As the country endures a period of division in which both elected leaders and regular citizens traffic in lies and conspiracy theories and seek to undermine democracy, the question of philanthropy’s role in charting a better future is crucial. The need for unprecedented levels of giving from both endowed foundations and individuals is clear. That didn’t end when 2020 ended.
After all, even with the inauguration of a new presidential administration last month, we face existential threats to our democratic systems in this country. The role of independent, mission-driven nonprofit actors could not be more important. We need to be encouraging donors to be digging deep to support them.
In the wake of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, I wrote here about philanthropy’s role in this country’s next chapter. I encouraged foundations and individual donors to 1) support grassroots efforts to strengthen democracy; 2) give up resources and power; 3) break out of the bubble in which too many of us reside; 4) center racial equity, no matter the issue you’re working on; and 5) build on moments of hope. In a subsequent post, I argued that foundations and donors need to be better listeners (which is part of breaking out of the bubble), and that this is essential to effectiveness right now — and in the long term.
As we do all this, let’s remember that this work isn’t just about well-known national organizations — from those countering voter suppression to those advocating for action on climate change. Their work is vital, yes, but we must also not forget about the diverse array of community-based organizations in every state that are too often overlooked but provide vital information, connection, and opportunity to those they serve. Indeed, so many organizations like these have risen to the moment in the past year.
The importance of community-rooted and often small organizations is, in my experience, too frequently underappreciated by big donors in particular. Indeed, these organizations can be overlooked when we think about national crises and threats to our democratic institutions. This is true in the U.S. and also around the world. In Delta Democracy: Pathways to Incremental Civic Revolution in Egypt and Beyond, a deeply researched and insightful book by Catherine Herrold of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Herrold describes how, in Egypt, it has often been organizations whose missions did not appear overtly related to the promotion of democracy that made the greatest difference in fostering incremental progress toward greater freedom.
Read the full article about supporting community-based nonprofits by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.