Social Justice Fund Northwest (NW) is building relationships across race and class through philanthropy.
You might have heard of giving circles before. Giving circles are a form of philanthropy where groups of individuals donate money or time to a communal fund in order to raise awareness and engagement in a certain issue.
Social Justice Fund NW developed a new form of collaborative philanthropy, the Giving Project model, which it is now helping expand to other funds across the country, thanks in part to support from the Raikes Foundation. The goal of a Giving Project is to share giving power across race and class in order to fund grassroots movements for social change, facilitating an inclusive process where people of all economic classes and income levels offer their knowledge, life experience, and financial contributions. Partly through a partnership with Resource Generation, it has brought into these circles inheritors of significant wealth who want to give in ways more likely to make a difference.
"Our role is to draw on the untapped expertise of members of the community who otherwise have been excluded from institutional philanthropy, and assure their voices influence what gets funded” said Mijo Lee, Executive Director of Social Justice Fund NW. “Some of the members of Giving Projects often are quite wealthy and for them, it’s a real opportunity to learn and share power in authentic and meaningful ways. These people recognize that more diverse voices in the process results in better grantmaking.”
Often, higher net worth individuals – who are responsible for the majority of charitable dollars donated in the United States – are far away from the things they support. The Giving Project model allows them to get closer to the issues, people and communities impacted, helping them become better-informed and more empathetic donors. At the same time, people with less wealth and class privilege develop skills and leadership as donor organizers and grantmakers.
Each Giving Project is a cohort of 20 or so volunteers from the community and is intentionally cross-class and multiracial. Members of the cohort sign on for a six-month commitment during which they are trained in community building, philanthropic giving and grassroots fundraising. Giving Project members both raise money and make all grantmaking decisions at the conclusion of their work together.
Giving Project grants go to a wide-range of organizations that all fit the definition of community organizing, meaning they are led by the people most impacted; develop leadership from within the community; promote understanding of and address root causes of the issues; and, build collective power to work toward systemic change. A few examples of recipients in the Seattle area include Got Green, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo and the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.
At their core, Giving Projects are about raising and distributing resources. Since 2010, Giving Projects have raised nearly $7 million from a total of 11,000 donors. The vast majority of these donors were not previously giving financially to social justice issues. Many were not engaged philanthropically at all. Giving Projects have been especially successful at reaching communities traditionally underrepresented in philanthropy, including young people (about 75% of participants are under 35) and people of color (about 50% of participants), as well as people with wealth. Regardless of their means, most participants make their largest gift ever through the process.
This spring, Social Justice Fund NW completed three Giving Projects at once – two in Seattle and one in Portland – and nearly moved a staggering $1 million in one weekend. Each Giving Project raised over $300,000 and an environmental justice cohort in Seattle alone raised $460,000, a record for any Giving Project in the country.
Lee described how the Portland Giving Project focused on gender justice came together and set a fundraising record for Giving Projects in the city: “For Social Justice Fund, gender justice is an inclusive concept that brings together a lot of different movements that have an element around gender, whether it be LGBT rights, reproductive justice, family security or the rights of families to stay together despite inhumane immigration laws. Our goal is to bring people together and to fund the most exciting areas of social change. We first and foremost involved trans and queer people, and also people of color, groups that are often not represented in philanthropy in decision-making or on the recipient end. It was important for those people to have the opportunity to be grant makers and donor organizers in the process.”
There are fewer opportunities these days for Americans to come together in authentic relationships across race and class, and the experience itself has lifelong consequences for participants. In addition to coordinating Giving Projects, Social Justice Fund NW offers workshops on giving, fundraising and grassroots organizing to members of the community in Seattle and Portland. To get involved, visit socialjusticefund.org. And to learn about Giving Projects in the rest of the country, visit givingprojects.org.