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PEAK Grantmaking

Supporting the Pro-Immigrant Rights Movement in Social Justice Grantmaking

A New Way to Think About Funding – Movement Investment Project

Immigrants are part of the fabric of our communities and have been for centuries. Many American families have a migration story. But in recent years, immigrant communities have been subjected to an increase of dehumanizing attacks from an increasingly white nationalist agenda built upon decades of discrimination and racism against immigrants, along with people of color, women, and girls, LGBTQI, and other marginalized communities.

Pro-immigrant, refugee, and asylum seeker movements are at the front lines of responding to these crises. As these organizations are responding to the moment, they are also growing in strength and number to counter this hatred and continue our shared journey of creating a new, more equitable America.

But according to Foundation Center data, between 2011 and 2015, barely one percent of all money granted by the 1,000 largest U.S. foundations was intended to benefit immigrants and refugees.

In April, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) launched the Movement Investment Project—a multi-year initiative to drive more resources to social movements by providing recommendations for grantmakers to improve their grantmaking and maximize their impact. And we’ve started the project with a focus on the pro-immigrant movement.

If we want our communities to thrive and be inclusive and welcoming to all, philanthropy has the opportunity to shift grantmaking practices to support the social movements that are the key ingredient to making sure that all people have the opportunities to thrive.

What the Data Shows

NCRP has been in conversation with leaders in the pro-immigrant movement, including nonprofit and funders, over the past couple of years about the relationship between philanthropy and the movement and how funders can support the movement to meet urgent needs and invest in long-term progress.

After analyzing over 17,000 grants from the Foundation Center, it is clear that philanthropic funding for the pro-immigrant movement has been:

1.Disproportionately low and limited to a small group of funders.

In a time when immigrants face growing threats, philanthropy has not provided enough funding to counter the urgent crises. In 2016, grantmakers funded leisure sports (e.g. cycling, ice skating, equestrianism, golf, etc.) more than they did to the pro-immigrant movement.

Funding for immigrants vs. leisure sports
Funding for immigrants vs. leisure sports

And the already limited funding is limited to a small group of funders. In 2014 – 2016, 50 percent of funding for the movement came from just 11 foundations. If this small group of funders expanded to include more committed, long-term grantmakers, the movement would be in a better position to sustain itself and succeed.

2. Skewed toward national organizations that focus on policy or inside-game strategies without authentic community connections

Although the whole movement is underfunded, philanthropic funding specifically for national policy or advocacy organizations grew by 20 percent between 2007 and 2012—during the height of the fight for comprehensive immigration reform—while it decreased for grassroots organizations and national base-building organizations.

Immigrant Rights Funding Flow
Immigrant Rights Funding Flow

But in more recently, from 2014 – 2016—after the main battles for comprehensive immigration reform were over in Congress—funding was still skewed toward national policy and advocacy organizations.

Funding for Immigrant Policy Orgs
Funding for Immigrant Policy Orgs

3.Geographically unequal to threat level.

Even in what appear to be well-funded states, philanthropic funding has not matched the level of threat many immigrants face.

Philanthropy vs. Deportation Rates
Philanthropy vs. Deportation Rates

In California, New York, and Illinois, philanthropic funding for the pro-immigrant movement between 2014 – 2016 totaled at least $6 per immigrant in each of the three states, but in Southwest border states (Ariz., Texas, and N.M.), Southeast, and Florida, grantmaking per capita was less than half of grantmaking per immigrant in other states. At the same time, Florida, the Southwest, and Southeast have more than three times the number of deportations.

What Do Movement Leaders Say, And How Can Funders Support Them? 

While the funding data certainly provides a part of the story of how the movement has been funded, conversations with individuals and organizations in the movement told us much more about how funders have been supporting them. And while there are a few funders that are supporting the movement in innovative ways and following grantee partners’ leads on their visions, there are many more funders that could be supporting these organizations on the frontlines.

While the organizations we spoke with represented a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, and identities, many organizations had similar experiences with philanthropy. Each interview certainly contained its own nuances, and the main themes we will discuss below are just the most commonly heard themes.

Rapid Response Has Shifted to Long-Term Crises, But Funding Has Not.

As immigrants from all communities and backgrounds face growing threats and attacks, many pro-immigrant movement organizations responding to these crises—the Muslim travel ban in 2017, the proposed “Public Charge” rule, to name a couple—are seeing rapid response crises turn into longer-term institutional programs. As organizations continue fighting to protect their communities, foundations and donors can support them by providing flexible funding for rapid-response support that can also enable organizations to create long-term strategies.

Streamline grantmaking processes so funding reaches organizations more quickly:

  • Create a simplified application process designed for rapid response funds.
  • Be flexible in how the funding is used—instead of providing programmatic grants, provide funds to hire additional organizers, travel costs, or translation services.
  • Rethink the grant reporting process. Can you have a conversation with your grantee partners instead of requiring a written report?

When organizations don’t have to spend critical hours filling out a detailed grant application, they can spend more time organizing their communities.

The Rise Together Fund (RTF), a donor collaborative of the Proteus Fund, has supported the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian community (MASA) for the past decade and has provided more than $250,000 in rapid-response support in the past two years.

