2023-2028 Strategic Plan 

Our Mission: To invest in people, programs and movements that benefit Colorado’s youth and families.

Our Vision: That all Colorado youth and families have opportunities to thrive.

Executive Summary
Amy and John Lawton believed every person deserves respect and the opportunity to be empowered to improve their lives, thus the Foundation was created to invest in people, programs, and movements that benefit Colorado’s youth and families. The team at AJL Foundation carries our mission forward by investing our intellectual, reputational, social, and financial capital in support of and alongside communities across Metro Denver and the San Luis Valley.

How We Use Our Strategic Plan
Our strategic plan provides guidance and agency for the broader AJL Foundation team to learn and take action while ensuring we recognize humanity in all, including ourselves. We will track our progress against the strategic plan by:

  • Intentionally planning quarterly moments of pause to revisit the strategic plan, evaluating progress based on the success metrics, and capture what we learn as we go so we can course correct where needed.
  • Being transparent with our strategic plan to allow external partners to hold us accountable.

Bringing Love and Humanity Back to Philanthropy
Transformational community work is more than tracking numbers and cases; it’s about bringing love back to the core of what we do. We face challenges in centering love as a metric because business, including philanthropy, historically focuses on dominant norms of power without regard to the stories from the people we intend to serve and the important metrics of how people feel and what motivates change is avoided. Yet, love is the root of where change begins. We name the following challenges as focus areas for AJL:    

  • Families and youth face concurrent crises with too many programs aimed at fixing them rather than fixing root causes. For many families and youth nestled between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges in the San Luis Valley, and living at the foot of the Front Range in Metro Denver, the beauty around them is overshadowed by the realities of lifetimes spent living within unjust systems. Historical and present day systems of oppression in Colorado have excluded many of the longest-term residents resulting in mounting crises for many families and youth: food and basic needs insecurity, inaccessible and often harmful education and healthcare systems, limited opportunity for home ownership or wealth generation, racially-biased banking and financing, disconnection from and forced assimilation from language, culture and traditions, limited access to livable wage employment, disproportionately affected by climate change and more. 

    In spite of these immense barriers and challenges, families and youth continue to fight for equity, call out injustices, spread vision and hope, and chart paths of resilience. Their voices have been heard and initiatives have started, legislation has been passed, and systems are starting to change. But without doing everything we, as a collective philanthropy, can do to unlock potential and lift up harmony across community, the transformations needed for a more just society will continue to move too slowly. We must unite more closely with families and youth.    
  • Nonprofit organizations and community organizers have to do it all with almost nothing at all. The nonprofit sector works to address and mitigate these present-day crises for families and youth but many do so with limited power and resources while also facing emotional and physical burnout, unsustainable organizational structures, racism, sexism and unchecked capitalism. Nonprofit organizations and community organizers are burdened with parallel priorities - supporting youth and families with basic needs and access to opportunities to thrive, while also working to reimagine, dismantle and rebuild systems that serve everyone, not just the privileged few. 

    Nonprofit leaders and teams are working feverishly and doing a phenomenal job of serving families and youth harmed by systemic oppression and some nonprofits are working to change the systems; but they can’t do it alone. Sharing power with and building power for collective liberation alongside nonprofits and organizers is fundamentally about love fused with power. As a funder, we must use our power and privilege to shore up the changes nonprofits need.    
  • Philanthropy continues to harm instead of heal. The truth is that philanthropy has - historically and currently - helped to build and maintain these inequitable and oppressive systems that have led to broken communities and hurting people. Philanthropy continues to hoard power and wealth, deploy outdated mechanized approaches to giving, and making misinformed decisions that ultimately negatively impact our families and youth. Philanthropy invests the majority (up to 95%) of its money in the same capital markets that have resulted in the very things philanthropy uses their remaining 5% to fight against: root causes of social inequities, climate crisis, resource degradation and scarcity, and increasing wealth gaps, to name a few, without taking responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of those investments. 

    Shifts that center community’s vs. philanthropy’s needs are happening and more funders are beginning to practice acts of love through deep listening, compassion, and understanding. Centering people across communities transforms how we work and informs what we must focus on. 

