How we’re shifting power and decision-making back to communities

Imagine this scenario. A grantmaker comes in, tells a community or nonprofit exactly what they need, provides funding for programs and services only based on what they feel is best and then leaves, never to be heard from again. 

What is wrong here? A lot. It is impersonal, it does not honor the wisdom or expertise of those closest to the issue, and it does not address what the community actually needs.

At John Rex Endowment, we know there’s a better way to approach philanthropy. 

That’s exactly why we work closely with The Kaleidoscope Project. In partnership, we’re reimagining philanthropy and shifting power back to the community (where it belongs).  

Meet the Kaleidoscope Project.

The Kaleidoscope Project is what we call an intermediary. Here’s what that means. 

We fund The Kaleidoscope Project and have since we founded the initiative in 2015. The Kaleidoscope Project in turn finds and funds equity-focused projects that improve places and spaces where children live, play and grow. 

Here’s how we like to make change happen: 

It’s a true partnership where community members lead, where lived experiences are valued and where the power lies where it should be – with the community. 

The Kaleidoscope team already has deep relationships in Wake County communities. This is incredibly helpful in both finding the right partners for community-focused work and building trust during partnerships. 

What does it look like in action?

In one recent project, the Kaleidoscope team partnered with DHIC, a nonprofit which builds high-quality, affordable housing communities in North Carolina. 

  • The project. Residents were moving into Beacon Ridge, a new DHIC community. The Manager of Resident Services wanted to support these new families by designing spaces and programs for children, right on site. 

  • The community engagement. The DHIC and Kaleidoscope teams started by asking residents to become ambassadors – the project’s community leaders. They offered a stipend to each participant. Eight residents joined the project as Beacon Ridge ambassadors. 
  • The ideas. DHIC and Kaleidoscope then led the team through a series of guided conversations and planning sessions. 
    • The ambassadors started with ideas for how they could improve Beacon Ridge to better support kids and families. Then, they collected ideas from other residents, too. 
    • Together, they debated which ideas would have the most positive impact. 
    • The residents felt like the property didn’t have enough color and felt, well, bland. They wanted the apartment complex to be a beautiful place for their kids – one they could be proud to call home. They decided that beautiful, artistic spaces would support positive mental health in the community. That’s why they chose to work with an artist to create bold, eye-catching paintings which would represent the beauty of the people living there. 
    • The team met monthly throughout this process and worked at the community’s speed! 
  • The process. The DHIC and Kaleidoscope teams helped the residents navigate the project and offered funding as well. For example, Kaleidoscope created the Request for Qualifications to put together a list of artists who could create the mural, with support from the residents. Then, the ambassadors reviewed the submissions, interviewed the candidates and chose the artist – ensuring they led every step of the process. 
  • The outcome. Residents feel empowered and a sense of ownership, as one ambassador so well shared: “I just feel like it's good to be part of this because I feel like I have a voice. It's good to be part of something – that you have the chance to even come up with something. And then when you see it happen, feeling like, wow, I was part of that. You know, like, my idea matters. And I think that's important.” And, they also have beautiful artwork in their community, making it a welcoming space that supports kids’ social emotional health. The families feel seen and represented in the artwork, which reflects the community’s residents.

What’s next? 

At John Rex Endowment, we’re a grant-making organization – but we’re aiming to be much more than that. We’re a partner. We’re advocates. We’re life-long learners. As part of our strategic roadmap, we’ve developed a clear vision for the next 20 years. 

Part of that vision is continuing this exact kind of work. Intermediaries build more equity into funding processes. Since they’re so close to the community, they understand what is truly needed to change, helping us fund smart, community-centered work – work that leads to lasting change for kids and families in our communities. 

We’re exploring ways to support the phenomenal community leaders and advocates in Wake County who are on the ground every day, doing the good work that helps our communities thrive – and continuing to shift power back to communities.

We’ll continue sharing more about this work throughout the year! 

Artwork by Candy Carver.