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Keeping the Dream Alive: The Case for Faster Funding

September 13, 2017

DACA_protestThis is a difficult time for our country. The forces of hate and bigotry have emerged from the shadows. White supremacists are marching through the streets proudly waving swastika-adorned flags. And Donald Trump has validated them by throwing more than 800,000 immigrant Dreamers under the bus, revoking their immigration status in a callous act that could have repercussions for years to come.

The hard truth is that, in this moment, funders have to rethink "business as usual" to meet the needs of the moment: with the world aghast at the prospect of 800,000 hardworking Dreamers being deported, and with a White House tacitly endorsing white supremacy, we have to rally behind and expand the fight for justice. Now.

That means identifying innovative mobilization efforts, funding them fast, and taking our cues from the communities we are trying to empower.

Right after Election Day, the Women Donors Network worked in partnership with Solidaire Network and other funders to launch the Emergent Fund, a new kind of fund that was designed to be nimble, responsive, and led (at all levels) by people who are the most marginalized. With quick-turnaround grants of up to $50,000, the fund made it possible for new organizations springing up in response to Trump's policies, as well as those that have been organizing their communities for years, to quickly mobilize, train, and act for social justice.

Here is what we learned from that effort.

First, with flexible, no-strings-attached funding, innovative mobilizations can materialize overnight in response to the kinds of regressive policies being pushed by the White House.

In Texas, after the state government passed a bill that would ban sanctuary cities and endanger tens of thousands of immigrants — Emergent Fund grantee Jolt Texas sprang into action and staged a "Quinceañera at the Capitol" that brought teenage girls in beautiful Quinceañera ball gowns to the steps of the state capitol and rallied thousands of new and old supporters around a message that speaks to our core American values. The event quickly went viral online, got more than a million RSVPs, and drove new members and energy into Jolt's immigrant rights work across the state.

In the wake of a series of ICE raids in January, Emergent Fund also made a grant to the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) in support of a rapid-response plan that helped a coalition of immigrant-rights groups fight the state's proposed anti-sanctuary cities bill neighborhood by neighborhood.

For both efforts to succeed, we had to mobilize our funding quickly and do it without strings attached, allowing both Jolt and TOP to collect and use the funds without having to file detailed proposals or grant reports, enabling them to focus, instead, on the threat at hand and on mobilizing new supporters.

Another lesson learned: marginalized voices often are not heard in national media conversations because organizers working on issues that affect marginalized groups often find it difficult to secure funding.

As threats to DACA heated up over the last couple of months, for instance, organizations like the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), realized that a key demographic was missing from the conversation. While Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric has been directed, for the most part, at Latinos and Muslims, more than 130,000 young people eligible for DACA are Asian Americans. Likewise, other Emergent Fund grantees came out in full force — Movimiento Cosecha organized an emotional sit-in outside Trump Tower in New York; United We Dream held protests across the country and organized know-your-rights clinics and published resources for Dreamers and their families; and Mijente staged a creative protest outside the Department of Justice. And as the threat of deportation became more real, many joined dozens of immigrant-rights groups for a 24/7 vigil in front of the White House that has been going since August 15.

More than 86 percent of Americans support DACA and the Dreamers, and this kind of organizing is essential, in that it gives new supporters an opportunity to engage more deeply in the fight for justice.

When we launched the Emergent Fund, we were inundated with proposals that had the potential to create real impact but required fast and flexible support. And within six months, we had granted $1 million to fifty diverse organizations on the front lines of the resistance.

In the process, we learned that our model works, that it infuses energy into organizations we've supported for years in more traditional ways, and that $1 million isn't nearly enough to meet the urgency of the moment.

We challenge all philanthropists and donors to join us at this moment of crisis for 800,000 Dreamers who have only done what they were asked and expected to do. Innovative mobilization efforts need your funding, and they need it now. As donors who believe in social justice, we need to show up, with humility, and to trust in the communities that are fighting for their future.

We have an opportunity to empower communities and bring our nation together, and the philanthropic community has an important role to play in that effort. The time is now. The future cannot wait.

Donna_p_hall_for_PhilanTopicDonna P. Hall is president and CEO of the Women Donors Network, a community of more than two hundred progressive women donors who invest their energy, strategic savvy, and philanthropic dollars to help build a more just and fair world.

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