Grassroots Lifeline: How the Chinook Fund Gives for Justice in Colorado

Black Lives Matter protesters march in Denver. Photo: JosephRouse/shutterstock

Black Lives Matter protesters march in Denver. Photo: JosephRouse/shutterstock

While the name “Chinook” originates with a group of Indigenous people who lived along the Columbia River, it has been used to describe everything from weather patterns to aircraft, ships, fish, dogs and hops. Chinook is also the name of a progressive philanthropy group with a unique social justice mission.

Back in 1987, a group of young progressives came together in Colorado after they were inspired by the Funding Exchange in New York. They created the Chinook Fund as an engine for grassroots change in the state, and since then, this public foundation has grown into a powerful philanthropic force with over $3.6 million in grants distributed so far.

Here are some insights into how the Chinook Fund gives in Colorado and how local nonprofits can get involved with this funder.

Three kinds of justice work

The Chinook Fund has a single focus—promoting justice. But its justice mission takes three different angles: racial, social and economic.

Chinook pools resources from the progressive community in Colorado and then distributes them back to statewide grassroots groups. Its interests are global in nature, and include poverty, war, environmental destruction, globalization and racism. However, Chinook takes a local approach to each issue to ensure that grant money stays close to home. Other grassroots interests of the Chinook Fund include immigration, sexual violence and HIV/AIDS.

A philanthropic risk-taker

This is a funder that sees itself as a risk-taker willing to consider programs and organizations that other foundations might shy away from. Chinook tends to value new ideas and fresh thinking rather than tried-and-true programs. Only nonprofits with an activism component to their work should look to the Chinook Fund as a resource. This foundation also highly values collaboration.

The Chinook Fund prefers to work with small organizations and funds within a budgetary restriction of $350,000—referring to the prospective grantee’s current-year projected budget. Chinook also accepts grant requests from groups without 501(c)(3) status as long as they have a fiscal sponsor. To offer some examples, recent grantees include the Satya Yoga Cooperative, Gang Rescue and Support Project, Black Lives Matter and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition.

A different kind of application process

The Chinook Fund takes an unconventional, participatory approach to its evaluation process in which a group of community activists with on-the-ground experience come together to make grant decisions. Chinook works hard to ensure that its grantmaking committee is representative of the diverse communities it serves, and uses a unique consensus-based process in its deliberations.

Chinook has been giving out around $120,000 a year in grants through its community-led grantmaking process and Giving Project. Current grants range from $1,000 to $10,000, with start-up grants up to $4,000 and established grants up to $10,000.

Chinook awards grants twice a year following proposal deadlines in February and September. If you are interested in applying and want more information, the fund offers grant application workshops held about a month before each deadline.

Learn more about the Chinook Fund and its local giving in IP’s full Mountain States funding guide profile.