activist with megaphone

Inside Philanthropy examined strategies for grantmaking organizations to keep up with fast-evolving social movements, including protests and anti-Confederate campaigns post-Charlottesville, protests in Phoenix against the pardon of Joe Arpaio, disability-rights activists’ defense of healthcare coverage, and immigrant-rights activists’ work against the end of DACA, and they highlighted Solutions Project’s work in their analysis.

They pointed out that philanthropy can finds itself “always playing catch-up” in moments like these. Even as some funders have sought to become more nimble since the election, creating rapid-response funds, events of recent years raise an important question: Can philanthropy possibly keep up with modern, fast-moving social movements? Not only that, but when backing issues like racial justice, can funders be truly supportive of communities they tend to be a few too many steps removed from?


Building Trust

Among the themes they found critical to solving this issue are trust and accountability: a core factor in the disconnect between philanthropy and social movements is the lack of trust funders have toward grantees, combined with the inherent power imbalance that holds only grantees accountable. This trust comes from relationship-building along with expedited processes, like shorter application forms, brief video or even phone applications, or fewer and less formal reporting requirements.

Solutions Project’s Tyler Nickerson weighed in, saying “this provides us a moment to really understand the privilege of our grantmaking process, and design it in a way that allows us to live out our mission and walk our talk.”

Being there for waves of social engagement also means supporting rapid-response giving, as Solutions Project’s Fighter Fund, backed by several progressive and environmental foundations, does. The Fighter Fund was established in 2016, and has a rolling, open-access application it monitors regularly.

“[It] certainly costs more in staff time on our end, but allows us to actually be relevant with the movement, and helps us learn,” says Nickerson, even with just two staff fielding proposals. Nickerson also cited one of Solutions Project’s lessons learned: the importance of marketing a rapid response fund, including media work and reaching out to local organizers. He added, “if you think about where you really want to put money… you have to go out and meet those applicants where they’re at, and in their networks, and in their fields.”

Acting Locally

Even funders acting nationally can still build local connections if they’re willing to spend significant time outside of the office, as Nickerson notes. While it’s a national funder, program staff spend most of their time in states where they fund heavily, developing trusted anchor partners in key places. One tactic that’s helped remote or national funders that want to support work on the ground is funding intermediaries like Solutions Project or local fiscal sponsors that can more easily re-grant funds where they’re needed in the moment.


Adapted from the original at Inside Philanthropy