Social-justice funding grows

PJ staff report

Grants to support social justice grew to 14.7 percent of giving by U.S. foundations in 2008, up from a range of 11 percent to 12 percent for most of the past decade, a new report says.

A big factor in the increase was the move by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into the role of the top social-justice funder in the U.S., says Key Facts on Social Justice Grant-making, a report by the Foundation Center.

In 2008, the report says, the Gates Foundation awarded 22 of the 25 largest social-justice grants by U.S.

The Gates Foundation, by far the largest U.S. grant-maker, awarded 251 social-justice grants in 2008 totaling nearly $1.16 billion, or 36.4 percent of its overall giving that year.

The Foundation Center says social-justice philanthropy supports nonprofits in the U.S. and abroad that “work for structural change in order to increase the opportunity of those who are the least well off politically, economically and socially.”

That giving spans a broad range of activities, including human rights, environmental justice and the arts.

In 2008, the biggest share of social-justice grant dollars, or 31.1 percent of the total, support economic community development, followed by 20.8 percent for health-care access and affordability, and 11.2 percent for human rights and civil liberties.

Funds supporting international activities represented 46.9 percent of social-justice grant dollars overall.

Social-justice funders interviewed by the Foundation Center identified strategies for advancing social-justice agendas.

Those strategies include pursuing “small-tent” collaborations that “contain fewer groups and can be more nimble and disciplined and provider a higher level of trust and mutual accountability; focusing on community organizations but questioning the continued use of a ‘power analysis’ framework by some organizations that ensures their stakeholders will remain outsiders; and being certain to not ignore the political sphere, as grassroots  support alone rarely yields enough political leverage and expertise to significantly address larger social justice issues.”

Social-justice practitioner leaders interviewed by the Foundation Center “believe progressive have yet to put forth an updated and broadly compelling vision of the common good,” the report says.

Still, it says, social-justice groups “are making changes to move social change away from taking adversarial stances and toward promoting negotiation.”

The social-justice practitioners recommend that social-justice funders “engage in more strategic partnerships, support community organizing, and work to build connections among think tanks, intermediaries, and small community-based organizations.”

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