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This Week in PubHub: Funding for Social Justice

January 12, 2012

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examined specific grantmaking strategies and practices designed to maximize fundamental long-term social impact.)

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, this week in PubHub we're featuring four reports that examine trends in funding for social justice and advocacy efforts in support of the rights of marginalized populations.

Foundation support is essential if advocacy and community organizing efforts to improve the lives of marginalized populations are to succeed, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy argues. Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in the Gulf/Midsouth Region (88 pages, PDF) found that between 2005 and 2009 twenty organizations in the Gulf/Midsouth region secured more than $4.7 billion -- $114 for every dollar invested -- in benefits for marginalized communities, trained more than 31,000 local residents in civic engagement techniques, and achieved significant policy changes in the areas of environmental justice and LGBTQ and immigrant rights, with foundations providing 78 percent of the funding for said activities. Funded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, the report urges grantmakers to invest more in building the region's advocacy and community organizing infrastructure, make flexible investments in groups working in rural areas, and support organizations with people of color in leadership positions.

Of course, foundations that fund social justice activities saw their endowments take a hit during the post-Lehman financial crisis, as described in the Foundation Center report Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy (35 pages, PDF). While the report found that giving for social justice as a percentage of total giving by foundations in the sample varied only slightly between 2005 and 2009, in 2009 it fell below 2007 levels, with small foundations experiencing the sharpest declines in the value of their assets. Funded by the Cricket Island, Edward W. Hazen, and Ford foundations in partnership with NCRP, the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, and the Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative, the report projects that unless the field sees five years of above-average investment returns, social justice grantmaking in 2015 will remain below 2008 levels.

The good news, according to Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (112 pages, PDF), is that giving within and on behalf of communities of color is increasing. Commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the report found that, given the disproportionate need in communities of color, those communities typically have received a too-small percentage of mainstream philanthropic dollars -- a gap that was exacerbated by the Great Recession and cuts in public-sector funding. In response, the report argues, donors of color and others have begun to direct more resources to communities of color, with an eye to building advocacy skills in those communities and empowering local leaders and residents to lead short- and long-term change efforts. The report calls on mainstream funders to advance this kind of identity-based philanthropy by providing seed funding for grassroots efforts and forging stronger connections with local philanthropic leaders and other change agents.

What about trends in social justice work abroad? Mobilising for Social Justice: Migrant Rights Centre Ireland's Community Work Model (50 pages, PDF), a report from the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland that was funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, offers case studies of MRCI's "community work practice" model on behalf of migrant workers' rights -- work that, among other things, encourages marginalized migrant groups to take part in decision-making structures through participation in discussion/action groups, empowers them through consciousness-raising and skills-building activities, and promotes advocacy and collective action.

What are your thoughts about the future of funding for social justice philanthropy? Are you aware of any new trends or developments that could energize the field or take it to the next level? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.

And don't forget to check out PubHub, where you can browse more than a hundred and fifty reports on the topic of civil and human rights.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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