Benjamin Griesinger In Conversation with FEX Deputy Director Charlene Allen
You’ve seen the line before: The Funding Exchange is a partnership of donors and activists. The partnership is affirmed each time donors help put resources into the hands of social change organizers. But, donors and activists in the FEX community have gone far beyond the basics, to create durable, dynamic collaborations. One of the most long-standing and effective examples of this type of partnership is our Criminal Justice Initiative (CJI).
CJI is a donor/activist circle in which each participant wears multiple hats. Those who come to the table as donors have activist credentials; those who come as activists give far more than the hours of their work week. When the group convenes, it is on a foundation of mutual respect for one another’s contributions.
We asked donor/activist Ben Griesinger to talk with us about why the circle has been a meaningful force in his life.
Why did you join the CJI circle?
I got to know young people who were incarcerated when I worked at a reentry program for formerly incarcerated young adults. I saw how unfair the criminal justice system is in terms of consequences. I had known kids in my neighborhood who did the same things as kids in the system, and I saw how unjust the consequences were for the same actions, based on race, class and the way their communities were policed versus the way my community was policed.
I wanted to fund change in the system. I knew that my perspective was limited in terms of what was going on in the country, and I liked the model that promoted participation in the decision making process opposed to being in a vacuum. I also had friends involved in the circle who said that on top of the learning and grantmaking, the process would be fun!
Why do you stay?
I stay because the process is so powerful. I get to learn from donors who come from different experiences, and who are both young and old; and from the organizers, as well. Having all of us come to consensus is amazing, beautiful, even spiritual.
I also get inspired by the fact that people are doing really good, creative work out there and it’s not the work you read about in the paper. It’s so necessary and powerful. It’s great to be a part of that even in a small way.
What is the most important aspect of the circle, for you?
The people and relationships. I have learned so much from getting to know the activists, donors, and FEX staff both professionally and personally. I also have a high school friend in the circle and we’ve gotten to know each other so much better since doing this work together. I also like learning about the whole grantmaking process and about building consensus with people around money, which usually is not something around which people build consensus. I leave from the space at the Funding Exchange knowing the system is so messed up, but understanding that there’s so much good work happening, too.