Native American Causes Underfunded Due to Misconceptions, Study Finds

Native American Causes Underfunded Due to Misconceptions, Study Finds

Despite the obvious need in many Native-American communities and the ability of Native-led organizations to address those needs, support for Native-American organizations and causes among foundations has been falling, a report from the First Nations Development Institute finds.

Prepared by Frontline Solutions, the report, We Need to Change How We Think: Perspectives on Philanthropy's Underfunding of Native Communities and Causes (8 pages, PDF), found that support for Native American organizations and causes fell by nearly 25 percent between 2006 and 2012, even as overall foundation giving increased significantly. Currently, only 0.23 percent of philanthropic funds are awarded to Native-led organizations, despite the fact that Native Americans make up 2 percent of the U.S. population.

Based on interviews with staff representing eighteen foundations that currently fund Native organizations and causes, eight foundations that do not, and sixteen Native-led nonprofits, the report found an overall lack of knowledge about Native Americans, even among funders; a general lack of involvement with Native communities; a dearth of Native personnel who can champion Native causes; and a deficit-based view of Native communities that ignores the strengths and capacities of those communities. Part of a series of reports about funding for Native American organizations and causes supported by the Fund for Shared Insight, the study also found that non-funders' reasons for not awarding more grants to Native organizations and causes included institutional racism and white guilt, a perceived lack of a business investment case, and misinformation and stereotypes. Misconceptions that posed obstacles to funding included views that tribes are flush with federal or "casino" money; that the Native-American population size is too small to matter; that Native-led organizations "lack the capacity" to handle large investments and thus are high risk; and that Native communities in general are remote or too difficult to get to.

Native nonprofit leaders reported that as a result of the shrinking pool of funds, many smaller Native-led organizations that are the sole support for a community remain underfunded — a problem compounded by the fact that many nonprofits struggle with the often resource-intensive grant application process imposed on them by many foundations. The report offers a number of recommendations for foundations and nonprofits, including collaborating on the design of grant processes and supporting the development of Native leaders and Native careers in philanthropy.

"This report goes beyond implying the willful ignorance and ambivalence, on the part of private philanthropy, of Indian peoples and Indian projects. It asks private philanthropy to own this behavior," said First Nations president and CEO Michael E. Roberts. "As private philanthropy wrestles with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we have to ask ourselves if their very exclusion of Indians in their grantmaking will make them question their progress toward their goals of racial equity."

"New First Nations Report Explores Why Philanthropy Continues to Underfund Native American Causes." First Nations Development Institute Press Release 07/30/2018.