Family Foundations Lag Sector in Social Justice Funding, Report Finds

Family foundations lag the rest of the philanthropic sector in funding social justice initiatives, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy finds.

Based on an analysis of Foundation Center data on the thousand largest U.S. foundations, the report, Families Funding Change: How Social Justice Giving Honors Our Roots and Empowers Communities (18 pages, PDF), found that between 2004 and 2012 family foundations — which account for about 44 percent of the sample — allocated 9 percent of their combined grant dollars to social justice efforts, compared with 14 percent for the sector as a whole. The calculation excludes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded nearly $2 billion in support of grassroots advocacy, community organizing, and public policy change work during that period — nearly ten times the amount awarded by the next biggest family funder of social justice initiatives, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.

In terms of the share of grant dollars family foundations direct to social justice work, Unbound Philanthropy topped the list, at 99 percent, followed by the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation (74 percent), the Melville Charitable Trust (71 percent), the Libra Foundation (58 percent), the Moriah Fund (58 percent), and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund (49 percent). While the report found that about two-thirds of the family foundations in the data sample increased their share of social justice funding between 2004 and 2012, the increase for nearly two-thirds of those foundations did not exceed $500,000.

According to the study, perceived barriers to family foundations supporting social justice work include a lack of awareness about social justice funding and/or the legality of funding advocacy work; the difficulty of measuring outcomes for social justice initiatives; a focus on a specific issue; and limited assets. Regardless of issue area, the report argues, there are ways to apply a social justice lens to any grantmaking strategy, while funding for advocacy, organizing, and policy change work amplifies other efforts in that it empowers people to continue the hard work of social change beyond the scope of a grant.

"Family foundations have a tremendous opportunity to fund advocacy and organizing," the report notes. "Their flexibility and values-driven approach to philanthropy can empower them to make bolder, systems-changing investments."

Aaron Dorfman. "New NCRP Report Shows Family Funders Are Uniquely Poised for Social Justice Giving." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Blog Post 10/6/15 10/06/2015.