Foundation Trends in Social Justice Grantmaking

Social justice grantmaking encompasses a broad range of fields. In 2002, economic and community development captured the largest share of social justice grant dollars (19 percent), followed by health care access and affordability (15.8 percent) and civil rights and civil liberties (15.5 percent). By comparison, civil rights and civil liberties led by share of number of grants (19.7 percent), followed by economic and community development (17.3 percent) and housing and shelter (14.5 percent).

Foundations increased their support for nearly all social justice fields between 1998 and 2002, although rates of growth differed substantially. Housing and shelter posted the fastest growth, with grant dollars up just over two and one-half times (151.9 percent). By comparison, overall social justice support increased by half (53.4 percent) during this period. Other areas benefiting from a more than doubling in social justice grant dollars included crime and justice (up 113.6 percent) and educational reform and access (up 113 percent). In contrast, two social justice fields experienced reductions in actual grant dollars, including civic engagement (down 3.1 percent) and public affairs (down 15.8 percent).

Given the central focus of social justice grantmaking on addressing social inequities, it comes as no surprise that nearly 85 percent of 2002 social justice grants specified one or more beneficiary groups. By comparison, less than half of foundation grants overall specified any population groups. Among specified beneficiaries, the economically disadvantaged benefited from the largest share of social justice support – 56.8 percent of grant dollars and 54.8 percent of grants. Ethnic or racial minorities followed with close to one-third of grant dollars and grants. Only two other groups were targeted with at least 10 percent of social justice grant dollars in 2002 – children and youth (17.7 percent) and women and girls (12 percent).

Grantmaker Perspectives on Social Justice Funding
To gain a more nuanced understanding of funders’ perspectives on recent issues and developments in social justice funding, the Foundation Center and Independent Sector included in its recent report, Social Justice Grantmaking: A Report on Foundation Trends, findings from qualitative interviews with 20 social justice philanthropy leaders conducted in February and March 2005. These interviews produced wide-ranging and forthright conversations on the evolution of social justice and its influence on foundation giving, on the ways that funders have shaped their grantmaking to achieve social justice goals and on funders’ ideas about opportunities to increase the amount and effectiveness of social justice philanthropy. Principal findings include:

Traditional language and strategies of “social justice” are no longer seen as useful by many leading grantmakers. Grantmakers’ relationship to the nomenclature of “social justice” took three basic forms: adherence to the traditional conception of social justice – including its underlying implication of advocacy – as the fundamental organizing principle behind their grantmaking; ambivalence about both the terminology and continuing efficacy of social justice philanthropy, despite continued belief in its importance; and, among a small cadre of interviewees, a move away from the language and concepts of social justice philanthropy in favor of a “pragmatic” ideology of choice, opportunity and individual agency.

Grantmakers cite numerous barriers that impede social justice funding. According to respondents, three principal barriers make social justice funding difficult: the current political climate, the sheer weight of the problems relative to available capacity and philanthropic dollars and the lack of field coherence and new ideas. At the same time, divergent grantmaker objectives and strategies, short-term focus in funding, a lack of measures of effectiveness and exclusivity among social justice funders were among the barriers cited as impeding the efficacy of social justice philanthropy.

Social justice grantmakers must adopt multiple strategies to strengthen the field going forward. Despite deep concerns about the current challenges facing social justice work, surveyed grantmakers expressed an abiding commitment to the fundamental aims of this work and a strong hope that the future would see more creative and effective social investment to promote equality and opportunity. Several key strategies identified by grantmakers to support the field going forward included: expanding constituencies through broader dialogue, consultation and audience-appropriate terminology; coordinating strategic investments and working more closely with leaders of social justice organizations; expanding long-term core operating support and investments in communication strategies among organizations in the field; demonstrating the value of their efforts more effectively; and supporting field development by involving leaders, experts and critics from other important fields.

The analyses and resources provided in Social Justice Grantmaking are designed to enhance the work of funders and organizations active in supporting social change for those least well-off politically, economically and socially. They can also be used to help educate the public about the wide-ranging interests and priorities of foundations that support social justice-related activities. At the same time, readers should be certain to seek out information provided directly by foundations active in social change funding for the most complete perspective on their grantmaking priorities.

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