Funders: Do a better job of protecting and supporting leaders and organizations who take risks in standing up for justice

Written by Vu Le

Over the past few months, people and organizations who have been public in supporting a permanent ceasefire and an end to Israel’s US-funded genocide of Palestinians have been experiencing consequences. I know colleagues who have faced harassment and intimidation at work for wearing a keffiyeh. Others whose organizations have been losing funding from existing funders because they put out a statement calling for a ceasefire. A colleague told me a donor who had committed to hosting a fundraising event pulled out last minute because one of the org’s founders and board members have been vocal in condemning Israel’s genocidal actions. I’ve lost a few thousand followers, had keynote invitations rescinded, and have had to deal with online harassment since my post on October 17th.

None of this, of course, is going to stop us. The things we face are nowhere near the horrors Palestinians are experiencing right now, and we all need to be even more forceful in speaking up. Israel is now carpet-bombing Rafah, where Palestinians civilians had been ordered to evacuate to. All of us in the US are funding it, as our elected officials get ready to approve sending more than $17B dollars to Israel to continue its genocide of Palestinians. It should horrify all of us in this sector that we could solve homelessness and have universal healthcare and education, but instead, our tax dollars are being used to massacre children and civilians in Palestine every day.

All of this backlash has been highlighting a serious weakness in our sector, and that is the lack of support and protection from funders for progressive leaders and organizations who speak up against injustice. Not just on this genocide and during this time, but across a range of issues and for decades. This has been the default pattern: The right-wing will rally around their leaders, knowing their figureheads are their most important assets. Just look at all the support generated for Kyle Rittenhouse, who murdered two people who were protesting racial injustice. He received a ton of money for his legal defense, got invited to Mar-a-Lago, and gets booked for speaking engagements. He’ll likely get a book deal, possibly be invited to be a contributor on various new channels.

Meanwhile liberal-and-progressive-leaning funders will back away, leaving defenseless those who take risks in standing up for justice and equity. A few years ago, for instance, some colleagues told me one of their board members said something that offended a right-wing pundit with a large national platform. This pundit went on their air and blasted the board member and the organization. For weeks, the board and staff were getting violent messages, including death threats. When they approached their funders asking for help, the funders did nothing, terrified that they would be in the crosshairs too. The lack of support makes it harder for people and orgs to speak up, which makes us all less effective in effecting change.

Last week, I read this article, “Racial Justice Programs Under Fire: Foundations Are Running Scared When They Should Double Down,” by colleagues Lori Villarosa, Ben Francisco Maulbeck, and Gihan Perera. The article notes that after the Supreme Court took down affirmative action, it emboldened the right wing to expand their scope, targeting DEI efforts in general, such as suing Fearless Fund, a venture capital firm focused on supporting Black businesswomen. And instead of standing firm in alignment with their values, many funders start waffling and backsliding, asking their grantees to tone down language, placing harsher limitations on advocacy, pausing their internal DEI work, etc.  

Progressive-leaning funders’ general aversion to anything that’s “political” or controversial or deemed risky, combined with their fear of supporting the leaders, organizations, and movements that are willing to put themselves on the line, is a significant contributor to why the far right has been gaining so much ground in recent years. With democracy on its dying breath and multiple genocides to stop, we need progressive-leaning funders to get out of their self-protectionistic, risk-averse, cover-your-ass mentality and be on the front lines with the people and organizations that are tackling injustice head on. And if you’re not going to be on the front lines, then at least support the people and orgs that are. Here are a few things funders can do:

Keep using an equity lens in funding: As Cora Daniels says in the article “A Post-Affirmative Action World Demands More — Not Less — Funding for Black Leaders,” “What if instead of cowering in the face of the affirmative-action ruling, philanthropy doubled down on its support of leaders of color?” That would be great. Funders, please increase your payout rate and send more money to organizations led by marginalized communities. Continue funding them, and when possible increase support, especially when they’re targeted by right-wing conservatives, as they’ll have their attention divided and won’t be able to fundraise like normal

Fund individual progressive leaders: Many progressive-leaning funders are fine with funding organizations and fiscally sponsored movements but run screaming when faced with the prospect of funding individual leaders. Take some notes from conservative funders and invest in individuals too, especially the ones putting themselves at risk to fight for justice. They don’t have the same level of protection as leaders who work within organizations. If you don’t know how to fund individuals, seek help from your peers who have been doing it.

Read full article here.

DFW501c.news publishes every week.
All of our reporting takes hours of time to curate, research and report news that can impact the work you do!

Your contribution of a few dollars a month will support our reporters, expand our coverage and ensure we continue bringing you timely, relevant nonprofit news!

Support This Site

About the author

Vu Le

Vu Le (“voo lay”) is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and the former Executive Director of RVC, a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of color, strengthening organizations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities.

Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it. He is going to do that, with the hope that one day, a TV producer will see how cool and interesting our field is and make a show about nonprofit work, featuring attractive actors attending strategic planning meetings and filing 990 tax forms.

Known for his no-BS approach, irreverent sense of humor, and love of unicorns, Vu has been featured in dozens, if not hundreds, of his own blog posts at NonprofitAF.com.