Putting money where are causes are: Fundraising for women’s groups facing the financial crisis
Author: Marion Banzhaf
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 03/10/2009
Category: Special Report
What can feminists expect, or demand,
from foundations in the coming years?
Foundations lost approximately 30
percent of their assets in 2008, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and the bottom is
probably not yet here. Competition is going to be fiercer than ever, and the
demand for essential services will increase so dramatically that the small
amounts of policy, advocacy and movement-building funding might disappear
As a result, feminist projects
will need to become even more creative in fundraising, especially if they are
to seek fundamental changes in society or tackle disempowerment and unequal
access to resources.
Foundation Assets and Social
At their heart, most foundations
are not committed to revolutionary change in the best of circumstances. Many
foundations (and faith-based organizations) do positive work for society, but
often within tight limitations and guidelines that are not likely to rock
Foundations were first designed in
the early 1900s, and served to pacify discontent with inequality by addressing
the needs of the most poor. They supported service-oriented work and relieved
the government from providing essential needs. They have been a key way for the
very rich to get tax breaks for holding on to their money forever, while
looking beneficent. A new super-rich class was developed from the enormous
profits reaped from railroads, oil, steel and other industries during the
robber baron age from roughly the 1890s-1920s, and the wealthy built
ostentatious demonstrations of their rapidly accumulated wealth, much like today’s
McMansions and the new “Richistan” population created from the 1990s electronic
and stock boom.
To retain their tax-exempt status,
are restricted in lobbying, may not support individual candidates for
office and are required to spend five percent of their assets every year. A
foundation with $1 million in assets only needs to spend $50,000 in any year.
Note that this number includes salaries and all other administrative costs, as
well as grant allocations. Some critics of philanthropy point out that the
removal of assets from the stream of taxation costs society more than what is
received in grant dollars.
The Foundation Center reports that
there are 72,000 grantmaking foundations in the United States. Most of these
are independent foundations, and more than three-fifths of them were founded
after 1989, reflecting the explosion of new wealth at the end of the 20th
century. According to a recent study, U.S. foundations made grants of $42.9 billion in
2007, compared to $16 billion in 1997.
The non-profit sector is a
substantial part of the economy, and “non-profit industrial complex” broadly
describes the economic system of community organizations, churches and
foundations. A recent
study funded by the Philanthropic Collaborative documents that the $42.9
billion allocated in grants generated $368 billion in direct social and
Putting Dollars Into Change
The right-wing has understood the
need for ideological funding: for the last 50 years, it’s spawned lots of think
tanks, publications, conferences, political training programs and the like. The
Heritage Foundation’s new media training center in D.C. has dedicated its top
floors to dormitories so all the young fundamentalists can both get training
and build deep bonds with each other, forming ties that could cement their
alliances for life. These right-wing groups are working to change societal
beliefs and to promote their politics — traditional family values, free market
capitalism and privatization of the commons, including water and utilities, for
Progressive foundations haven’t
had the same intentions or resources for ideological funding until recently,
and rarely devoted funds to big-picture thinking or fostering fundamental
change. When they do fund these areas, the amounts of grant dollars are much
smaller than what right-wing interests have allocated for decades.
The Funding Exchange, a national network of 15
left-leaning public foundations in the U.S. that support social justice
efforts, coined the term “change not charity” to distinguish grantmaking with
distinct social change goals from philanthropy focused only on serving the
poor, rather than developing strategies to eliminate poverty.
The best foundations working for
change recognize that the people most affected by a problem are the most
valuable people to develop solutions. The foundations provide general operating
support and they allow for fiscal sponsorships so that not every project has to
become a non-profit corporation. Foundation dollars spent for building the
capacity of grassroots groups without requiring traditional structures are
rare, but prized, because they put fewer constraints on organizing.
Critics of the non-profit
industrial complex, such as authors in the anthology The
Revolution Will Not Be Funded, cite the conservatizing impact of
foundation dollars and make compelling arguments for seeking foundation funds
with eyes wide open. But all foundations are not necessarily the same, and they
remain important institutions to be accessed.
Women’s Funds Try to Bulk Up
Some significant resources have
developed. The Women’s
Funding Network(WFN), headquartered in San Francisco, is comprised of
135 organizations around the world, with combined assets of $750 million
(before 2008). In 2007, the members of the Women’s Funding Network allocated
$50 million in grants globally. Women’s Funds exist all over the United States,
and although funds can collaborate, each foundation is autonomous, recruiting
its own donors and setting its own guidelines for funding. Many of these funds
are restricted to local programming and they have mixed approaches to
supporting more politically oriented projects.
The Women’s Funding Network is
engaged in a big push to expand its donor base and its reach to the public.
