Funder FAQ: Astraea National Lesbian Foundation

What is the Astraea National Lesbian Action Foundation?
Astraea is a multicultural, feminist, public foundation whose mission is to distribute funds and provide assistance to organizations and projects that directly benefit or serve lesbians and to expand the community of individuals and institutions financially supporting lesbian issues.

Astraea’s mission is realized through a variety of program activities, including grantmaking, technical assistance, philanthropic education and organizing, and community building which foster progressive social change and the eradication of all forms of oppression and exploitation.

When and why did the Astraea Fund come into being?
Astraea was incorporated in 1978 as a regional (northeast) womens’ foundation which was inclusive of lesbians. The Founding Mother’s dream was to build a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-class foundation that would create a new kind of philanthropy which was responsive to and inclusive of women. In 1990, Astraea became a national foundation that focused on supporting organizations and projects that placed lesbians at the center of a larger vision for progressive social change. Most of our funding comes from individual donations.

The driving philosophy behind the Astraea Foundation is…?
To operate in a feminist way that is geographically, racially inclusive and economically diverse, that respectfully involves staff, board, volunteers, and our constituency in appropriate levels of the decision-making process. We work to involve lesbians across ages, physical and mental abilities, sexual and gender identities, national identities, and religious affiliations in the dialogue for change.

What are the other grant programs you administer?
U.S Grants Program; International Fund for Sexual Minorities; Lesbian Writer’s Fund; Margot Karle Scholarship; and Donor-Advised Funds. Astraea has given away more than $2.2 million in grants.

What additional programs do you offer to help propel your mission forward? Any that are specific to media artists?
Our U.S Grants Program funds film/video projects. Our Development Program includes the Membership Program, Leadership Giving Circles, Smart Women/Smart Money Conference, Events and Houseparties, and a Lesbian Visual Arts Project. We also offer training and technical assistance on fundraising, community building, leadership development, and financial management.

How has the funding climate for independent media changed since Astraea was incepted? Do you find that foundations have difficulty understanding media as a tool for social change?
It has been historically difficult for film/video and other kinds of media, such as print media, to get funding as a tool for progressive social change. The Right has always seen these tools as essential building blocks for supporting their movement-building. We need to do the same. That is why Astraea has prioritized giving to film/video and other media projects that help to represent the depth and complexity of lesbian experiences that document, reflect, and push lesbian involvement in our movements for change.

What types of projects do you seek?
We focus on funding lesbian-led film/video projects which explicitly address lesbian issues while making the interconnections between other oppressions within their work. Their process must be inclusive of the individuals they seek to represent.

Can individuals apply for Astraea grants or are they limited to organizations?
Individual film and video makers can apply with a fiscal sponsor.

What’s your advice on finding the right organization to be a fiscal sponsor? What are some other aspects to this relationship that filmmakers should take advantage of?
Find a fiscal sponsor that is in line with your own mission and values. It is helpful to find a fiscal sponsor that has a film/video fiscal sponsorship program already set up, because they can point you to other sources of support and can often provide other technical assistance workshops to help you through your production process.

What percentage of Astraea’s overall budget goes towards film or video projects?
Approximately 20% of our U.S. Grants Program grants are to film/video projects.

How many media awards are given out per year? What is the total dollar amount awarded annually?
There is no limit to the amount of awards. In the last three years, we have funded from five to 15 projects per year at approximately $25,000 annually.

What is the average size of a grant?
Generally $1,000-$6,000; the average is near $3,000.

What’s the ratio of applicants to recipients?
We receive about 30 to 40 film/video applications per year. 1 out of 3 applicants are chosen to receive grants.

What are the restrictions on applicants’ qualifications?
We generally do not fund student projects. And applicants must be based in the U.S.

Do you fund projects at various stages of production? Can individuals come back to the Fund at various stages of production?
We fund pre-production, production, post-production, distribution. A grantee can reapply but it must be at another stage of production than their last grant.

Name some of the best known titles and/or artists Astraea has funded. What have been some of the distribution/exhibition paths of those projects?
Living With Pride: Ruth Ellis at 100 by Yvonne Welbon, Sambal Belacan by Madeleine Lim, Out at Work by Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson, I’m Starving by Yau Ching, Treyf by Alisa Lebow and Cynthia Madansky, The Brandon Teena Story by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir, MURDER and Murder by Yvonne Rainer, Paulina by Vicki Funari, Seduction Stories: Five Black South African Lesbians by Barbara Hammer, and Dyke TV in New York, NY.

In regards to distribution, many of these films and videos have gone beyond the traditional LGBT [lesbian/gay/bisexual/transexual] and womens’ film festivals to other festivals, targeted community groups and organizing conferences around the country.

Explain your funding cycle and deadlines.
We have an annual postmark deadline of November 1. Applications can be downloaded from our website.

Are there time frame restrictions within which the funds must be used?
Generally, the funds should be used within a year of receipt.

Who are the Program Officers?
Myself, Christine Lipat, Program Officer; Netta Mekhaeel, Program Assistant; and Katherine Acey, Executive Director.

Who makes the awards decisions? Name a few of your past panelists.
A volunteer Community Funding Panel of activists from around the country including those with film/video backgrounds. Past panelists include Graciela Sanchez, Happy Hyder, Mai Kiang, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Kathleen Morris, and dozens of others.

Tell us a little about the review process.
If an applicant fits our criteria and guidelines, they are assigned to be interviewed (either by phone or in person) by a member of our Community Funding Panel. Sample videos and clips are screened; and the project is then presented by the interviewee/panelist to the larger CFP for discussion on whether or not to award a grant. For a November deadline, applicants are notified by the following March/April.

What advice do you have for media artists in putting forth a strong application?
Involve your constituents in the process, whether it be advisory or as crew; have a clear target audience and vision of how this could be used as a tool for social change; provide a plan for how you will support the distribution of it beyond sending it to film festivals or signing up with a distributor; involve crew members or an advisory team that can show evidence of artistic merit; provide a treatment which illustrates your approach.

What is the most common mistake applicants make?
Most distribution plans are weak. A distribution plan shows us the vision for how the film/video will actually reach the target audience, how the filmmaker plans to distribute her film/video to the hands of organizers who can use it as a tool for social change, and how she plans to help change people’s thinking around an issue or lifestyle.

Sometimes applicants say that they plan to reach anyone and everyone but they do not explain the feasibility, the why or the how. If the target audiences are not clear to the filmmaker or to us as readers, chances are the point of the story might not be so clear either.

An additional mistake is that too much emphasis is placed on the project’s underlying philosophy without a clear treatment outline or plan.

What would people most be surprised to learn about the Astraea Foundation and/or its founders?
We are one of the largest lesbian organizations in the U.S. We provide one of the largest annual grants to emerging lesbian writers. We are the only LGBT foundation that runs an international grantmaking program.

Other foundations or grantmaking organizations you admire:
The Funding Exchange, Global Fund for Women, Boston Women’s Fund.

Famous last words:
Have a vision and live it for yourself and in the service of others.

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