Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions

Strengthening Tribal & Community Institutions

Through grant support, technical assistance and training, First Nations provides tribes and Native communities with the tools and resources necessary to create new community-based nonprofit organizations and to strengthen the capacity of existing nonprofits and tribal agencies or departments. For more than 35 years, First Nations has supported hundreds of model projects that help revitalize Native communities, while integrating social empowerment and economic strategies. First Nations believes that by bolstering tribal and community institutions, we are helping to build economically stronger and healthier Native communities for the long term.

First Nations' L.E.A.D. Institute Conference

An essential component of First Nations' nonprofit capacity-building strategy is our Leadership, Entrepreneurial, and Apprenticeship Development (L.E.A.D.) Institute Conference that trains emerging and existing Native nonprofit leaders, including staff members from many of our grantee organizations. For 20 years First Nations has held an annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference for Native American nonprofit professionals, tribal leaders and anyone interested in Native nonprofits, business and philanthropy. We widely publicize each year's conference, which is usually held in September or October. The 2016 conference -- the 21st annual -- will be held Sept. 27-29. Information on this year's conference can be found at

Current Projects

Urban Native Project

First Nations Development Institute and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition (NUIFC) partnered in 2013 to conduct the three-year “Urban Native Project” aimed at “off reservation” Native American population centers. Significant funding from The Kresge Foundation and supplemental support from the Comcast Foundation makes this effort possible.

The project’s goal is to support new and expanded activities in urban American Indian environments with the goal of improving opportunities that can be attained in all Native American urban communities.  During the project, First Nations and NUIFC will work directly with as many as nine urban American Indian and/or Alaska Native nonprofits to help them improve their capacity and leadership skills through customized technical assistance and training.

The project targets the 78% of American Indians/Alaska Natives who live off reservation, according to Census Bureau data.  Historically, First Nations has worked with rural and reservation-based Native communities, so it partnered with NUIFC in order to bring the significant strengths of both organizations to the effort. Urban Indian organizations, some of which were launched in the 1940s and 50s, are an important support to Native families and individuals, providing cultural linkages as well as being a hub for accessing essential services.

The grantees for the 2015-2016 period are the American Indian Child Resource Center in Oakland, California; American Indian OIC in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Hawaiian Community Assets, Inc. in Honolulu Hawaii; and Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The grantees for the 2014-2015 period were the Chief Seattle Club in Seattle, Washington; Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, Inc. in Buffalo, New York; and the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, Oregon.

The grantees for the 2013-2014 period were the Denver Indian Center and the Denver Indian Family Resource Center in Colorado; the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland, Oregon; and the Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Nurturing Native Givers and Giving

In 2014 First Nations launched a project called Nurturing Native Givers and Giving, which is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving Initiative. It is designed to further democratize philanthropy and direct more philanthropic resources to Native communities. This is being achieved, in part, by raising awareness of programs funded by First Nations though the development of the first-of-its-kind crowdfunding site called A pilot project, promotes a group of our current and past grantees who are focused on promoting the health and well-being of our most valuable resource – our youth.

Dedicated to strengthening and improving the lives of Native children and families, also raises awareness of the critical needs in the communities we serve. In addition to, the project also provides grantees web-based training while offering other resources to grantees such as one-on-one coaching.

Nurturing Native Givers and Giving also includes strengthening workplace-giving programs, conducting several convenings of groups like Native grantmakers, and the publication of reports highlighting philanthropy in Native communities as well as identifying strategies to direct more funding to Native communities.

Northern Great Plains Mapping Ecological Stewardship Opportunities Project

First Nations launched the Northern Great Plains tribal ecological stewardship project in late 2014. In 2015, the project is collaborating with several tribes in South Dakota and Montana – including the Standing Rock Sioux, Cheyenne River Sioux, Lower Brule Sioux, Crow Creek Sioux, Oglala Lakota Nation, Rosebud Sioux, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux, and Fort Belknap Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes – to explore and inform tribal ecological stewardship practices in the Great Plains of South Dakota and Montana as well as provide a forum to consider the relationship between responsible ecological stewardship practices and economic development strategies for tribally controlled areas of the northern Great Plains region.

