The year 2020 saw large donors implement a number of policy changes designed to “decolonize” their wealth and hand over more control to the people and organizations receiving that wealth.

The Ford Foundation, for example, announced in October 2020 that it has doubled its payouts to racial justice and civil rights groups, with new funding to those “creating structural and systemic change through strategic litigation, policy advocacy and grassroots organizing” (para. 2). As the foundation’s President Darren Walker explained, “our most urgent priority for this infusion of funds is to meet activists and litigators where they are” (2020, para. 3). Other funds abound. The Decolonizing Wealth Project, founded by activist and author Edgar Villanueva, launched the giving circle Liberated Capital in 2019, which “supports Indigenous and other people-of-color-led initiatives working for transformative social change” (para. 1). Perhaps most importantly, this giving circle has adopted “a reparations model that trusts and supports the leadership of those most impacted by historical and systemic racism” (Villanueva, 2019, para. 2).

Many foundations and charities also have loosened both the restrictions on their grants and their grantees. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, hundreds of foundations and charities pledged to offer more “flexible funding” to nonprofit organizations in order to hasten the delivery of services and goods to people in need.

Of course, the inherent power imbalance between funders and those funded remains a complication, even with less-restrictive giving. As nonprofit organizations enjoy freer rein to try new initiatives and social advocacy groups become flush with cash, there remain several risks.

For one, as a movement establishes a formal structure, it necessarily narrows its focus and excludes certain voices and goals.

It also increases the risk of movement capture. As described by political scientist Megan Ming Francis, movement capture is “the process by which private funders leverage their financial resources to apply pressure and influence the decision-making process of civil rights organizations” (2019, p. 278). Historically, Francis (2015) points to the experience of the NAACP in the early 20th century, as that organization’s financial relationship with the Garland Fund drew it away from anti-lynching activism and toward education equity — in other words, away from advocacy that pointed to violent white people and the institutions that protected them, and toward self-help.

Read the full article about social justice funding by  Leslie Starsoneck, Pedro Gomes, and Aaron Yore-VanOosterhout at Johnson Center.