AJL Foundation’s Approach and Methodology
Social justice is a guiding principle woven throughout our approaches and methodology and it’s the thread that connects our intentions and work. We believe in the collective and we know that money, shared and distributed equitably and effectively, can be medicine. Our mission applies across our portfolio - not just our grantmaking - and we hold positive social impact and financial return as equally-weighted objectives within our portfolio.

We listen. We believe. We partner with “excluded” community to identify systemic barriers that need dismantling. We collaborate with families and youth, nonprofits and community members with lived experiences different than our own, community organizers proximate to marginalized youth and families, government leaders, and others to ensure our energy and resources are applied with a deeper understanding of our situatedness.  

We seek to move our own efforts in philanthropy with a “nothing about me without me” approach by first changing the way we do business and centering community in our decision-making. We are committed to using all of our resources to generate positive social impact which goes beyond money and also uses our proximity to power to influence the field of philanthropy. We recognize the inherent power we hold as a philanthropic institution and our urgent responsibility to bring the voice of community into the room, through amplifying historically excluded voices in rooms where the voice is missing or literally bringing people to the decision-making table. We work to redefine structures first in our own foundation, as well as across foundations, which begins with deepening relationships with community, funders, and government teams across the philanthropic ecosystem. We know that geography, structures, and relationships matter.   

We know we must build a new model of doing philanthropy in ways that make the old model obsolete. We are doing this by serving community via Grantmaking, Direct Investing, Impact Investing, and Policy and Advocacy work focused on Metro Denver and the San Luis Valley.

Our goals are woven throughout our work and include: 

  • Leverage philanthropic voice and positioning for change in the sector to fully benefit youth and families.
  • Execute and increase investments to people and programs in historically excluded communities.
  • Benefit youth and families by increasing demographic representation in grantmaking.
  • Strategically apply resources to learn, reflect, and improve how we invest in programs and movements.

Grantmaking Philosophy: People and communities served know what they need.
Sharing power increases power thus AJL Foundation will continue to bring together diverse community representatives of all people affected by our grantmaking to make funding decisions. The collective expertise and experiences of the group leads to more effective and equitable grantmaking decisions and increased impact.

AJL Foundation will continue to recognize that we are neither the experts nor the authority on the issues we work on. We will continue to show up with respect and trust with colleagues, partners and the communities we serve and recognize them as the experts on their own experiences. 

  • What we’ll continue to do: Carry out a participatory grantmaking process that includes a community-represented grant committee who identifies, nominates, and votes on where grant funds will be allocated. Prioritize the building of relationships and sharing of collective knowledge to ensure a deeply moving and healing experience for all committee members and grant partners.
  • How we’ll grow: Evolve the participatory grantmaking process to be equally inclusive of all communities and nonprofit organizations within the San Luis Valley and Metro Denver. Refine, streamline and improve the participatory grantmaking process based on feedback from participants and staff capacity.
  • How we’ll evaluate success: Majority positive and negative quantitative and qualitative feedback in surveys completed by grantmaking committee members and end-of-year grant partner reports. Positive and negative informal/anecdotal feedback throughout the process. Full range of emotions expressed in meetings. Implementation or plan for implementation for any changes requested by grantmaking committee members or grant partners. 

Direct Investment Philosophy: System change requires bold, creative, nontraditional funding responses.
To generate positive impact AJL uses direct investing funds to explore and engage in creative, nontraditional funding models that address gaps overlooked by traditional banks and funders. AJL prioritizes organizations and initiatives that are led by historically excluded and/or marginalized people that are working to improve quality of life long-term and partners with other funders wherever possible to share due diligence and risk, and increase impact for funded entities. AJL acts on the urgency for liberation in communities and, with a *targeted universalism lens, seeks investment opportunities in oppressed and underserved communities.

As part of AJL’s impact, we share investments with the field to inspire, educate and encourage additional funding for partners.

  • What we will continue to do: Continue to identify, research, carry out and evaluate investments in organizations that prioritize impact for communities served over increased financial return. 
  • How we’ll grow: Develop the tools for deeper, more comprehensive due diligence and expenditure responsibility process. Build relationships and networks that realize a long-term goal of establishing a more diverse and impactful portfolio of investment structures.
  • How we’ll evaluate success: Evaluate impact metrics and scores (based on the Impact Management Project) of each impact investment and aim to increase quarterly impact score by adding 1-3 new direct investments over the year. Identify and implement a more comprehensive due diligence process and evaluate annually.    

