Funding for social justice increasing

Funding of social-justice initiatives has been growing since 1998 and now represents 11 percent of foundation support, a new study says.

In “Social Justice Grantmaking,” the Foundation Center, based in New York, and Independent Sector, based in Washington, D.C., analyze grants of $10,000 or more made by more than 1,000 of the largest private and community foundations in the U.S.

The report defines social-justice grantmaking as funding that supports change to increase opportunities for the politically, economically and socially disadvantaged.

The group of foundations sampled made 13,355 social-justice grants totaling $1.76 billion in 2002, both inside and outside the U.S., or about 11 percent of the group’s overall $15.9 billion in grantmaking.

While funding for social justice grew 53.4 percent from 1998 to 2002, it was outpaced by a 64 percent rise in overall grantmaking, the study says.

The number of foundations awarding at least one social-justice grant grew from 686 in 1998 to 749 in 2002, a 9 percent increase, indicating broader support for social-justice projects.

During the same period, the number of groups receiving funding for social-justice activities grew 31 percent, the study says.

While the 25 foundations that give the most to social-justice represent only 3 percent of all social-justice funders, they accounted for more than two in three dollars granted in 2002, the study says, down from almost three in four in 1998.

The top two funders, The Ford Foundation and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, together give one in four social-justice funding dollars, the study says.

The median grant for social justice was $43,500 in 2002, up from $40,000 in 1998, with over half of the grants falling between $10,000 and $49,999 and only 19 grants exceeding $5 million.

Economic and community development activities received the most funding in 2002, followed by health-care access and affordability and civil rights and civil liberties, but housing and shelter funding grew more than 150 percent from 1998 to 2002, faster than any other category.

During a series of interviews, foundations identified barriers to social-justice funding, including the current political climate, the enormity of social-justice problems compared to philanthropic dollars, and a lack of new ideas.

They also offered strategies for overcoming those challenges, including expanding social justice constituencies, coordinating investments and expanding long-term operating support.

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