News & Media

Alex Daniels

Black Lives Matter Legislation
Demonstrators protest near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis.

As the volume of calls for racial justice increased and the Covid pandemic upended philanthropy during the past year, the number of pooled funds created to meet those challenges multiplied rapidly, laying the groundwork for what could be permanent changes in how billions of dollars in donor money is distributed.

The latest entrant, the California Black Freedom Fund, aims to raise $100 million over the next five years to enhance the ability of Black-led organizations to affect changes in policy. Developed by more than two dozen grant makers and Black-led movement groups, the fund already has amassed more than $32.4 million.

Backers of the Freedom Fund and pooled funds in general say the benefits of combining resources are twofold. First, pooled funds create dedicated pots of money for causes that need more attention and resources. Grant makers that don’t have expertise in a given issue but want to contribute can give money to a pooled fund to make grants for them. Second, nonprofits in search of foundation grant money don’t have to apply to dozens of organizations; money for their cause will exist in a single fund.

The participants in the California Black Freedom Fund see an added benefit: Local nonprofit leaders will hold more sway over the grant decisions, ensuring that power shifts from endowed foundations to groups on the front lines of the fight. Although the fund is housed at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which has ultimate say over where the grants will be directed, those decisions will be guided by an advisory committee comprising Black movement leaders.

The notion that philanthropy needs to be “democratized” has gained currency in philanthropy circles over the past few years, says Nicole Taylor, president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“We’re really doing it,” she says. “It’s really exciting to be part of something that authentic from the beginning, where it’s not just an afterthought.”

The fund’s participants include the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, JPMorgan Chase, and the Annenberg, Conrad N. Hilton, and Stuart foundations. The fund has made a total of about $6 million in grants to three Black-led networks: the Black Census and Redistricting Hub, the Black Equity Collective, and PICO California, to support its Live Free and Bring the Heat campaigns.

Over the past year dozens of new pooled funds and collaborative fundraising campaigns have sprung up to support groups working to end white supremacy, respond to those hurt by the pandemic, and safeguard the voting process.

For instance, the Families and Workers Fund, created by the Amalgamated, Ford, Open Society, and other foundations, raised $30 million to provide direct relief to workers hit by the pandemic and to advocate for policy changes that protect workers. And following the breach at the U.S. Capitol by rioters, the Amalgamated Foundation created the Democracy Reinvestment Fund, which will attempt to attract corporate support for strengthening the democratic process.

Changing How Philanthropy Works

For donors and foundations looking to demonstrate their commitment to ending racism following the killing of George Floyd, the pooled funds can help provide assurance that their grants will be faithful to the cause. Movement groups and giving experts say they can change the way philanthropy works for good.

The speed at which philanthropy moved to rush money to racial-justice nonprofits following the death of George Floyd was impressive, says Ben McBride, a San Francisco activist who was part of the creation of the California Black Freedom Fund.

The money is important, McBride says. But he also hopes the experience will help forge a different relationship between foundations and Black-led organizations. With sufficient input from Black movement leaders, pooled funds can help build a “new set of structures” to guide philanthropy and make it better reflect the needs of smaller racial-justice groups.

We are deeply trying to engage our donors in a much different relationship.

“The wrong first question is ‘What do we need to do?’” says McBride, who founded the Bring the Heat Campaign to address police violence. “The right first question is ‘Who do we need to become?’”

In the view of grassroots leaders like McBride, philanthropy has an opportunity to include grantees in the decision-making process, provide long-term support so groups aren’t scrounging for cash each year, and provide more support to Black-led groups, which receive about 1 percent of all foundation grants.

Within a week after George Floyd was killed, when protesters took to the streets in cities across America, many donors — particularly corporations — announced pooled funds dedicated to civil rights.

“Most of those funds will be gone in a year,” predicts Lateefah Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation, which supported the fund with an initial commitment of $90,000.

After Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, philanthropy as a whole took a new interest in supporting Black leadership but then largely retreated, says Simon. The involvement of movement groups in the creation and decision making of the California Black Freedom Fund can be a first step in creating a lasting response, she adds.

“It’s a show of strength and solidarity,” she says, that will ensure that foundations are held accountable for their giving choices into the future.

Reducing Paperwork

One of the most successful campaigns over the past nine months has been the Movement for Black Lives, which in June called on foundations and individual donors to contribute a total of $50 million.

The group is not releasing final figures, but Charles Long, the Movement for Black Lives’ resource coordinator, says the organization’s staff has doubled, and it has the money to operate at an annual budget of at least $6.5 million for the next five years. In 2019, the group raised $2.7 million.

“Last summer there were a lot of people scrambling to be on the right side of history,” Long says of the money that flowed into the organization, which supports a nationwide network of Black-led grassroots groups. More than 100 grant makers answered the call.

Long says he was grateful for the response, but the surge of interest from so many funding sources made it difficult to satisfy the varying grant-making requirements. Responding to every inquiry would siphon off valuable time that could be spent advocating for change.

That’s where pooled funds can make a difference. Long says the use of pooled funds and intermediaries like the Movement for Black Lives is a signal from philanthropy that donors want to help, and they realize that movement leaders, rather than foundation staff and donors, often have the best answers.

What Long would like to see come out of the money rush is a new attitude from grant makers that trusts Black leaders more and burdens them less. He envisions creating a place on the organization’s website, for instance, where potential donors could access program descriptions, evaluation reports, and updates on the movement’s work so the nonprofit wouldn’t have to replicate a lot of effort sending that information to grant makers.

“We are deeply trying to engage our donors in a much different relationship in the hope that it will not only change how they interact with us as the Movement for Black Lives but how they interact with all Black folks involved in organizing,” Long says.

Stepping Aside

Rajasvini Bhansali, executive director of the Solidaire Network, a group of about 200 wealthy donors and foundations, has seen first-hand a new interest in racial justice from big foundations.

In June, Bhansali began circulating a list of the network’s previous grantees in the “Black liberation ecosystem” for her group’s members to consider if they wanted to make a donation to support racial justice.

“We quickly realized that that spreadsheet was getting spread around philanthropy,” Bhansali says. “So it made sense for us to not just have this random spreadsheet floating around with contact information but give people a way to actually pool their resources.”

The spreadsheet evolved into the Black Liberation Pooled Fund. In the months that followed, members contributed about $800,000. In August, the Packard Foundation, which had not been active in racial-justice issues, made a $20 million, five-year commitment.

The Packard grant was a sign that philanthropy was undergoing a huge transformation, says Bhansali, and one of the big ways Solidaire could make a difference would be to help introduce other institutional philanthropies to the universe of racial-justice donors and nonprofits.

“Rather than being very cloistered and sort of exclusive, maybe we can make some of our knowledge base accessible so that other foundations can follow,” she says.

From The Chronicle of Philanthropy:



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