Philanthropy has the opportunity to resolve the chronic underfunding of many of the organizations operating across the criminal justice reform ecosystem, according to a new report by The Bridgespan Group. Aimed at funders interested in criminal justice reform, the study asserts that movement building is central to the effort because it strives to transform an entire system—the criminal legal system—and the exponential harm that it causes far beyond the 2 million individuals who are currently incarcerated.

“Movement leaders and funders we spoke with who have successfully moved toward funding movement actors suggest mindset and tactical shifts funders can make to overcome common barriers to supporting this ecosystem,” said Jackson. The study highlights them:

  •  Embrace the uncomfortable: Issues related to the criminal legal system can be particularly polarized and dynamic—but avoiding things that are uncomfortable impedes progress. Instead of fearing funding that feels political, focus on alignment of values and explore support for advocacy and 501c4 organizations.
  • Rethink progress and possibilities: Funders need to recognize that transformative change takes time, often decades. It may require giving grantees more flexibility, including: emphasizing progress over wins; connecting small goals to organization's strategy and vision; asking grantees to measure their progress and; giving grantees the freedom to fail without risk of losing funding.
  • Promote the ecosystem: No one expects a single funder to support an entire ecosystem but if they take a holistic view of connectivity within the system that can ensure that its entirety is well resourced, something that does not happen much now. They can do this by: resourcing national and local organizations; building understanding of systemic racism, the prison industrial complex, and needs of the movement ecosystem; and collaborating with other funders.

“Philanthropy can play a catalytic role in the transition from our current state of inequity to a more equitable and just world,” said Williams. “Our conversations with movement leaders and funders suggest that it starts with the democratization of power. The time to act is now.”

Read the full article about the funding gap in criminal justice reform at The Bridgespan Group.