As we gather with family and friends to celebrate the holidays, millions of us will also set aside time to give back — through volunteering, political advocacy, and financial support. In a season inspired by generosity, we have an opportunity to focus our giving on justice, equality, and political change.
And while there’s no shortage of causes to support this year, it can be tough to figure out where your dollars will make the most impact. For years, many donors have been told to solve this problem by giving to groups with the smallest overhead budgets or the highest growth rates, interpreting these metrics as signs of maximal impact.
As feminists, when it comes to supporting non-profits, we have a different theory of change. There’s a lot to be said for the simple act of charity; but in this moment, we are called to think bigger: to support the movements that address underlying causes of inequality and injustice around the world. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to giving, as philanthropists and social justice activists with a combined four decades in the field, we’ve collected a few best practices on how to support that broader change and are sharing them below.
Invest in Black women.
Many of us look at the rising tides of authoritarianism and injustice sweeping nations across the globe and feel helpless to stop its horrifying escalation.
Luckily, there is an answer. Black feminists have been on the forefront of nearly every meaningful social movement in modern history. Too often, assaults on Black women’s bodies and livelihoods operate as “canaries in the coal mine,” sounding the alarm bell on hate, discrimination, and inequity long before these trends emerge in the mainstream. It’s no accident that reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and racial equity are among the first lines of attack for fascists around the world, from Hungary to Brazil to the United States. In the face of these attacks, feminist organizing takes a proactive stance against inequity to transform society, systems, and culture for the better.
According to the Black Feminist Fund, Black feminist-led organizations receive a shocking 0.1% – 0.35% of annual grants made by foundations; yet these are the very organizations who hold the solutions to the problems so many donors want to solve. Don’t let this status quo take hold in a new generation of givers—let’s fill the gap, and defeat authoritarianism in the process.
Support women’s funds and other social justice funds to ensure your money reaches activists on the ground.
If you want to support social movements and the people who lead them, but aren’t sure how to reach them, we’ve got good news. Women’s funds and other social justice funds are already doing the legwork for you, and are ready for your support. Sometimes called intermediaries, public charities or pooled funds, these entities pool resources to make a larger collective impact—while making sure your dollars reach grassroots organizers who are creating change from the ground up.
Much like investing in mutual funds, supporting these institutions allows you to benefit from the knowledge of experts who create a balanced portfolio of movement-linked grantees. Many of these may not have a high profile, but are doing outstanding work in communities overlooked by private philanthropy; you probably wouldn’t find them otherwise, especially if you’re giving internationally from the United States. For example, MADRE supports women and communities on the ground in countries torn apart by war, whether in Gaza or Iraq; the Black Feminist Fundmaximizes resources for Black feminist organizers, creating a world where liberation is achieved and freedom abounds; and the Ms. Foundation for Women provides strategic assistance to organizations at the intersection of gender and racial equity. This is just a snapshot of the many organizations allowing your money to go further, faster with pooled support.
Don’t be afraid to get political: Make donations that are not tax-deductible.
We are in the midst of an historic disruption—in politics, the economy, and the planet. Gone are the days when donors could operate as detached, disinterested, and above the fray—the coordinated attacks on the foundations of our democracy pose too grave a threat.
In fact, without a functioning democracy, we are incapable of making progress on racial, gender, climate and economic justice. Rather than shy away, donors need to join the struggle. For those giving in the US, this means giving beyond tax-advantaged 501(c)(3) funding. These donations may not come with a tax benefit, but they pay off manifold in social change—supporting organizations that elect pro-democracy candidates and pass pro-democracy policies. In the US, an imbalance in political giving has tilted the scales for decades: just look at the current Supreme Court rolling back civil rights in real time—the direct result of years of right-wing donations. In order to meet that challenge with an equal and opposite force, donors who believe in democratic institutions need to be prepared to give accordingly to politically-oriented organizations.
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