By Zeke Spier
Social Justice Fund
A new report, Diminishing Dollars: The Impact of the 2008 Financial Crisis on the Field of Social Justice Philanthropy, from the Foundation Center shows that social justice philanthropy has been disproportionately affected by the economy. Social justice philanthropy “often [serves] a unique and critical role in local communities with grassroots efforts and an on-the-ground presence,” said Sara K. Gould, the Foundation Center’s Atlantic Philanthropies senior fellow and author of the report.
Philanthropy Northwest’s Dionna Anderson asked Zeke Spier, executive director of Social Justice Fund, to comment on the report and share his perspective.
Philanthropy Northwest: What was your reaction to the Foundation Center’s report?
Zeke: It is disappointing that there are fewer dollars available to the social justice organizations that are needed more than ever as local, state and federal budgets face further cuts. These organizations are able to build local leadership to influence policy and create solutions that create a more just and equitable world.
A study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy looked at 20 social justice organizations in the Northwest and showed that for every dollar invested they generated a $150 return – much of which did not come from government spending. These organizations need increased support to help all of us get out of this economic crisis.
Philanthropy Northwest: What were some of the key findings that stood out the most to you?
Zeke: What stood out the most is that small foundations will struggle the most to recover. Large foundations support some great work, but they inevitably struggle with maintaining relationships at the local level. Small foundations are better positioned to support small-scale, grassroots organizing and advocacy groups – those that have the biggest impact for the investment. Organizations like Social Justice Fund can help larger foundations identify and fund this local work, but a resource gap will remain until more foundations prioritize social justice.
Philanthropy Northwest: How has the Social Justice Fund granting process changed over the last few years?
Zeke: Social Justice Fund has a long history of participatory, democratic grantmaking. Over the past few years, we’ve taken the next step by engaging our members in a deeper process of community building, education, fundraising, and making funding decisions. Through our Giving Projects, we bring together cross-class/cross-race groups of around 20 people over 6-7 months to explore their individual and collective identities as philanthropists. Our five Giving Projects this year raised more than $375,000 from over 400 donors.
Philanthropy Northwest: Can you talk about your relationship with your grantees and how that has changed over the years?
Zeke: We are in an ongoing learning process to build better relationships with our grantees. Through our new model, we invite staff, board, and volunteers from current, past, and prospective grantees to participate as equal members of our Giving Projects. This perspective is invaluable as we make difficult funding decisions, and our conflict of interest policy is something we use to help prevent any confusion.
Philanthropy Northwest: There are a limited number of funders that fund in Social Justice Philanthropy, why do you think that is and what would you like to see change in the future?
Zeke: Although there is increasing evidence of the impact of social justice philanthropy, many funders are uncomfortable with the long-term and sometimes indirect outcomes of this work. Funding social change requires building relationships based on trust and openness to other’s ideas about both strategy and goals. True social justice philanthropy requires sharing power by opening up decision-making processes to those most directly impacted by the issue – this can be an intimidating process, but it leads to truly meaningful change in ourselves and the world.
Almost none of our philanthropic goals can be achieved without a strong, diverse civil society, and social justice organizations are vital to making this a reality. Whether foundations focus on education, the environment or the arts, we should all be investing in community-led efforts for justice and equality (and having those efforts influence the rest of our work). And no one needs to do this alone – Social Justice Fund is always open to conversations and collaborations to bring more resources to our amazing social justice organizations in the Northwest.