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A Conversation with Alexis Buchanan Thomas, Development Manager at Black Voters Matter. Part 2 of a 3-part series.
Black, Indigenous, people of color-led organizations have been at the forefront of social change for decades, but we haven’t been listening to their ideas, experiences, and solutions. Instead, we have chronically underfunded their work, limiting our ability to bring about meaningful social change in our country. In this moment of nationwide reckoning, I talked to leaders who shared their guidance for giving with impact.
Tell me about Black Voters Matter and why you decided to start funding organizations in your network?
We started Black Voters Matter in 2017 under the leadership and vision of Cliff Albright and LaTosha Brown, who raised $200,000 and successfully mobilized Black voters in Alabama for the U.S. Senate special election. We are now in 10 states and work in additional cities around the country.
Every year Black Voters Matter distributes more than $1 million dollars to over 120 local grassroots organizations that we partner with on voter engagement work. While voter engagement work is our main focus, because we are intent on building power in Black communities we created two supplementary funds in 2020 to meet the unique moments Black communities are facing from COVID and police brutality.
Through the Saving Ourselves Fund we provide direct relief to Black communities disproportionately affected by COVID. People don’t realize the importance of supporting Black people in this moment: If you are evicted from your home, how will you vote? Where will you request your mail in/absentee ballot be sent to? What if your polling place is changed, can you register for a new polling place without an address? COVID relief is incredibly important because it will affect our collective voting power. We need to be the first ones to save ourselves. Additionally, in line with the criminal justice work we have been doing, we also created The Resistance Bail Fund in partnership with the Movement for Black Lives. They helped us identify bail funds in 30 states, which we contribute to through the fund to provide bail relief to peaceful protesters.
What are Black-led organizations telling you they need at this moment?
Our local partners are looking for resources and assistance on the ground. Digital canvassing programs are going strong, but groups need PPE equipment for limited face-to-face canvassing. They use the hand sanitizer before dropping leaflets and use masks to be able to have social distanced conversations with prospective voters. Groups are also leading car caravans through local neighborhoods to encourage mail/absentee and early voting, and actively organizing events like “Party at the Polls” to help encourage people to stand in long voting lines and not give up before casting their vote. Resources and volunteers to assist with these activities are needed.
If philanthropy could make one change right now, what should it be?
Loosen up your guidelines, be open to funding organizations that may not check all your boxes. Through Black Voters Matter, we make sure organizations that wouldn’t normally get funding from traditional philanthropy, get funded. You miss out on critical, grassroots organizations when you require an audit, two years of financials, or 501c3 status before providing support. Invest in more of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color-led organizations, and invest long-term. Make more multi-year investments. Make more capacity building investments. Don’t just cut a one-time check and walk away.
What would happen if philanthropy listened to BIPOC leaders?
You would see a bigger, long-term impact in some of these areas where we are trying to move the needle. We would not have so many barriers to people having their voices heard. More Black people would be able to exercise their power and know that their vote counts.
Learn more about Black Voters Matter.