Letter from Diana Barrett Regarding Changing Strategy
Dear Fledgling Community-
It is with a mix of sadness and gratitude that I write to let you know that Fledgling is moving into a new chapter of its organizational life. After 15 years in the social issue documentary field, Fledgling is shifting gears and refocusing its strategy. To that end, we will not be reopening our application process or accepting proposals for new media projects. While this was an incredibly difficult decision and one we did not take lightly, I believe it is the right one.
As we have shared in recent newsletters, over the past year or two we have been carefully thinking about how Fledgling can use its limited resources most effectively to improve the lives of vulnerable populations. For the past 15 years, we have focused the majority of these resources on storytelling and social change. With a small staff, we supported over 400 projects and put over 14 million dollars into the field. It truly makes me proud to look at the range of issues our grantees have addressed and the important work that has been done to engage audiences and support movements. Beyond that individual project support, we focused on field building activities designed to share what we learned and to support programming and organizations that were focused on supporting storytellers in their efforts to drive social change. While there is much work still to be done, my hope is that taken as a whole Fledgling’s work has had a positive impact on the field and the world.
I want to emphasize that I continue to believe in the power of storytelling and the important role that it plays in social change. However, I also recognize that Fledgling has been able to do its work with intention and thoughtfulness because we had a small staff who were active and present in the field. Unfortunately, Fledgling does not have the internal resources to continue this structure.
As many of you know, The Fledgling Fund is a family foundation. What you may not know is that over the years we have been spending down the foundation’s assets because we believed that it was important to deploy resources sooner rather than later. And, in addition to our public facing grantmaking in the documentary field, Fledgling also supports organizations and initiatives to strengthen safety net programs, particularly in the communities where my family lives. In recent years, we have significantly increased our community-based funding to invest in innovative organizations that are working on homelessness, health disparities, youth services as well as cultural organizations. Some of these are one-time grants to support work on urgent issues and some are multi-year commitments. And, while we have not highlighted this work to the Fledgling community, I am incredibly proud of it.
As you can imagine, COVID-19 caused us to examine our grantmaking in all areas. Given the immense need, we quickly increased our community funding, contributing to various relief funds designed to get cash into the hands of individuals and families who were directly and immediately affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic, some focused on the creative community but we also supported community-based efforts focused on restaurant workers in Florida and families who needed immediate help with food and housing costs. Our board felt strongly that it was not appropriate to sit on resources in this crisis and that we needed to contribute where we could and to do so quickly. I am grateful that we had the resources to do this. We will continue to expand this component of our funding.
Finally, I want to share that as part of Fledgling’s transition, Sheila Leddy will be stepping down as Executive Director at the end of June. Please take a moment to read her letter below. While I am thrilled that she has found a new position that is aligned with her goals and values, it is hard to see our professional relationship end. Sheila and I have talked about how strange it is to be wrapping up our work together during a time when it is not possible for us to gather to mark the occasion. As you know, Sheila has been an integral part of Fledgling’s work from the beginning. She has been a thought partner to me helping to shape the organization’s strategy and has provided valuable support to many of our grantees. Personally, I will miss her guidance but also know that our friendship will continue and hope we might find ways to collaborate in the future.
I am incredibly grateful to all of our grantees for allowing us to be part of your work. I am also thankful for the many colleagues, partners, funders, and thinkers who have helped shape Fledgling’s work over the years. You pushed us to do better, to be nimble, and to take risks.
Thank you for your generosity and for the work you do.