First Nations Development Institute is committed to building healthy economies in Indian Country based on a strategy that puts Native American communities in control of their assets. As such, it is First Nations' strategic intent to become a leader in empowering and training Indian leaders and Indian peoples in their ability to control their assets by investing in, supporting, and, where necessary, designing and developing Indian Country's most innovative strategies around control of assets and wealth creation and retention. We consider assets to include land, human potential, cultural heritage, financial resources and natural resources.
Guided by our principle which states “We believe that when armed with the appropriate resources, Native Peoples hold the capacity and ingenuity to ensure the sustainable, economic, spiritual and cultural well-being of their communities."
First Nations' mission is to strengthen American Indian economies to support healthy Native communities. We invest in and create innovative institutions and models that strengthen asset control and support economic development for American Indian people and their communities.
With the support of individuals, foundations, corporate and tribal donors, First Nations Development Institute improves economic conditions for Native Americans through technical assistance and training, advocacy and policy, and direct financial grants in five key areas:
• Achieving Native Financial Empowerment
• Investing in Native Youth
• Strengthening Tribal and Community Institutions
• Advancing Household and Community Asset-Building Strategies
• Nourishing Native Foods and Health
We invest in, support, and develop innovative economic development strategies for asset control by working with: tribal nonprofit organizations; tribal governments; and tribal for-profits. Our strategies are to educate grassroots practitioners, advocate for systemic change, and capitalize reservation communities in the focus areas of: Achieving Native Financial Empowerment; Investing in Native Youth; Strengthening Tribal and Community Institutions; Advancing Household and Community Asset-Building Strategies; and Nourishing Native Foods and Health.
First Nations' focus on economic and community development issues in Indian Country, while emphasizing the stability and strengthening of Native organizations and tribes through capacity building, presents flexibility to address a diversity of Native community needs.
In addition, our approach of bringing together our collective insight of staff and board along with the on-the-ground experience and wisdom of our grantees allows First Nations to contribute productively to Native interests related to ability to access, control and manage assets, cutting across issues of differences between Native income levels as well as tribal differences.
First Nations' expertise lies in providing training, technical assistance and financial assistance and in conducting research to promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities in Indian Country.
In the capacity of Educating Grassroots Practitioners, First Nations: provides individualized and specialized technical assistance through site visits and technology; provides group trainings through nationally significant and relevant conferences, workshops and webinars; and produces publications/educational resources. Education is appropriate to each tribes'/organization's developmental status and will further organizational development/program management capacity to support specific issues such as: enhancement of organizational management; development of communication skills; promotion of effective evaluation methods; improving financial management capabilities; fundraising training and development of fundraising strategies; and development of leadership opportunities for staff and board.
In the capacity of Advocating For Systemic Change, First Nations conducts rigorous research and collection of evidence to evaluate its supported models; and analyzes national, “big picture" trends in Native American development. Findings are synthesized into reports, publications, articles, curricula and other educational materials that are widely shared with our grantees, partners, funders, policymakers, the media and the general public through dissemination and presentations at conferences and convenings nationwide.
In the capacity of Capitalizing Indian Communities, First Nations provides grants that augment our priority of educating grassroots practitioners. First Nations' grantmaking represents high-risk, early-stage investment – often the first money invested – in many reservation-based, community development projects. The process of providing First Nations' technical assistance and training to grantees encourages grantees to contact First Nations' staff with questions, feedback, concerns and requests.
While First Nations' accomplishments are further detailed in question #5, it is important to note that these strategies have had an effect beyond establishing our organization as a premiere example in cutting-edge innovations. First Nations has:
*Launched several Native grantmaking programs (i.e., the Lumbu Aboriginal Community Foundation in Australia; Potlatch Fund; Minnesota Tribal Government Foundation; Hopi Educational Endowment Fund and New Mexico All-Indian Community Foundation); and
*Created First Nations Oweesta Corporation, First Nations' wholly-owned subsidiary, which assists the development of Native Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that in turn have a profound effect on the overall economic vitality of their community by creating entrepreneurs, homeowners and tribal businesses. The number of Native CDFI Fund-certified organizations has grown from just five in 2000 to 74 today.
First Nations nurtures an enabling environment for the growth of thriving organizations and enterprises in Indian Country, resulting in increased management and control of Native assets by Native Americans. First Nations brings to bear its high level of organization capacity building expertise through:
*A library of educational publications that support capacity building issues. First Nations has heard time and again from Native leaders that our body of work represents the best and most recent information available for Native development practitioners.
*Our non-prescriptive and tailored technical assistance and trainings (TTA) offered both virtually and in-person. First Nations assists many grantees to complete our Organizational Assessment Tool that helps to determine baseline (and progress on) organizational capacity, TTA priorities, and status of programmatic efforts.
*Our process of engaged grantmaking that provides financial resources to put dreams into action, while fulfilling our funders' interests and goals. First Nations' funding is often among the first received by an organization, allowing it to establish a positive track record and leverage other, more mainstream funding.
