Funders can play a major role in promoting a healthy democracy, and increasingly, grantmakers like the Tides Foundation are investing in civic engagement. To learn more about Tides’ work in this area, along with their support of ballot initiatives on reproductive health, Grantmakers In Health’s Miranda Wesley spoke with the Tides Foundation’s Program Officer of Civic Engagement and Democracy, Beth Huang. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the Tides Foundation’s Healthy Democracy Fund and your work in civic engagement.
Beth Huang: The Healthy Democracy Fund is a Tides Foundation grantmaking initiative that is committed to building a more inclusive democracy by shifting power to leaders and communities who have been historically excluded from participating in our nation’s future, with three main priorities that are evergreen every year. Our first main priority includes closing the voter participation gap by race, class, and age. Our second major goal of the Healthy Democracy Fund is to expand voting rights and fair representation. Our third major programmatic priority is countering mis- and disinformation, particularly aimed at BIPOC, immigrant, and young voters.

We prioritize funding state and local organizations that have a year-round civic engagement and base-building program. We believe that these are the trusted community leaders best positioned to motivate unlikely voters in their communities. There are a lot of people for whom the public education system, public safety, health care system, housing—all of those systems are not working for them. They are rationally cynical about whether or not their vote really matters.

What are your funding priorities? And how were they determined?
Beth Huang: Because our top priority, our north star, is closing the voter participation gap by race, age, and income, we are funding eight to 10 organizations that anchor voter mobilization connected to year-round grassroots organizing in 11 priority states, which are Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.

We fund organizations such as One Pennsylvania because we believe their year-round canvas program develops leaders, motivates Black voter participation in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and prevents voter participation from going down. We fund organizations like Make the Road Nevada because we believe that voter participation among Latinos in Nevada would go down if they did not have sufficient resources. They are the organizations that go both broad [to] mobilize hundreds of thousands of voters, and they also go deep by developing the authentic leadership of residents in underrepresented communities.

What role can funders play in protecting access to reproductive health?
Beth Huang: That is maybe not even the million-dollar question, but like a $10 million question this year, right? We believe that funders and donors have a pivotal role to play in 2024, since there are about 10 abortion-related ballot measures this year. We can’t understate the urgency of the moment in 2024.

Florida is one of the only states in the South where people can access reproductive health care. It has also been an important access point for reproductive health care in the entire Caribbean. Florida, as the third largest state, provides the second largest number of abortions in the entire country [at] about 80,000 abortions per year. Florida’s six-week abortion ban, which is taking effect now in 29 days since the Supreme Court ruled on April 1, is an existential threat to reproductive health care for an entire region of the country. Funders’ ability to play a role is critical at this juncture.

Read the full article about reproductive health and justice by Beth Huang and Miranda Wesley at Grantmakers in Health.