Ford Foundation to Refocus Grantmaking on Inequality

Ford Foundation to Refocus Grantmaking on Inequality

The Ford Foundation has announced that it is refocusing its grantmaking on inequality in all its forms.

To that end, the foundation will direct 100 percent of its funding and influence to address financial, racial, gender, and other inequities while boosting its grants for general operating support to 40 percent of its grantmaking budget. To respond to five key "drivers of inequality" — cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance, and inclusion; unequal access to government decision-making and resources; persistent prejudice and discrimination against women and racial, ethnic, and caste minorities; economic rules that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes; and the failure to invest in and protect vital public goods — the foundation said it would commit up to $1 billion over five years in six program areas: civic engagement and government; creativity and free expression; gender, ethnic, and racial justice; inclusive economies; Internet freedom; and youth opportunity and learning.

Ford president Darren Walker told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that the foundation aims to create a "social-justice infrastructure" reminiscent of the support it provided to nonprofits during the civil rights era. "By giving a set of institutions core support or seed capital, we helped initiate and support entire movements," Walker said. "We contributed to an entire generation of social-justice leaders around the world."

The shift echoes many of the recommendations included in the Nonprofit Finance Fund's 2015 State of the Nonprofit Sector survey, which found that many organizations in the sector are struggling to achieve long-term financial sustainability. At the same time, the new direction will mean changes in the way Ford supports groups and areas that have been part of its focus for decades. Walker told the Chronicle the foundation would gradually end its support for groups that don't work on issues directly related to inequality, though many of the causes it has long supported will continue to receive support. In the arts, for example, artists, filmmakers, and choreographers looking for support from the foundation will need to focus on social justice and challenge "dominant narratives" that perpetuate inequality.

Walker, who received more than two thousand responses to his annual letter last fall, acknowledged that the task of redirecting the focus of the country's second-largest foundation was a significant challenge. "It certainly could seem like we're boiling the ocean," he told the Chronicle. "But we're going to have a very focused and strategic set of interventions around which we will hold ourselves accountable. We have enough humility to know the Ford Foundation isn’t going to reverse inequality by ourselves. We hope we can contribute to slowing the trend."

"What's Next for the Ford Foundation." Ford Foundation Press Release 06/11/2015. Alex Daniels. "Ford Shifts Grantmaking to Focus Entirely on Inequality." Chronicle of Philanthropy 06/11/2015.