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Beyond the Holiday Hustle: How Philanthropy Can Move More Money, Now

On meeting the moment that we’re in. We’re asking to #MoveMoneyNow.

Authors: Eric Horvath, Rakiba Kibria, Vice President of Revenue

It’s hard to overstate how much was and continues to be at stake this year. Nine months in, most Americans are still battling the direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19. Even with the promising news of a vaccine, we are still heading into“the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.” There is no question that the pandemic continues to disproportionately devastate communities of color, the vaccine distribution will be no different. The convergence of the health, economic, and racial justice crises of 2020 has exacerbated unprecedented problems that will be felt for years.

While $12B was pledged globally within the first half of the year to fight COVID-19, little is known about where the money has gone and how it will be used. Further, the lion’s share of funding has been restricted to project-based support and only 5% of the total funding was publicly disclosed as being earmarked for BIPOC communities. In response to the Movement for Black Lives, marching statements made their rounds, and billions have been pledged towards advancing racial justice across sectors. Shifting out of neutral and into high gear by taking action in order to advance racial justice, and centering the health and wellbeing of communities of color, is only the first step.

In a year like 2020, where more than 300,000 people in the U.S. have died as a result of the coronavirus, and the compounding pandemics of racial injustice and economic fallout continue to plague communities, hollow statements and prolonged funding processes are causing more harm than good.

If the “bottom line” for many philanthropic organizations is promoting health, economic, social, and racial justice, can we honestly say the sector has done everything it can to adequately support beneficiary communities?

Philanthropy has a unique opportunity to move closer to achieving its true potential: marshaling resources to individuals and efforts, based on need, not payout percentages. Both institutional and individual donors have the opportunity to consider permanently accelerating their pace and volume of giving.

In our lifetimes, if there ever was a time to unbound ourselves from convention, now is the time.

During the early onset of the pandemic, at Common Future we asked ourselves key questions about our raison d’etre: What is our role as an intermediary organization at this moment? How can we show active solidarity for our network of BIPOC community leaders? In answering these questions we understood we needed to think imaginatively about ways to give agency to and build the power of BIPOC communities. We simply couldn’t ascribe to pro forma actions of what has been done and what could be done.

In sitting with this reckoning, we pivoted our organizational strategy to become a capital aggregator and deployer to our network of frontline community-based organizations. This level of autonomy, responsiveness, and flexibility would not be possible without unrestricted support and trust from our funding partners. Unrestricted general operating support from funders allowed us to expeditiously meet the real-time needs of our network of 200+ community-based organizations. As a national intermediary, we were able to directly deploy over $4M+ to more than 40 primarily BIPOC-led orgs prioritizing communities who were adversely impacted by the economic crisis spurred on by recent events.

Our awardees serve 62% women, 75% BIPOC, and 10% First Nations/ Native/ Indigenous entrepreneurs. The majority of these grassroots organizations are still reeling from COVID-19 and pivoting towards “long-term” solutions.

There is tremendous opportunity to support these organizations with unrestricted, capacity-building grants that allow them the flexibility and space to design and invest in right-sized solutions that build economic power in their community beyond 2020. Moreover, our redistribution efforts validated the belief that shifting capital and power gives agency to community-centered processes that empower its members to make their own decisions around the allocation of core operational resources一something many BIPOC grassroots leaders acknowledge has not been done previously.

Stepping more fully into our role as a national capital intermediary we reflect on some lessons for deploying rapid response funding here, and how to stand with and show active solidarity for Black leaders of social justice organizations. We know the transformative potential of local communities to build thriving ecosystems. Beyond strategic guidance and mentorship, BIPOC leaders need direct resources to redress systemic injustices plaguing their communities. More than ever, we need to be shifting capital to their work in significant ways that will build collective influence and power to rethink how our economy works.

As nonprofit staff, we continue to see the standard “holiday hustle” as fundraisers draw up campaigns and find new engagement strategies to reach their donors in order to meet budgetary goals. Our community-based partners share with us that they are all worrying about COVID-19 fatigue among funders even though the on-ground situation is getting worse, not better. When we hear exhaustion, hurt, and desperation in the voices of our grantee partners who can’t understand why philanthropy hasn’t given the signal that they will continue to step up to meet the moment by bridging funding gaps, we are left dumbfounded.

Is now the right time for funders to be expressing COVID-19 fatigue?

2020 is proving to be a moral test for the philanthropic sector. It is unconscionable that philanthropy continues to prioritize increasing endowment coffers, demonstrates a measured mistrust of the expertise of local leaders on where and how to direct capital, and further stymies progress by imposing procedural formalities. Just as the impetus was raw, urgent, and bold when this pandemic began, philanthropy needs to channel the same momentum and deviate from business as usual.

Why must fundraisers and nonprofit staff continue to resort to old ways in an effort to convince institutional and individual funders that their constituents still need support? Don’t death toll and unemployment numbers already make the case for support?

We know that unrestricted funding can liberate nonprofits to focus fully on their missions and build trust between them and funders. Unfortunately, CCS Fundraising surveyed 1,400 fundraisers across the nonprofit sector between May-September, and their findings indicate 53% of respondents reported a fundraising decline so far due to COVID-19. Responses were nearly evenly divided between those who had seen unrestricted funding levels increase, decrease, and remain the same as before the pandemic. Without decisive action now that is rooted in long-term justice for marginalized communities the crisis will only deepen existing inequities.

A message to philanthropy.

Philanthropy, please continue listening to the plight of BIPOC communities ㅡ their members became the most ill, experienced the most job loss, and already had the least wealth. Now is a time to meet people where they are. We know you are rethinking strategy in light of protracted crises. We know it’s hard to evaluate which solutions are the most impactful or cost-effective. Those factors matter much less as community members are dying, not only of COVID-19 but of hunger and lack of housing.

Will this moment be a time you’re proud of, or will it be erased from institutional memory? History will remember those who stepped up to the plate.

In 2021, Common Future will continue to meet this moment by reducing as many hoops and barriers as we can to better serve our communities and allow for grantee nonprofit partners to utilize the money as they need.

The virus’ spread and lethal-ness knows no convention. It won’t wait for the next board meeting or the holiday slowdown to pass, and it doesn’t care about end-of-year giving plans for tax benefits. The virus won’t wait for philanthropy to revisit grantmaking and investment priorities sometime in the new year.

In times of crisis, it is a privilege to wait, follow standard procedural formalities, and plan for the future.

To those who’ve made marching statements towards centering the physical, mental, social and economic wellbeing for communities of color earlier this year, make good on that promise.

Funders we’re looking at you. It’s time to unbound ourselves from what we believe we can do and, instead, do what we’re called to do.

If this were a typical year, we’d ask you for funding. But we can’t do this in good conscience knowing our peers, other BIPOC nonprofit leaders, are fighting not only structural inequity but the inattention of philanthropy at this urgent time. We encourage you to support these leaders directly, to #MoveMoneyNow.

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