Defining Our Terms










Sparkplug aims to support communities to address institutional injustices, and to build a just society.

A service project means giving to others and providing benefits to others.  A community organizing project is originated by and from the community itself.

The Sparkplug Foundation would not, to list a few examples, fund service projects that provide health care or set up a food bank, or mentor children, or counsel victims of domestic abuse. These are very useful programs that give something to others but we do not fund them.

We fund projects in three areas:  1) community organizing; 2) music; 3) education. 

We do not fund businesses.  

We do not fund service projects.

Service projects are different from community organizing. Both are necessary for our society, but we fund only community organizing projects, not service.The Sparkplug Foundation does consider grant applications from organizations of people who themselves live in similar neighborhoods or face similar conditions and/or who identify issues or problems and decide on ways to change power relationships.

Three more examples:  

  1. We would not fund a program providing social services for victims of sexual violence but we have funded programs for victims of sexual violence who organized themselves to make their voices heard.

  2. We would not fund programs that show young people how to increase their self-confidence but would consider projects by young people themselves to take action to improve their communities. 

  3. We would not fund programs that provide services to the homeless, but we have funded organizations led and staffed by homeless people.

Before you start the application process, try to figure out whether your project involves organizing or service.  Think of whether it provides a particular service to the community or if it deals with the community organizing itself.

Both community organizing and community service are important, useful and deserving of funding. But Sparkplug funds only community organizing. This quotation illustrates our approach. (Thanks to the Northland Poster Collective.)

If you give me a fish...

If you give me a fish you have fed me for a day.
If you teach me to fish then you have fed me
until the river is contaminated or the
shoreline seized for development.
But if you teach me to organize
then whatever the challenge,
I can join together with my peers
and we will fashion our own solution.

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Sparkplug aims to support projects that deal with "the whole student" and with learning as a community activity. In the past, this has included literacy projects that bring parents & kids together to learn, projects that use a neighborhood as a classroom, projects that help teachers share ideas about creative, relevant curricula, etc. We're especially interested in supporting critical and investigative thinking, and projects that address class disparities in education.

We also try to fund projects that reach a lot of people -- or a whole community -- and that can make a big difference in people's lives. Unfortunately, although many communities are affected by budget cuts that interrupt educational programs, Sparkplug can't provide funding to keep those programs operating from day to day.

Many schools are facing budget cuts that mean they have to drop important programs. To our distress, we cannot fill in those gaps. We do not fund schools, although we have funded some programs where community organizers or educators bring a program into a school.

Our focus is very specific: we try to fund community-based education as empowerment. In some cases, this means offering programs within schools that address disparities among students -- for example, we funded digital arts education in a school that serves students who are primarily foster children, where students used the skills to create commercially-marketed work. In other cases, this means community programs teaching basic skills like reading and math to youth who are not adequately served by schools. In yet other cases, this means teaching parents and kids together, so that the learning they start in the classroom continues at home.  Almost always, the programs we fund take place in locales outside schools and after the school day.

We also fund efforts by teachers to improve the education system by organizing and networking themselves. This may include materials for dissemination, websites, etc.

Although many arts projects are educational -- from exhibitions to mass-distributed video -- we do not fund those projects under our Education & Teaching focus.

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Sparkplug supports the development of music by helping to launch new voices and ideas. Generally, this means we fund emerging professional musicians or music-development programs. The funding is intended to help them gain a foothold that makes their work sustainable.

When we get applications for other kinds of music projects, like musical training for youth, we're more likely to consider them under our Education & Teaching or Grassroots Organizing focus so they should meet the guidelines described in that section. Please note that we can't provide "replacement funding" for music programs suffering from budget cuts.

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The Sparkplug Foundation is a family foundation, funded and administered in part by Palestine-born and first-generation American Jews. For this reason, we look with particular concern at the implications of funding projects in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. 

In the current climate of ethnic separation and human rights violations in the region, the Sparkplug Foundation feels that projects relating to the region must be evaluated by whether they deepen or ameliorate this climate. In accordance with our funding guidelines, the Sparkplug Foundation is unlikely to fund projects in Israel unless they involve Palestinian communities. We strongly prefer to make grants outside the U.S. via a U.S. 501c3 fiscal sponsor.

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Sparkplug does not fund projects that involve religious practice, no matter how peripheral religion is to the project. We also do not fund projects that limit their work to a religious community. For instance, we would not fund a group that begins meetings with prayer, and we would not fund a group that organizes only church-goers, even if those groups worked on issues of importance to a larger community.

We recognize that in some unusual cases, religious organizations generate projects that are not at all religious. For example, we have funded a church group that developed a completely secular education project that was open to an entire community, and was delivered without reference to religion.

We are serious and particular about funding only non-religious work. We generally do not fund applications that include a religious organization.

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On our application form, we ask you how your organization is accountable to the community in which you work, and how it addresses power imbalances within. (In case you're wondering, we mean that question to apply to all applications, not just community organizing.) Often we get honest and well-meaning answers like "our board is very diverse, and takes all views into account when making decisions about our work." This is not quite what we mean by community accountability and inclusion.

There's plenty of discussion out there about how to do this, and what outcomes to accept. We don't have a prescription. Instead, we start by knowing that power imbalances in the larger world intensively affect how work happens in any organization. Those imbalances aren't just about fairness. They're often about violence, whether violence is real, threatened or just possible because of power imbalances. They affect how people within organizations interact, and how organizations make decisions that affect others in their communities.

Community accountability means that power imbalances are acknowledged, that organizations have made an effort to understand how they affect their work, and that some means of addressing them are in place. Inclusion means that the organization deliberately structures itself so that people on the downside of power imbalances can freely participate.

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