Impact Investing Philosophy: To hold positive social and environmental impact and financial return as equally-weighted priorities across our portfolio. 
AJL’s impact objective is to avoid harm, benefit stakeholders and contribute to solutions wherever possible, while our financial objective is CPI + 5% per year. AJL invests in funds where social and/or environmental needs offer commercial growth opportunities for market return. We also prioritize maintaining cash deposits at financial institutions that use the cash to drive economic justice in underserved communities. Lastly, AJL is working toward divesting where investment causes harm to the communities we serve.

  • What we’ll continue to do: Identify, evaluate and refine current and new thematic/lens investments, cash impact opportunities and ESG integration portfolio-wide. Continue to evaluate and share publicly both impact and financial performance.  
  • How we’ll grow: Build relationships and leverage networks to establish shareholder advocacy strategies and improved evaluation processes guided by impact, SDG and ESG goals. Expand networks and participation in national peer and interest groups to share strategies and learn. 
  • How we’ll evaluate success: Measure impact and financial return scores quarterly with the goal to increase both, as well as increase the number of peer group meetings, presentations and panels we participate in.

Policy and Advocacy Philosophy: To identify, clarify, and actively oppose injustices to historically excluded community members by believing personal experience based on geographic location, sexual orientation, gender, ethnic and racial background, legal and social status.

AJL recognizes that people are situated differently and racially coded, and systems and policies are set up to structurally benefit specific people with proximity to power and privilege. We aim to interrupt oppressive systems by creating and supporting strategic interventions that network for resources and amplify efforts to be more visible and ultimately improve quality of life for all.

  • What we’ll continue to do: Leverage our connections, networks, and resources to respond to urgent needs we learn about from families and youth.
  • How we’ll grow: Learning and research to identify organizations, partners, trends, data and strategies to understand where root cause policies and efforts could benefit from our power as a funder and philanthropic voice to change policies to benefit all.
  • How we’ll evaluate success: Increased number of connections and access to resources to develop policy and advocacy evaluation tools. Understanding how to analyze where root cause issues are on policy agendas, who is leading those efforts, setting up a system to track what we’ve heard, and match actions with how we can support.

Organizational Health Philosophy: Understand that work affects our physical and mental well-being while also holding ourselves accountable to moving the work forward.

The inner workings of the AJL Foundation include operationalizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We believe in shared leadership and decision-making, as well as culture, values, and worker voice equity. We strive for work-life harmony where staff and Board are whole people and more than just our work roles, and we prioritize deeper relationships with partners and contractors. AJL aims for excellence (not perfection) in execution, meeting goals and moving the work forward and streamlined operations. 

  • What we’ll continue to do: Keep our finger on the pulse of how our external community experience impacts our well-being and how we show up at work. Take into account each team member's personal and professional needs to be physically and psychologically safe, secure, and matter at work. Full autonomy to address work-life harmony that makes space for life outside of work. Foster a sense of belonging, connection and find joy in the work alongside accountability to each other and the community we serve. An environment where challenge is healthy and fear of retaliation does not exist.
  • How we’ll grow: Support professional long-term growth. Spread the work out to better streamline operations and reduce stress. Create time blocks to move important priorities forward. Account for accessibility across our work.
  • How we’ll evaluate success: Decreased stress and better health. Personal commitments to reduce competing demands of work for health and well-being. Foster increased collaboration and accountability to the strategic plan.

AJL Staff & Board of Directors Accountable for Action:

Alece Montez - Co-Executive Director
Kristi Petrie - Co-Executive Director
Allia Alrodan - Community Investments Manager

Board of Directors
Erin Creger - President
Darrell Schulte - Vice President 
Felisa Gonzales - Secretary
Bill Donohue - Treasurer
Chris Melby 
Julian Seelan
Flora Archuleta
Scot Spencer
Pui Kalyanamitra
Melisa Jaen
Colby Lawton

*“Targeted Universalism is an approach to advancing equity and justice that acknowledges our common goals and shared fate as human beings, while also addressing the stark contrasts in access to opportunity between different groups of people as a result of structural racism and other forms of systemic oppression and “othering”. Targeted Universalism centers listening to and understanding the experiences of people who we have most marginalized and who are experiencing the greatest harm in our current systems.” National Equity Project

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