Building Capacity in the Triangle: An Interview with Tanaya Suddreth Lynch

Black Philanthropy Month is celebrated each August to highlight the importance of investing in Black philanthropy, leadership, and funding equity. Triangle Capacity Building Network (TCBN), a funder collaborative currently made up of six foundations, is focused on disrupting the status quo in the nonprofit sector and changing the narrative of traditional philanthropic practices. A key feature of the work is focused on organizations led by and serving Black and brown individuals that have been excluded or overlooked by power structures and funding cycles.  

In this interview with Tanaya Suddreth Lynch, Triangle Community Foundation’s Senior Program Officer for Capacity Building Initiatives, she highlights the Network’s priorities and goals and reflects on her personal vision for philanthropy in our community.

1) For those unfamiliar with Triangle Capacity Building Network (TCBN), can you describe what the network is and how it is connected to Triangle Community Foundation? 

TSL: TCBN is a funder collaborative currently made up of six foundations. Those include the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, Fidelity Charitable Trustees Initiative, John Rex Endowment, Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, Oak Foundation, and Triangle Community Foundation.

2) What sparked the creation of TCBN?

TSL: In 2014, a local nonprofit collapsed and funders from across the Triangle came together to help.  After this unforeseen event, these funders began meeting regularly to discuss how they could collaborate on better supporting the region’s nonprofit sector. Since then, they have engaged in research with the NC State University Institute for Nonprofits and had conversations with local nonprofits about capacity building. From those conversations and the research gathered, the strategic direction was built with the desired outcome of creating stronger nonprofits in the Triangle.

3) What gap is TCBN filling in the community?

TSL: I’d say TCBN is filling two major gaps. The first one comes from research we conducted with NC State revealing that organizations need capacity building support. While funding is a common denominator with all the challenges organizations face, nonprofit leaders have learned to be resourceful and ‘make something out of nothing.’ Having the resources and funding to develop infrastructure and support for their organizations would help them have a bigger impact towards their mission. So, that’s number one – providing capacity building.

The second gap that TCBN is addressing, which is probably the most important, is shifting power and providing financial resources to organizations led by people of color. Our grantmaking and program investment strategy is informed by both nonprofit data on access to capital and acknowledgment of how past injustices manifest in present day disparities. One key finding from our research and discussion is that nonprofits in the Triangle are predominantly white led, which isn’t reflective of the clients and communities these nonprofits are serving. So, it is important for TCBN to help ensure that decision-making power with our grantmaking and investments beyond the grant are done in collaboration with voices most representative of community served.

4) Formed in 2014, TCBN built strategic direction to work towards creating the strongest nonprofits in the Triangle. For those who aren't familiar with the nonprofit environment, what makes a nonprofit "strong" in our region?

TSL: Building strong nonprofits is a circular process. Essentially, an organization is only as strong as their donor base empowers them to be. TCBN has a component focused on educating donors and other funders about how to help build stronger nonprofits. One example that TCBN has been championing is the concept of full cost funding, building upon the traditional focus of supporting programmatic work of the organization, as well as taking into consideration ALL the costs associated with fulfilling the organization's mission (think staff time, IT, financial management, etc.). Without proper infrastructure, it’s hard for a nonprofit to run its programs and maximize impact. Donors need to be aware of all the resources organizations need to have the desired impact. Through donor education, the goal is that support will allow nonprofits to access more resources in the future.

Over the years, the way that TCBN thinks about strong nonprofits has evolved. Currently we define a strong nonprofit as one that has access to skilled, diverse, and high-quality capacity building providers, opportunities, and resources necessary to thrive in a way that is self-defined by the organization. Our most recent strategic plan, completed in the fall of 2021, identified the following priorities in helping to build stronger nonprofits in the Triangle:

  • Access to back-office infrastructure & shared services
  • Access to funding & diversified revenue streams
  • Access to nonprofit coaching & networks of peer support
  • Access to funding for leadership training & capacity building
  • Opportunities for nonprofit leader self-care

5) Black Philanthropy Month aims to shine a light on the importance of supporting Black-led organizations and funding equity. Can you describe the importance of organizational leadership reflecting the clients and communities served?

