A research and action organization focused on highlighting the critical issues of racial and economic justice in America, PolicyLink has been a leader in this space since 1980. Elucidating upon his reaction statement, Michael explains that PolicyLink had been functioning on very small unrestricted capital which severely limited the financial resources available for envisioning social change and ideating supporting strategies.

Emphasizing the freedoms offered by the grant, Michael and executive leadership had a three-tiered approach for financial management:

1) Operational health: Ensuring that PolicyLink moved from a start-up environment to an established organization with strong operational systems in development, finance and accounting, IT, and HR. This, he explained, was the stable foundation required to pursue program activity.

2) Results-based leadership: At the forefront of equity discussions in the United States, PolicyLink was a pioneer in the racial justice movement, but quickly found that without unrestricted funding available, it was impossible to continue to be a leader in the movement, do the strategic work of redesigning a nation, and tackle emerging emergencies. Speaking of this, Michael says, “Grant programs can help you do good work. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing the work for your generation.” With the windfall grant, PolicyLink could establish new social justice workstreams, including corporate racial equity and democracy, ultimately also working with the Biden administration in writing the racial equity executive orders that eventually passed. These new workstreams allow PolicyLink to be at the forefront of changing legal and regulatory frameworks to be more equitable for all.

3) Staff and organizational culture: Using this trust-based financing, PolicyLink created the conditions necessary for an employee-centered equity organization. The work of building and maintaining a movement must be recognized and compensated at a level that recognizes the value of the team, retains talent, and is not inadvertently contributing to inequitable working conditions/practices. PolicyLink instituted several benefits including unlimited leave policies, 100% employee benefits for staff and families, three annual reset weeks where the office was closed, and staff were allowed to restore and distribute 1.5m of the paycheck protection program (PPP) to continue to care for staff during the pandemic. We were also able to provide corporate wages to staff; “as an equity organization, we should start to close the wealth gap in our own home,” says Michael.

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