This project is supported in part with a grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

HUD OneCPD and ONAP Technical Assistance Capacity Building

The purpose of this grant is to increase the ability of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Tribal or Tribally-Designated Housing Entity grantees to successfully administer HUD programs in their local communities through the development, implementation and evaluation of housing services.

Our capacity building activities are based on impact-focused training to tribal program managers, directors, board members and housing staff in strengthening their skills, competencies, abilities, resources and technical expertise to carry out housing programs. It may require managing economic or demographic changes, learning new laws and rules in self-monitoring, reviewing and implementing state and federal housing regulations, or updating or amending Indian Housing Plan/Annual Performance Reports.

Combating Domestic Violence in Native American Communities

Since 2007, First Nations Development Institute has partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice through its Office on Violence Against Women Tribal Affairs Unit to provide critically-needed technical assistance to build the capacity of the 21 Native American nonprofit tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions in the United States. First Nations provides one-on-one tailored training and technical assistance through in-person site visits to the coalitions, as well as customized training Institutes that provide leadership development, organizational management, program development, and community engagement.

Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition

The Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC) located in St. Paul, Minnesota is one of three state tribal domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions. MIWSAC hosts several programs in areas of education and training, membership and outreach, and public awareness that aim to educate the community on how to identify and stop violence against American Indian women and children. The Barrette Project at MIWSAC honors survivors of sexual violence in a display that anonymously recounts survivors' stories. The MIWSAC has created this platform where the stories of survivors can be heard in a safe way.

Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI)

About the NACBI

First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) works to build healthy economies in Indian Country based on strategies that emphasize Native communities controlling their assets of production. Today, there is an unprecedented opportunity to increase market opportunities and access among artists in Native communities by helping position them to produce, market and sell their art while at the same time supporting art as an integral cultural asset in Native communities.

First Nations believes that Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs represent key institutional assets of tribes and play an essential role in supporting the field of Native arts and artists who are striving for economic self-sufficiency and cultural preservation. First Nations established the Native Arts Capacity Building Initiative (NACBI) in 2014 with the goal of increasing the organizational, managerial and programmatic capacity of these Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs in an effort to enhance their long-term sustainability and stability as they work to meet the needs of their constituent artists. The NACBI is supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation along with contributions from tribal, corporate and individual supporters.


NACBI Funding Opportunities

In 2014 and 2015, First Nations awarded a total of 12 grants to Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs serving Native artists in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota, for a total of $348,000. In 2016, First Nations will award six additional Native arts capacity-building grants to Native nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs in the same region.

In addition to the organizational and programmatic capacity-building grants under the NACBI, First Nations awarded a total of $17,700 in mini-grants to Native-controlled nonprofit organizations, tribal government programs, and Native arts markets in the four-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota to support professional development of leadership and staff. Grant recipients utilized the mini-grants to attend professional development meetings, conferences and other trainings. First Nations will continue to support professional development opportunities for the staff of Native-controlled nonprofit organizations and tribal government programs serving Native artists in 2016.

NACBI-funded projects cover a variety of areas, including developing Native artists’ business skills, art gallery revitalization efforts, creating sustainable business and marketing plans for grantee organizations, establishing Artists Divisions within grantee organizations to bolster the organizational focus on art entrepreneurs, developing and implementing reservation-wide arts marketing programs, receiving grantwriting and other fundraising training to better position organizations to expand their revenue base, and attending national arts conferences and trainings to expand grantee organizations’ networks and opportunities.

NACBI Grantee Training and Technical Assistance Opportunities

Besides direct project funding, First Nations provides NACBI grantees with one-on-one technical assistance based on their needs identified in First Nations’ Capacity Assessment Tool. Grantees also receive scholarships to attend small regional capacity building trainings. Finally, First Nations provides NACBI grantees with the opportunity to participate in First Nations’ annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference. The 2014 and 2015 NACBI grantees attended First Nations’ 20th Annual L.E.A.D. Institute Conference held September 23-24, 2015, at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The 2016 NACBI grantees will have the opportunity to attend First Nations’ 21st Annual L.E.A.D. Institute in September 2016. The L.E.A.D. Institute (Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development program) is an intensive learning, mentoring and networking event for emerging and existing leaders and staff members of Native nonprofits, tribal government programs, and philanthropic professionals.

2016 NACBI Grantees