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True Change Comes From the Ground Up: Fiscal Sponsorship

By Caitlin and Micah

Five years ago, GWI was approached to provide fiscal sponsorship to a new initiative that was looking to get off the ground quickly here in Kingston. At the time, we had little understanding of what fiscal sponsorship was or how it could support our mission. But as with much of our work at GWI, we approached it with an open mind and a desire to support. At first, fiscal sponsorship was an administrative function of our organization, pushing digital documents back and forth, trying to create the perfect paper trail to fulfill the very real legal requirements of this service. Over time, we started to see something else in the program, something unique and special about GWI’s potential out in the world. 

We, Micah and Caitlin, make up the GWI Fiscal Sponsorship circle, and together we have had the privilege to meet with people hoping to do Just Transition-aligned work across the country. Our program’s front door is a relationship. We always start with a conversation because our mission relies on the collective power of people working together. In speaking with so many people doing amazing work, we started to lock in on a vision of fiscal sponsorship as a driver of Just Transition. 

We believe that true change comes from the ground up, it takes a great many small things to truly create a movement. However, whenever money is involved, things get complicated quickly. Most organizations, whether they are businesses, organizations, cooperatives, or volunteer groups, exist in a world where regulatory requirements can create choke points, stifling the momentum and creative energy that are the building blocks of change. What fiscal sponsorship can do is remove or minimize those roadblocks, enabling new ideas to take root quickly and effectively.

Fiscal sponsorship allows folks operating outside of the traditional nonprofit complex to access donors. In many ways, it is a simple thing, and for many of our projects, GWI’s fiscal sponsorship is the first stop on their way to becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit. However, there are some initiatives that don’t want to take this route, that are looking to do things differently, or are operating so far outside the scope of mainstream philanthropy, that the path forward is not a simple one. And this is where we have found the true impact of this program. When we support a great many things, big and small, traditional and emergent, inside and outside various systems of power and privilege, we are doing our part to strengthen and diversify the Just Transition movement.  

And after 5 years, we are starting to see what is possible with fiscal sponsorship. Today, we sponsor 13 different projects, working across the full scope of Just Transition principles. We are in awe of our projects, and humbled by the small role we get to play in their success. As a circle, we are hard at work building out new resources to help them succeed, and thinking of ways we can more deeply connect them with our network. We will be introducing them more formally to you all soon, so stay tuned!

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