Answering the Call from Movement Leaders

In June 2018, Neighborhood Funders Group convened hundreds of local, regional, and national funders for the NFG 2018 National Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice. Here, Julia Beatty, Program Officer for the Black-Led Movement Fund and the Communities Transforming Policing Fund at Borealis Philanthropy, reflects on philanthropy's accountability to grassroots movements.


“Uprising creates the authorization for funding movements.”

These words, spoken by Reverend Starsky Wilson, Executive Director of the Deaconess Foundation in St. Louis, are some of the many insights that I’ve been reflecting on since I left the Neighborhood Funders Group’s 2018 Convening, Raise Up: Moving Money for Justice.

This year, the convening surfaced good, hard questions about what our responsibility as funders is to grassroots movements—how are we holding ourselves and each other accountable?

This question was especially on my mind given that the conference was held in in St. Louis, Missouri where Mike Brown was killed by a police officer almost four years ago. Reverend Wilson’s words reminded me that it was the protests in the streets of St. Louis in 2014 that ultimately pushed funders to respond to the needs of Black communities.

During the Funding the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) session, organizers showed a video from the 2015 national M4BL convening. As I watched clips of family members remembering their loved ones whose lives had been taken by police and state violence, I asked myself: what is our responsibility to these family members and to the incredible organizations that do so much with so little to amplify their voices and call for transformative social change?

922.jpgIn philanthropy, we are finally having some open conversations about race and racism. Talking about white supremacy happens more frequently (though still not frequently enough) in philanthropic spaces. These cultural shifts have happened in large part because of how the movement has pushed us all—not just funders—to acknowledge this country’s long and sordid history of structural racism and injustice.

Throughout the conference, I learned so much from Black and Brown organizers doing critical, powerful work in their communities. I heard the leaders of the Movement for Black Lives articulate an inspiring 5-year strategy for how to work towards a fundamentally different world where Black lives, and their organizations, are valued and supported and where institutions that have been harmful to our communities are abolished and replaced with those that will value and affirm the flourishing of Black lives. During the Native Voices Rising panel I learned about the important, yet vastly under resourced work being led by Native communities to address the structural conditions that stem from a legacy of genocide and which drive the continued marginalization of indigenous people today. I also learned that only 0.5% of foundation money goes towards Native organizing. A shameful half of one percent.

We say knowledge is power, but that’s only true if we do something with that knowledge. The farther out we get from Ferguson, are we doing enough to support the people and organizations that have brought us this far? The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity will share a report later this year showing that there were gains in funding for Black communities after Ferguson, the emergence of the Movement for Black Lives, and other movement activity in 2014. In fact, after almost a decade of relatively limited growth, giving to communities of color overall went up by 36% immediately after 2014—though this growth is uneven between communities of color. However, for these increases in funding to mean something, they must be not only sustained, but deepened. Funding for Black communities cannot just be a trend that we abandon.


Reverend Starsky reminded us that local movements can change philanthropy. How can we be accountable to the progress those movements have created?

As I reflected on this question, more questions surfaced:

  • Am I working in authentic alignment with leaders in the field?
  • How can I better advocate for new policies within philanthropy that address how we marginalize already marginalized groups with our restrictive grantmaking practices and change-averse culture?
  • Am I doing what I can to resource groups with less burdensome and more flexible grants and capacity building resources?
  • Am I getting money to the field as quickly and efficiently as possible?
  • How am I supporting grantees to eventually become self-sufficient and not need to rely so heavily on foundation funding, so that they no longer must to ask funders for permission to do the work that their communities know is most important?

I am also reflecting on what it means to fund a movement. In order to strengthen the Movement for Black Lives as an ecosystem, we need to get creative in our grantmaking. Strengthening the infrastructure of organizations that are a part of the M4BL, investing in its leaders, and offering rapid response funding are all critically important, but we also need to think about how we are supporting their nationally coordinated organizing. At the NFG conference, we were invited by the M4BL to provide critical funding support to the national coordinating bodies which drive the movement on a national level. Supporting the movement means resourcing those tables to continue to build power and win victories for Black communities, which ultimately benefit us all.

As funders, we are being called in this moment—the question for us is how will we answer?

Follow Borealis Philanthropy at @BorealisPhil.


Find more posts about the NFG 2018 National Convening on our Member Blog.