During this time when attacks against MASA communities and other marginalized communities have occurred regularly, RTF worked with Proteus’ grant management to streamline their processes to get grants out the door quickly and identify new grantees using existing relationships and networks. A more streamlined process meant asking just three to five questions for grants, taking phone applications when necessary, and making funds available in just a couple weeks.

RTF also recognized that rapid response funding cannot replace long-term funding. The increase in attacks and threats against MASA communities, along with other immigrants, is not new. The threats have been building for years, and philanthropy needs to invest in grantee organizations’ visions and provide the long-term funding needed to advance their agendas.

Victories Are Possible, Especially At State And Local Levels – But More Funding Is Needed

Organizations at the forefront of organizing and power-building do not receive needed funding. As shown above, national policy organizations have received the majority of philanthropic funding. But with little chance of passing another pro-immigrant federal act in the near future, and with a rise in threats coming from the federal level, funders can invest in state and local grassroots organizations. Successes and wins do not fall neatly into grant cycles, so thinking of grants as long-term investments can position state and local organizations to address future challenges and meet opportunities.

Support organizations and give them the flexibility and space to identify shared priorities and strategies that will lead to wins.

  • Make multi-year investments instead of funding specific campaigns and projects.
  • Rethink how progress and success are measured in grant reports.
  • Partner with grantees—learn what strategies they think will be successful, and trust their vision.

The long-term partnership between the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr., Fund, along with other California-based funders and pro-immigrant leaders, has helped make California one of the most immigrant-affirming states in the nation. The success of the partnership is due to the grantee partners that lead the way and Haas’s commitment to long-term strategies.

This flexibility and trust in movement-building organizations and their priorities have helped the movement in California build more capacity that allows them to continue building support for immigrants, as well as adapting to challenges and opportunities that arise. The support also enables them to build organizing capacity, broaden support for pro-immigrant policies, and ultimately change the narrative about immigrants.

Immigrants are and have long been a diverse group of people.

The pro-immigrant movement is not monolithic. It’s made up of people with a wide diversity of experiences, and the movement is lifting up the complexity of immigrant experiences. But funding still does not always support that complexity and intersectionality, including support for Asian American and Pacific Islander, Muslim, Black, and LGBTQI immigrant groups.

In our interviews, we heard encouraging stories about how organizations are working together across identities, backgrounds, and issue areas to push back against a narrative that often paints them as one community. But often, that collaboration is not funded.

Support organizations that build intersectional coalitions with other organizations and provide the resources to convene, strategize, and advance shared agendas.

  • Start or increase funding for coalition-building work, including travel costs, hiring campaign staff, and meeting logistics.
  • Encourage intersectional collaboration in your grantmaking guidelines.
  • Collect information on whether current program area funding is reaching immigrant communities, and disaggregate data based on race and ethnicity.

Foundations can support coalition building across the movement as well as coalitions that work across movements. These coalitions often include organizations from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and funding for this work helps cover transportation and logistics to be able to meet, hire, and train essential campaign staff and craft a shared vision.

The Healing Trust, a Tennessee-based, health-legacy foundation, is dedicated to fostering healthy communities, including immigrants and refugees. When immigrants can access the resources and services to be healthy, they improve the health outcomes of the whole community, which have long-lasting effects on the health and success of families. The Healing Trust achieves its mission by combining strategies like direct programmatic support, multi-year advocacy support, and collaboration with other funders to leverage even more money.

Funders have the opportunity to support immigrant leadership.

While it is a promising sign that many pro-immigrant organizations are immigrant-led, especially at the state and local levels, organizer burnout is increasingly common. In a dehumanizing environment where immigrants are attacked and threatened every day, organizers need support now more than ever to be mentally and physically healthy.

Learn about where organizations need the most support to make their organization more effective.

  • Allow flexibility in how funding is used so that organizations can pay livable salaries, hire essential staff, and provide health insurance.
  • Help grantee partners find opportunities for healing and wellness.
  • Provide capacity-building and leadership-development grants to build the leadership pipeline.

All of these are critical for organizers to lead their communities and fight back against the threats they and their communities face.

When organizers are healthy, the whole movement benefits. Organizations would have more capacity to mobilize people, build power within their communities, heal from trauma, and be more resilient. This capacity translates to more power for the movement by having the energy and momentum to prevent deportations and harmful legislation, as well as securing more rights for immigrants and refugees.

We Can Fund Differently

Even in the context of constant crises and a history of scarce resources, the pro-immigrant movement is growing and fighting for an inclusive, just, and welcoming future. Funders and donors can also play a role in investing in this future to fight narratives of fear and hate.

No matter what issue areas your foundation focuses on, there are ways to support pro-immigrant organizations. Pro-immigrant movement groups work at the intersection of public health, economic security, civil rights, education access, public safety, gender justice, and many other issues philanthropy cares about. Immigrants are moms and dads, entrepreneurs and small business owners, teachers and students, doctors and nurses, caregivers, construction workers, and so much more.

When we embrace the complexity in the history and identities of all people in our communities and enable them to thrive, those communities become healthier, safer, and more prosperous.