Donors and Foundations Are Increasingly Supporting Movements

This recent article by Aaron Dorfman, President and CEO of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) highlights Surdna as one of a growing number of foundations that are supporting movements for racial justice. You can read an excerpt of the article below and the full post on NCRP’s website, including five lessons for funders who want to make a difference now.

The best philanthropic initiatives from 2020 can show us the path for giving in 2021

It’s easy to get depressed about the state of the world this year. The coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, wildfires and the breakdown of democratic norms have many of us feeling down. But 2 things are giving me hope these days: the massive demonstrations for racial justice and philanthropy’s increasing willingness to fund movements.

Millions of Americans have taken to the streets this year to demand racial justice. Maurice Mitchell and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson — who are co-leading a great new initiative called The Frontline – estimate that 26 million people have been part of the protests, making this the largest mass movement since the Civil Rights Movement.

You might be surprised to hear this from someone who is usually highly critical of the sector, but I think philanthropy has come through in some major ways this year. Foundations and high-net-worth donors are moving real money to the organizations driving change. This is different than with the Civil Rights Movement, when only 4 foundations really stepped up.

Here are what I see as some of the bright spots:

Women donors are leading the way

MacKenzie Scott’s first round of giving was the best initial foray into philanthropy by a billionaire that I’ve ever observed. She did a ton of things exactly right with that first $1.7 billion in grants: She gave a huge sum of money quickly, prioritized equity and funded amazing organizations that strive to make our nation more just.

Importantly, she didn’t try to get groups to work on her preferred campaigns, but instead gave unrestricted gifts. There’s a lot to celebrate, and I hope other donors will follow her lead.

Susan Sandler stepped up in a big way this year, too. The giving of the Sandler Foundation has been fantastic for a long time. In fact, we awarded the foundation an NCRP Impact Award in 2016.

In September, Sandler announced she would invest $200 million in racial justice organizations. Importantly, she communicates incredibly clearly why she believes that power, not persuasion, is key to transforming society. She’s also prioritizing investments in the South and Southwest.

NCRP’s As the South Grows reports with Grantmakers for Southern Progress show the importance of funding in the South. Sandler rightly understands that we have to invest in those regions that have historically been underfunded by philanthropy.

Large private foundations are moving huge sums to racial and social justice

The Ford Foundation made headlines in June when they decided to issue social impact bonds so they could spend $1 billion more in 2020 and 2021.

Hilary Pennington, the foundation’s executive vice president of programs, shared with me by email that, “A big category of social impact bond grants will be to support organizations working on racial justice. At least $180 million from the proceeds of the bond will support racial justice advocacy in the United States. Together with regular grantmaking, this doubles our annual commitment to this work to more than $330 million over 2020 and 2021.”

Additionally, Pennington told me that the foundation’s grants for Black, Indigenous and people of color-led arts organizations “was made possible entirely by the social impact bond.” The total investment in those organizations is $160 million, and $85 million of that is coming from Ford.

Pennington also noted that the foundation’s $10 million investment in Puerto Rico, a part of the U.S. often ignored by philanthropy, was also made possible by the proceeds from the bond issue. (NCRP, Hispanics in Philanthropy and others have called on philanthropy to increase support for Puerto Rico.)

In June, the Andrew Mellon Foundation announced it would prioritize social justice in all of its grantmaking. This is a huge and welcome evolution. The foundation has been giving about $300 million in grants annually in recent years and is increasing that significantly in 2020 and 2021.

Open Society Foundations is also backing movements in a big way. The foundation announced in July a new influx of $220 million for racial justice, mostly for Black-led organizations. (OSF received an NCRP Impact Award in 2015.)

Back in May, Omidyar Network pledged $35 million to help workers build power. The shift in the philanthropy of the Omidyars the past few years is really exciting.

Recently, the Surdna Foundation announced it would spend an additional $36 million for racial justice over the next 3 years. It’s the first time in its 103-year history the board has increased the foundation’s grantmaking.

“We’re boosting our spending by 29% over the next 3 years because our board members believe that our resources could make an outsized difference now, when the U.S. is experiencing a reckoning on race and there’s a period of heightened public will to address systemic racism,” said Don Chen, president of Surdna Foundation. “For us, the most challenging part was determining how to spend more during a time of great economic uncertainty, so we deliberated over the pros and cons of different levels of increased spending and eventually agreed to step up our grantmaking in a strong way.”

Continue reading on NCRP’s website