“Fund Like You Want a Future We Can All Thrive In”: A Conversation with donors Eileen and Leo Farbman

Published on Dec 10, 2020

We sat down with new Astraea donors Eileen and Leo Farbman of the Kolibri Foundation to learn more about their approach to giving, why they prioritize long-term and trust-based funding, and what led them to connect and partner with us.

As Astraea, we are incredibly grateful to be able to partner with a community of donor activists here in the United States and around the world. Our partnerships with our donors are built around shared values, alignment, and trust. Our donors are people with whom we have critical and honest conversations about how collective care can mean moving resources to where they are most needed and putting the least administrative burdens on our grantee partners while doing so. These relationships with donors are based in a shared sense that our movements are creating the futures we all need to thrive – and to do so, they need the resources to lean into their visions for lasting change. Together with our donors, we work to redistribute wealth and shift power for grassroots LBTQI movements working for racial, gender, and economic justice around the globe.

Mother and son duo Eileen and Leo Farbman of the Kolibri Foundation are some of Astraea’s newer donors, with our partnership beginning in early 2020. Their generous donation helped seed Astraea’s Collective Care Response, which recognizes that the repercussions of the pandemic are going to stay with us for a long time to come, and that the communities Astraea exists to support – LBTQI, Black, indigenous, Brown, migrant, poor and working class – will continue to be those hardest hit by COVID-19 while also being on the frontlines of pandemic response. Astraea aims to bolster our grantee partners now and for the long haul as they care for their communities and confront the pandemic’s impacts across the globe. 

We sat down with Eileen and Leo to learn more about their approach to giving, why they prioritize long-term and trust-based funding, and what led them to connect and partner with us. Check out the video above for highlights from our interview, or read more about our conversation below. 

Eileen & Leo would like to thank Cara Page, Thenjiwe McHarris and Lorraine Ramirez, who have been offering guidance in the process to set up the Kolibri Foundation and its grantmaking. 

Join Us: Find out more about how you can become an Astraea major donor!

On the focus of their giving: 

Eileen Farbman: We’ve really decided to take our focus to working at the intersections of racial and gender justice. To support movement building and to take our time to listen and learn and really carefully figure out the best model of granting that would work, really taking trust-building seriously and humbling ourselves and being transparent along with some movement leaders that are helping us to make Kolibri the foundation that I’ve always dreamed of having.

On what drives their giving:

Eileen: Money is only part of it for me, it’s really the trust-building, and if the grantees are up to it, the relationship-building that really excites me and being able to support those that we grant beyond just the funding that’s really exciting for me. For the past 30 years, I’ve been in philanthropy, I’ve worked with domestic violence and human trafficking survivors and throughout all of that time, I’ve seen lots of system stacked against women, women of color, disproportionately against black and brown women, and men for that matter, and I’ve always seen white leadership on top and not necessarily helping these systems get to those closest to the ground that needed it and sometimes making things very complicated. I’d really like to continue to fund the areas that I funded but really shift to helping those movements work more fluidly and more seamlessly.

Leo Farbman: I was working at the intersection of family law and incarceration, so working really with family separation and education. So when this foundation and this opportunity was lifted up as possible, I was really excited to jump on it and really take it seriously, and figure out how my work and my values could be utilized in this project. And fortunately, my folks were down with that. So we’ve been on the journey of: how do we get in line with this movement and how do we support the leadership of those closest to the issue, and understanding that our decisions and our things that we think are right are inherently filled with blind spots. How do we de-center ourselves, but still step into our power and say, “this is where we’re gonna move money.” 

On how they were inspired to connect and partner with Astraea:

Leo: I’ve organized with Resource Generation and being around movement spaces and activist spaces, I really saw how much respect and trust they were showing to Astraea. When we think about our positionality and the way we’re moving money, a big value of ours is to have a chunk of our granting going to organizations that are in relationship with those closest to the issue, and people who are re-granting and are in the field and building relationships. And knowing that we want to give directly to on-the-ground organizations as well, and we’re figuring out how to do that. 

But a big value of ours also is to step up and say, “Astraea is out there doing this, has been doing it and will continue to do it.” This is the type of organization that needs to be seeded for the present and the future. 

Eileen: I would just add: the part about granting when we did at the crisis moment for COVID was, we really just wanted to just meet the moment. Although we’re relying on the movement leaders to help us decide how we’re gonna grant, we decided, look we have to move some money, we can’t just sit here. We’re not waiting, worrying about the stock market or anything. We just really trusted in your leadership that you have a community, you have a LGBTQI community that we’re not positioned to reach out to in the ways that you are, we’re not gonna get funding to the people that really need funding, the people that are really struggling. 

On trust-based and long-term giving:

Eileen: The trust-based philanthropy or the trust-based giving is something that I’ve just always believed in, which is just sort of giving to general operating expenses. Partially because I’ve been on the development side as well as on the social work side. I know what that’s like to kind of have to jump through those hoops, and I just don’t believe it’s valuable to anybody, and it just puts a burden that’s completely unnecessary. Funding with no strings attached …we’ve never regretted it. And multi-grant commitments is really part of that. 

It helps for your stability, it helps basically for your infrastructure, and obviously it helps for your budget planning as well, just the concrete truth answer. And it really helps you to keep your kind of ecosystem that you have built in having a security that you wouldn’t necessarily have if we were giving a short-term gift. So that’s really what our goal is, and why we think it’s so important. 

Leo: I think that’s something that I think we’ve, as a foundation and a family, been able to say like, we need to fund those closest to the issue and then build a relationship…and go from there. It takes conversation but it also can’t be like, “let’s be on four calls and then maybe we’ll give money later.” That’s not building trust, that’s actually just stringing organizations along. 

On grappling with the power and privilege inherent in philanthropic giving:

Eileen: Yeah we’re very humble to the fact that there’s power and privilege and an imbalance when it comes to philanthropy, it’s inherent. We have to be humble and we have to be transparent, and we have to be accountable because there is a built-in imbalance in power and privilege that we have to acknowledge.

Leo: We are excited and walking through what it means to be in relationship around deciding what the foundation is going to look like. It’s a step further back than just grantmaking, it’s like, what’s the make up of the board? What do the investments look like? How do we want to grant? We’re definitely very much in an iterative place of what that looks like. 

On engaging in donor organizing as part of collective care:

Leo: Yeah, I think in this donor-philanthropist space, I think it’s engaging with our people in this world, the philanthropists, donors, people who just have access and a similar class background, white folks, for us Jewish folks, and engaging them in these conversations, continuing to be able to speak about it from our place, and why we care and implicate ourselves in the work, which I think is so important, and will they be committed over the long-term to engage in those conversations and challenge people, and help people move along. Because I think the closer people get to movement work, the more exciting it is and the more understandable it is. So I think it’s like bringing people in and within those conversations, getting people to move money. 

On why you should join us in fueling LGBTQI movements for racial, gender, and economic justice:

Leo: I think now is an absolutely crucial time to step up and fund Astraea and look at their track record and trust in what they’ve been doing since the mid ’70s: supporting those closest to the issue and the LGBTQI communities across the world. I think it’s clear to all of us that this is a historical and important inflection moment, so fund like you want a future that we can all thrive in.


Astraea’s blog, Collective Care Blog: Building the Power & Resilience of LBTQI Movements Now & for the Long Haulis Astraea’s response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. As a feminist LBTQI funder, we believe it is our responsibility to shed light on the ways our communities are particularly impacted by the crisis, share insights around the criticality of healing justice and collective care, as well as the ways in which we’re digging deep to keep shifting power to the grassroots in meaningful and sustainable ways.

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