When COVID-19 began, there was a call to action for donors: Give now and give more. When the #blacklivesmatter movement resurged, organizers implored donors to be agile and support organizations led by people most impacted by the issues in their communities.

Emergent Fund proves it can be done.

By moving money every single month -- sometimes in as little as a week -- Emergent Fund has already shifted $1.3 million to 176 grantees through its COVID-19 response, the People’s Bailout Fund. Grantees include:

  • The Food Chain Workers Alliance, a member-led alliance of 33 worker-based organizations across every sector of the food chain. It will support organizing campaigns for workers who lack paid sick leave, health care and protections for immigrants.
  • Return to the Heart Foundation is an Indigenous women-led organization that is supporting traditional healers for mental health, spiritual, and cultural information access.
  • The Brave Space Alliance, the first Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ center on the South Side of Chicago is forming an emergency food pantry to deliver food to underserved LGBTQIA households.

Emergent Fund uses a five-point grantmaking approach that is rapid, flexible, participatory, values-driven, and flips the dynamic of power. Since its inception in 2016, Emergent Fund has demonstrated that getting dollars to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color-led movement building and grassroots organizing has measurable impact.

“We’ve seen grantees shut down detention centers [in Oklahoma],” said Emergent Fund Director alicia sanchez gill. “We've seen our grantees win local, state, and national campaigns around everything from abortion access to rights and dignity for farm workers. Our grantees fight to win.”

Most recently, Emergent Fund identified an organization it believes has great potential -- Unicorn Riot, a nonprofit media outlet with a footprint in several cities, including Minneapolis. As the George Floyd protests ramped up, the organization’s name circulated among various give lists. Emergent Fund had already made a grant to Unicorn Riot several weeks before the unrest.

“We use the term “emergent” for a reason,” sanchez gill said. “We want to follow leadership that is emergent and helping communities respond to rapidly changing conditions.”

In response to this moment, Emergent Fund is in communication with organizers on the ground in Minneapolis, Louisville, St. Louis, Tallahassee and Washington DC to support their work, while continuing to support the important COVID-19 response efforts happening across the country.

Gaps In Social Justice Funding

Many social issues are often deeply connected (ex. racial and immigrant justice or abortion access efforts led by women of color) and according to Emergent Fund data, many of the organizations it supports organize across multiple groups. For donors, this means your dollars can go farther -- advancing progress in several areas at once -- while supporting grantees who understand how systems are connected to each other.

In its first two COVID-19 response cycles, 32% of Emergent Fund grantees worked in racial and economic justice followed by immigrant justice, gender and reproductive justice, and environmental justice.

While donors who support these causes should double down on their giving, sanchez gill says there are other areas that are severely underfunded and need donor support, including disability justice work. While people with disabilities in the U.S. already face challenges like inadequate accessibility and low wage jobs, COVID-19 has exposed additional obstacles.

“If we'd actually been listening to the leadership of disabled folks from the beginning, I don’t think the consequences would have been quite so dire,” sanchez gill said.

While many people are only beginning to understand the deep roots of racism in this country, organizers have been working toward equity for much longer, yet funding for healing justice work is lacking.

“This level of movement building and protesting can be deeply traumatic,” said sanchez gill. “We're talking about generational trauma, so supporting healing justice work and seeing that as a part of an organizing strategy also feels really important.”

Guidance for Donors

Emergent Fund provides donors with an opportunity to support these crucial issues of our time through its platform, but sanchez gill also offers this general advice:

  • Invest in the long term: Fund immediate relief efforts, but also use your dollars to support long-term strategies and policies that will keep people protected through housing, healthcare, and education initiatives.
  • Fund BIPOC-led organizations: Give to people of color and other marginalized communities so they have space to heal and connect to ancestral and cultural wisdom.
  • Be bold in your philanthropy.

“Our goal has been to support grantees who are at the precipice of great momentum and change,” sanchez gill said.