For Philanthropy, Time to Double Down to End Injustice

January 10, 2017

By Jennifer Buffett, Peter Buffett, and Pamela Shifman of the NoVo Foundation

As people across the country prepare for the White House transition next week, foundations and other nonprofits are grappling with the consequences of change for our collective future, especially as we have witnessed how deep a grip misogyny and racism hold over America.

With the country’s leadership, priorities, and legislative agenda now in flux, grant makers understandably feel compelled to explore new strategies to fulfill their missions and advance their values. However, we are troubled by the potential for a retrenchment from much of the promising advocacy, activism, and organizing work that foundations have increasingly supported in recent years.

Even before Election Day, foundation dollars dedicated to social justice were falling well short of growing demand. According to a new report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, from 2003 to 2013, groups working to curb the root causes of injustice and inequality commanded a meager 10 percent of funding from the nation’s largest foundations. During this same period, less than half of grant dollars went to benefit the chronically underserved.

More specifically, funding aimed at promoting the human rights of girls and women is in short supply. For the last decade and a half, foundations have earmarked less than 8 percent of their overall giving for girls and women. Of those limited funds, less than 3 percent goes toward ending violence against girls and women.

Nevertheless, the last few years have brought a wave of encouraging progress in grant making.

A number of large foundations have begun to shift more of their decision-making power to the people most affected by injustices, trusting and investing in their grantees’ leadership and advocacy. More institutions are providing general operating support, which gives nonprofits and organizers authority and control to distribute philanthropic funds where and how they choose.

We also have seen a growing willingness among philanthropic leaders to explicitly call out and reject racism, misogyny, xenophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. This has helped increase support for social-justice movements — from Black Lives Matter to the Dreamers — that have gained traction across the nation.

To read more, visit NoVo Foundation