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Social Justice Philanthropy on the Rise


3 August 2009 at 4:19 pm
Staff Reporter
In the US social justice philanthropy is seeing a resurgence - a response to the changed political climate or the current economic climate?

Staff Reporter | 3 August 2009 at 4:19 pm


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Social Justice Philanthropy on the Rise
3 August 2009 at 4:19 pm

In the US social justice philanthropy is seeing a resurgence – a response to the changed political climate or the current economic climate?

After a number of years of declining faith in the efficacy of social justice philanthropy, grantmakers and practitioners alike are showing renewed optimism, according to Social Justice Grantmaking II, a benchmarking study released  by the Foundation Center that provides an in-depth look at current attitudes and giving patterns of social justice philanthropists.

Researchers cite a changed political environment, the success of community organising in the recent Obama election, and new ideas and energy in the field among a number of factors reinvigorating a commitment to social justice philanthropy. 

Among other recommendations, the research points to a move away from funding large, often contentious and unwieldy coalitions to instead support smaller, nimble collaboratives that more effectively advance issues of race, class, background, region, and generation.

Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center says social justice is experiencing a resurgence, fueled by philanthropists whose passion won’t let them stand by when there is injustice and whose pragmatism demands results.

Signs of this resurgence began to appear even before the recent change in the national political climate. 

The report finds that between 2002 and 2006, social justice-related giving rose nearly 31 percent to $2.3 billion, surpassing the 20 percent increase in foundation giving overall during that time. In 2006, social justice funding accounted for 12 percent of foundation grant dollars, up from 11 percent four years earlier.

It says the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation accounted for over half of the growth in social justice grant dollars during this period, as it ramped up funding for economic and community development — primarily to establish a new "Green Revolution" in Africa in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation — and for health care access and affordability. Even without Gates, though, social justice giving still rose faster than overall foundation funding during this period.

Social justice giving fared even better in 2007 — reaching $3 billion, or 13.7 percent of overall grant dollars — and estimates suggest that it held steady in 2008. The outlook for the current year and beyond is less positive, however, not just for social justice grantmaking but for all areas of foundation activity.

Steven Lawrence, senior director of research at the Foundation Center and editor of the new report says social justice philanthropy is not immune to the current economic crisis.

He says while grant dollars will certainly be down, they do not expect that social justice-related grantmaking will be disproportionately affected by the downturn.

Highlights of the report can be download at no charge at  foundationcenter.org



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