TSL: We know that BIPOC communities have faced systemic barriers to accessing capital and other resources. It’s important we specifically invest in BIPOC-led organizations because these are the folks on the ground and most proximate to the problems our communities are facing. As funders, we’re multiple steps removed and therefore less informed, and these leaders bring lived perspectives to the table. Our office spaces and boardrooms are not typically inclusive of those voices who benefit, so without intentional intervention, through investment in these organizations, we run the risk of perpetuating the same cycle of inequity. If there is no change, things will remain the status quo, which obviously isn’t working.

6) How can community members who might not have the ability to invest monetarily support Black philanthropy?

TSL: Crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising are the backbone of the Black community and how we support one another. I’ve experienced this impact personally. Last month, a family member was hospitalized. One of her bridesmaids reached out to the entire wedding party to help and we quickly raised over $1,000 in support. Even if you have just fifteen dollars, that can go a long way! By spreading the word and reaching out, you can collectively make a difference.

Also, volunteering is so important. One of our grantees recently sought help signing thank you cards to donors. That’s one easy way to donate time to have an impact on an organization. If you’re experienced in a particular industry, donate your skillset! Accounting, grant writing, IT support - these are all ways you can “donate.” Nonprofits can really use that extra help!

Lastly, learn more about the Black experience and that of other marginalized groups. Whether that be through training, reading books, or stepping outside of your comfort zone, it’s important to diversify your networks and friend circles. A lot of people don’t have folks of other demographics in their friend circles and having that alone allows you to see challenges they face, which may or may not be different from the challenges you face. However, you’ll never know that if you’re not engaging with people that aren’t like you on a regular basis.

7) Imagine it’s 2030. What are three goals you would like TCBN to have met related to capacity building in the community?

TSL: First, I’d like to see TCBN become an influencer of philanthropy across the Triangle and the state. I’d like to see more organizations engage with TCBN to ensure more dollars are going to BIPOC-led organizations.

Next, I’d like to see more foundations in the Triangle and beyond doing more work to shift power to and include the voices of those with lived experience in their decision-making process through participatory grant making strategies. It’s a learning process that isn’t easy and can be more time intensive, but at the end of the day, this approach ensures the resources and funding provided truly meet the needs of the community.

Lastly, I’d like for BIPOC-led organizations to be able to operate in a more entrepreneurial way, with more diversified revenue streams and less dependence on philanthropic dollars. I believe social entrepreneurship is the key to organizational sustainability and would like to see more organizations find ways to leverage the work they are already doing to finance their operations. Philanthropic dollars are often limited, and foundations might have priorities that don’t align with the mission of some organizations. I hate to see an organization mold their mission to a foundation's expectations in order to receive philanthropic funding. If there’s a need in the community, we want you to work to address that need.

"We want funders and donors to understand it is a privilege to invest in these organizations because they are doing such great work and have a great understanding of the challenges and needs within the community."  - TCBN Grantee

8) Lastly, how has TCBN impacted your personal vision of philanthropy?

TSL: Prior to joining TCF, I had worked in development, but this was my first official role in philanthropy. I was familiar with the structure of things, such as grant reports, or knowing when to pull out your best work clothes for a check-in meeting with a funder, and overall was aware of how traditional philanthropy operated. However, since leading this work with TCBN, my vision for philanthropy has changed completely.

The main point is about shifting power to community. TCBN has engaged in participatory grantmaking, and we have invited community members and our nonprofit partners in to share what our intentions and plans are. It’s common practice to have the nonprofit voice at the table to decide how we move and how we plan major decisions for the Network. The more I have been involved in philanthropic conferences and conversations, alongside hearing our grantees talk, while reflecting on my past experiences as a development professional, I’ve realized not everyone operates this way. And I ask myself, “Why not?” We don’t know the challenges these organizations are facing on the ground, so we can’t make decisions for these leaders because we haven’t experienced them firsthand.

Lastly, the value of listening and then acting on what you’ve learned has impacted me so much in this space. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Network’s funders came together with the goal of helping nonprofits. We created a request for proposal (RFP) and thought, “This is exactly what they need!” After sharing it with TCBN grantees, they were so thankful we wanted to help, but their feedback was a wakeup call. The support we were offering actually wasn’t what they needed. So, what did we do? We listened to their feedback and included support for challenges they were actively facing.

Again, we don’t know what is happening until we listen to our nonprofit community. Let’s be responsive to what they need. This has been the biggest impact on my vision of philanthropy now, and what it can be in the future.

To learn more about TCBN, click here. If you'd like more information about how you can help, please reach out to Tanaya Suddreth Lynch, Senior Program Officer for Capacity Building Initiatives.