For too long, philanthropy has been focused on civic engagement as an activity that is typically done in even-number years between May and November. Money begins to flow in with purpose – to engage as many voters as is possible to achieve the best outcomes for our communities. But this cyclical, dump-truck style funding doesn’t work because it makes far too many assumptions about who is engaged, how communities will vote, how to engage different communities, and ultimately what this engagement is for.  

Part of the problem is that philanthropy is often measuring the wrong things. They’re focused on voter engagement as the outcome, instead of recognizing it as the lever by which we see transformational change for our people. As head of the New Georgia Project Nse Ufot said recently in her panel at the Funders Committee on Civic Participation, voting is a “flex” of the power that communities have built over time. Voting is not the end.

If philanthropy is actually concerned with changing the material conditions of Black, Indigenous, Native, Latiné, East, South and Southeast Asian, & Pacific Islander communities – as opposed to focusing on holding and retaining power for elected officials – then the philanthropic sector must do the following: 

  1. Move the majority of civic engagement dollars to organizations that are led by and serve Black, Indigenous, Latiné & AAPI communities.
  2. Transform your understanding of civic engagement beyond the transaction of voting. Invest in power-building, base-building, narrative-shifting, governance, and racial justice work as a part of your civic engagement portfolio.
  3. Recognize the long-arc of civic engagement and create a civic engagement strategy that is longer than the 2- or 4-year cycle. Include training, capacity-building, and pipeline strategies for the whole movement, not just elected officials, as part of this strategy.
  4. In addition to your c3 grants, begin moving c4 money out of your institutions to the movement. C4 dollars are more flexible and allow organizations to do more meaningful and engaged work with our communities.

Read the full article about building power in BIPOC communities by Karundi Williams and Kavita Khandekar Chopra at National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.