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Key Facts on Social Justice Grantmaking

April 30, 2010

Today we turn our attention to social justice philanthropy, which the Foundation Center defines as "the granting of philanthropic contributions to nonprofit organizations based in the United States and other countries that work for structural change in order to increase the opportunity of those who are the least well off politically, economically, and socially."

First, some key facts:

  • $3.7 billion -- Giving by sampled funders for social justice-related activities in 2008
  • 14.7 percent -- Share of overall grant dollars targeting social justice in 2008
  • 46.9 percent -- Share of 2008 social justice grant dollars supporting international activities
  • Economic development -- Top-ranked field by share of 2008 social justice grant dollars

According to the center's most recent social justice benchmarking study, Social Justice Grantmaking II: An Update on U.S. Foundations Trends, social justice-related grantmaking by U.S. foundations climbed to nearly 15 percent of giving in 2008. Over most of the past decade, funding for social justice had remained fairly steady at between 11 percent and 12 percent of grant dollars awarded.


A primary factor contributing to the increase in the share of grant dollars targeting social justice-related activities in 2008 was the emergence of the nation's largest private foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as the country's top social justice funder. In fact, in 2008 the foundation awarded 22 of the the 25 largest social justice grants.


(Note: The charts and tables in this post are based on the giving of U.S. private and community foundations. As a result, they exclude social justice-related grantmaking by public charities as well as by non-U.S. social justice grantmakers, including Atlantic Philanthropies, arguably the largest of the latter. Established more than twenty years ago by Duty Free Shops co-founder Charles Feeny, Atlantic, which is spending down, plans to award approximately $350 million a year until it completes active grantmaking in 2016.)

The center's research also shows that social justice giving by U.S. foundations spans all areas of activity, from human rights to environmental justice to to the arts. Consistent with past trends, the biggest share of dollars awarded in 2008 went to economic and community development (31.1 percent), followed by health care access and affordability (20.8 percent) and human rights and civil liberties (11.2 percent).



To learn more and/or download free highlights (13 pages, PDF) of the center's most recent social justice benchmark study, click here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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