Joining with Swanee Hunt and Helen LaKelly Hunt (of the Hunt oil family), the Women Moving
Millions campaign was launched with the goal of raising $150 million,
which would bring the WFN’s assets to $1 billion. In 2006, Swanee and Helen
launched the campaign with a gift of $10 million, and are working to recruit
other million-dollar donors. In 2007, Women Moving Millions had raised half of its
But the WFN believes that
“everyone can be a philanthropist,” and each member foundation is involved in
organizing grassroots fundraising from garage sales to potlucks and house
parties. It has joined with the Good Deed Foundation to receive a portion of sales
of various consumer goods such as energy-saving light bulbs.
Progressive philanthropy has been
working to tackle racism, sexism, heterosexism and classism by funding more
radical grassroots groups, as well as cleaning their own houses.
For thirty years, the Astraea Lesbian
Foundation for Justice has been a pioneer in prioritizing funding of
people of color organizations and individual cultural workers, such as writers
and artists. For the last 12 years, it has been the primary funder of LGBTQ
groups internationally, supporting emerging lesbian and LGBTQ groups in China,
Nepal, throughout Central and South America, and in Africa, including the
Coalition of African Lesbians. It accepts proposals in languages other than
English, and determines funding allocations with the input of community
The work of Funders for Lesbian &
Gay Issues is an example of bold advocacy within the philanthropic
world to raise tough questions about allocating resources, and
institutionalizing racial, economic, gender and gender-identity equity within
philanthropy. The group documented that LGBTQ groups received $227 million from
2002-2006, which represents only one-tenth of one percent of all foundation
funding. Groups led by people of color only received 8.8 percent of all LGBTQ
grant monies, although strong and independent (or autonomous) people of color
groups, such as the Audre Lorde
Project in Brooklyn or the National Black Justice Coalition in Washington,
D.C., are necessary to create new bases of power from which to organize.
Now, Funders for Lesbian & Gay
Issues has released a new publication, “LGBTQ Grantmakers 2008 Report Card on
Racial Equity,” a fascinating read. It examines how a group of 19 grantmaking
foundations incorporated racial equity into their board, executive, total
hiring and grants allocation. These groups have committed to continuing both
dialogue and action to make real, not cosmetic, racial justice changes in LGBTQ
Shifting Thinking about
As foundation funding shrinks, it
will be important to change how we think about the very roots of funding to
make a difference to the future of social justice.
Fundraisers in the nonprofit
sector often focus on the wealthy, or the perceived wealthy, for revenue
support, even though most of the donations generated still come from
individuals of modest means. In fact, people of moderate incomes are usually
much more generous with their giving than the very wealthy. Giving USA reports
that individuals contributed 75.6 percent of all charitable contributions in
2006, and that 78 percent of Americans donate at least once during a given
year. On average, most individuals give away almost 2 percent of their income
People who want to support radical
organizing can foster a spirit of giving so that we all become more generous in
contributing to making change. Churches ask for a tithe of ten percent of
people’s income, and they get it! One of the reasons they get it, is because
they ask for it, week after week. We need to become bolder in asking for
support, and we need to recognize that raising money is a valuable political
skill. Using the Internet and social networking sites effectively can raise
lots of funds through modest individual donations.
Developing fundraising skills also
requires confronting issues around class background. Doing consciousness
raising around money helps to break down assumptions, stereotypes and
privilege. Class Action,
based in Hadley, MA, sponsors cross-class workshops and has many resources to
heighten awareness of class oppression. Many people have to struggle against
the trope of beggar in fundraising. Raise More Money: The Best of the Grassroots Fundraising
Journal, edited by Kim Klein and Stephanie Roth, provides great
resources for changing attitudes about raising funds. The editors are the gurus
in applying the feminist principle of the “personal is political” to
fundraising. One principle is to start with yourself, your friends and your
family. When did you first become aware of money? Did you grow up in a family
where giving was part of the culture? Do you already give away a portion of
your income? Are you intentional about it? Do you tell other people which
groups or causes you support? How do you decide?
Many of us probably give away more
than we realize. But being intentional allows us to be even more generous in
tough times. Rather than waiting until the end of the year to see what’s left,
decide at the beginning what your giving goals are and how you want to allocate
them, and arrange for monthly deductions from your checking account or credit
card. Aside from being asked, people give because it feels good. Each month,
you can be proud of your contributions.
Organizing for change takes time,
labor, materials, thinking and support. Fundraising is political organizing,
which is both individual and collective. Giving to movements working on
long-term social justice provides great payback.
Bio: Marion Banzhaf directs the Sonya Staff Foundation, a small family grantmaking foundation, is on the board of Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and has consulted with the Ms.Foundation for Women, among others. Prior to working in philanthropy, she was the Executive Director of the New Jersey Women and AIDS Network. Her background is in women’s health, reproductive justice and HIV/AIDS.
This article originally appeared in On the Issues Magazine http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2009winter/2009winter_12.php, Winter 2009.