Funding Change, Changing Funding

(This is a guest post from Peter Manzo, board member of National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, who is covering the Council on Foundations Conference for Tactical Philanthropy)

By Peter Manzo

Saturday evening I attended “Funding Change, Changing Funding,” a reception hosted by a coalition of groups who promote funding for social justice causes. The event was sponsored by The Social Justice Philanthropy Collaborative, whose members include:

  • Changemakers, which supports individuals and organizations funding social change
  • Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP), which strengthens the next generation of grantmakers to advance social justice philanthropy
  • Funding Exchange, a network of 16 public foundations that fund grassroots organizations working for social, racial, economic and environmental justice
  • National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), which promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, is responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and meets the highest standards of integrity and openness
  • Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), a national network of foundations and philanthropic organizations supporting community-based efforts to improve economic and social conditions in low income communities
  • Resource Generation, a group formed and led by young people with financial wealth who support and challenge each other to effect progressive social change

I was familiar with (or at least had read about) about all these groups except Resource Generation, which was a nice revelation.

The collaborative developed a “Social Justice Guide to Navigating COF 2008” that lists and describes recommended conference sessions, and includes a number of tips for how to promote more support for social justice grantmaking and raise questions about it in conference sessions; as Mike Gast of Resource Generation noted, the guide also is meant to remind people that there is a growing community within philanthropy that supports their values, so that they might feel less isolated among the conference’s 3000 participants.

Rusty Stahl of EPIP, Aaron Dorfman of NCRP, Taij Moteelall of Resource Generation and C.J. Callen of Changemakers all addressed the group and collectively (bad pun) made a strong case that working together they can help increase funding to social justice advocacy and community organizing.

The trends may favor their goal, but it’s hard to tell. From my perspective in Los Angeles, it seems that funding for progressive policy advocacy is indeed increasing. There are several funders supporting systems change, including policy advocacy, that either didn’t do so, or didn’t even exist, when I started in the field by going into public interest law in 1993: Irvine, supporting voter mobilization; The California Endowment and The California Wellness Foundation supporting a range of health equity goals; Hewlett and Packard, whose increased support for statewide education reform and expansion of early childhood education supports Southern California people and organizations they may not have ten years ago. Talking this through over a beer, Marjie Fine of Center for Community Change noted that some funders at the national level have shifted away from supporting community organizing (Rockefeller, Public Welfare), while others have made a significant investment in it, like the Marguerite Casey Foundation. There also seems to be more visible promotion for advocacy funding, most recently evidenced by Atlantic Philanthropies’ new report, “Why Supporting Advocacy Makes Sense for Foundations” – a sponsor ad for the report appears on the inside front page of the COF 2008 Participant Directory. Anecdotal evidence, but that may be the best we can get, since the data we do have, largely through Foundation Center, show funding for civil rights and social justice staying largely flat over the past 10-20 years, and while community organizing may be more in favor, there apparently is not data available tracking funding for community organizing as a subset.

This morning I attended the Advanced Legal Seminar, which focused primarily on two issues, the taxation of excess business holdings and unrelated business income tax (UBIT), from the point of view of foundations holding investments. Good problems to have, I imagine. I’ve run into UBIT issues many times, but typically from the perspective of a nonprofit trying to start a revenue-generating social purpose enterprise. After the session, I talked with two community foundation folks, Ashley Allison, Executive Director of the Waco Foundation, and Kirk Hoopingarner of the Evanston (Illinois) Community Foundation, about the recent gift to Harvard University by David Rockefeller (see this letter to the New York Times by NCRP ED Aaron Dorfman, and why foundations, including many community foundations, may be hesitant to put their assets to work sooner or more aggressively – one reason may be getting overly cautious advice from outside counsel.