*Our Research, Policy and Asset Building program that leverages on-the-ground knowledge of our grantees along with other primary and secondary research conducted by our qualified research staff, resulting in high-quality publications and informing public policy campaigns. We track larger trends shaping the course of Indian Country and uncover systemic barriers to asset control and retention in Native communities. We research ways to implement solutions at the grassroots level to help communities overcome these barriers, and link grassroots efforts to national policy initiatives that promote broad systemic reform. Our research and policy work amplifies Native voices within relevant policy forums and facilitates greater opportunities for economic reform and tribal empowerment at the state and national level.
*Our diverse networks with tribes, Native nonprofit organizations, tribal colleges, Native philanthropic organizations, Native coalitions as well as non-Native groups and government agencies that extend our reach to other forward-thinking allies. Strategic partnerships, formal and informal, position First Nations as a leader in the field of Native community and economic development. First Nations brings together Native organizations and tribes that often operate in isolation from each other, and creates opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.
*Our communications strategy that includes our dynamic websites, social media, regular email updates to contacts (numbering up to 40,000), our e-newsletter and press releases. Our strategy helps promote Native issues and concerns within different sectors of society and provides a means to keep Indian Country abreast of pertinent trends, initiatives, and findings affecting their lives and their communities.
First Nations' evaluations assess primary quantitative and qualitative data, often resulting in qualitative, comparative and highly valid case studies. Data is reported by and gathered from grantees and relevant community members and tribal leaders in the form of questionnaires, surveys, focus groups and our organizations' grant reporting forms. We will also collect quantitative data to measure the number of individuals reached by our programs and grant activities.
First Nations' evaluations are overseen by our staff: Dr. Sarah Dewees, Senior Director of Research, and Asset-Building Programs, holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Kentucky; Dr. Raymond Foxworth, Vice President of Grantmaking, Development and Communications, holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder; and Benjamin Marks, Senior Research Officer, holds a M.A. in Sociology from University of California, Riverside.
First Nations evaluates the specific models used within Native community initiatives and the larger trends shaping the course of Indian Country to uncover best practices, lessons learned and systemic barriers to asset control and retention in Native communities.
For each of our projects and programs, First Nations conducts internal evaluations of project implementation – ability to meet project benchmarks and fulfill the project work plan on time and on budget – and assesses project outputs, outcomes and lessons learned. With each of our programs, First Nations creates both a theory of change logic model and a project implementation work plan that lists project activities, time-bound benchmarks, outputs, and outcomes.
By collecting formative evaluation data, we are able to conduct mid-course corrections if necessary and are able to understand whether we are successfully carrying out our activities and accomplishing project goals and objectives. Our evaluations are conducted on an ongoing basis, with regular reports offered to funders and our Board. Cumulatively, evaluations of our programs reflect our programmatic accomplishments.
First Nations has:
*Brought a focus on locally-strong and nationally-networked food systems as a way to shore up Native economies, family and children's health, elimination of hunger and food insecurity, and preservation of Native cultures and traditions. First Nations' Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) strengthens Native food systems so that food security in Indian Country will be enhanced and the health and nutrition of Native Americans will be improved. NAFSI operates through grantmaking, technical assistance, training, publications and advocacy effort.
*Stimulated a concentration by Native American communities on financial education. First Nations' culturally appropriate financial literacy and investor education curricula have positioned our organization as a leader in Native American financial education in tribal communities nationwide. Hundreds of tribal communities are implementing these curricula, including at tribal colleges, teaching thousands of Native youth and families to use credit wisely, invest safely, achieve homeownership and create assets. In addition, publications on predatory lending have alerted Native Americans and decision-makers to the prevalence of this problem in Indian communities and how consumer advocacy and public policies may address Native families' vulnerability.
*Invested in Native youth and their families through the Native Youth and Culture Fund which supports numerous youth-related projects and financial education programs. *Built healthy economies by increasing market opportunities and access among Native artists.
*Become a widely-recognized leader in the field of organizational capacity building for: federally-recognized Native American tribes; Native-controlled nonprofit organizations that are based in reservation and/or Native communities; and tribal domestic violence/sexual assault nonprofit coalitions that are working to end violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. As a result, many have: secured their IRS 501(c)(3) status, developed and implemented strategic plans, leveraged government and private funding, stabilized organizational systems, engaged community stakeholders, and initiated new programs to serve myriad community needs.
First Nations has not:
*Witnessed sufficient access to philanthropic resources by Native Americans. As reported in 2011 by the Foundation Center and Native Americans in Philanthropy, 0.3% (less than one percent) of all philanthropic funding goes to Native Americans. First Nations continues to educate mainstream philanthropy about the need in Indian Country and the positive effect such funding can have.
*Secured additional gifts to our endowment, although investments of the current level of endowment have maintained its principal and added to our grantmaking resources. First Nations continues to seek endowment grants that will help to shore up our longevity as an organization and our ability to serve our community.