Who Needs Your Funding Most?

By Michelle Threadgould Nonprofits assisting vulnerable communities are under fire. The government is proposing 18 billion dollars of budget cuts that would drastically reduce federal funding of programs that directly impact Latinos, women, people of color, undocumented immigrants, children, and the elderly. So how can funders make sure they invest in the communities that need their support most and plan for the future so that organizations can survive this administration and those to come? In the opening address at the recent Hispanics in Philanthropy Conference, foundation and nonprofit leaders tackled this exact question.
Luz Vega Marquis, President of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, said that the whole strategy of the organization is focused on the 45 million people who live in poverty in this country. “We are one of the richest countries in the world and yet we ignore the needs of millions of families in our own communities. Philanthropy means the love of humankind. It’s time for foundations to live up to this pledge and take greater action. We stand for values and we should be able to act every day in the way we make grants and the way we speak to people and the leaders of this country.” In the spirit of Vega-Marquis’ words, here are some insights from fellow leaders at the HIP Conference about which communities need the most support and how philanthropists can think strategically in the coming years.

Support Children in Communities of Color

Panelists at the HIP Conference were concerned with the emotional wellbeing of communities of color, and highlighted the importance of finding ways for their organizations to address their communities’ concerns. Alandra Washington, Vice President of Quality and Organizational Effectiveness at the Kellogg Foundation, spoke on how this administration’s “rhetoric affects our children” and how “racialized bullying leads to fear and anxiety of undocumented children, toxic stress, and is part of a vicious cycle” in many communities. Washington is concerned with big questions like: How do we fund generational issues? She explained that issues such as systemic racism and discrimination take more than a generation to solve, and therefore, in order to make an impact, organizations need to establish funding models that begin with children and are sustainable for the long term.

Take a Long-Term Approach to Funding

According to Fred Blackwell, the CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, and Kathy Reich, the Director of the Ford Foundation, by becoming actively involved in local elections and politics, and concentrating on key issues, nonprofits can enact change that will yield long-term results. Reich recommends that organizations and funders take a long-term approach. “We can learn something from the conservatives. They said let’s pick three or four issues—and that’s what we need to do with nonprofits and philanthropy.” In terms of long view thinking, it is also essential not to lose sight of the fact that people of color and those from a low-income background have often been the target and bore the brunt of budget cuts and policy changes in the past. Blackwell has worked in the government since the ‘90s, and has seen how California law and funding has evolved since the very harsh Three Strikes You’re Out law, Rodney King riots, and ballot measures declining services to immigrants. Blackwell says, “I think it’s important to pick our battles and focus on game changers, not irritants. So now is the time to get involved on a local level and not put all our eggs in a federal government basket.”

Focus on Under-Covered Issues

In addition to taking a long-term approach and supporting communities of color, it’s imperative for funders to highlight under-covered issues. At the conference, a variety of experts spoke on a panel about one of the most underfunded and under-covered issues of our time: human trafficking. Stories concerning human trafficking are often brutal, involving the mistreatment of minors and forms of modern-day slavery, so many people shy away from facing or learning more about this horrific issue. But it’s essential that people take notice. Bibiana Ferraiuoli Suarez, the Executive Director of the Ricky Martin Foundation, whose mission is to create a world free of human trafficking, explained that “Global human trafficking affects 45 million a year.” The Foundation has helped lead some of the first anti-trafficking campaigns in Latin America, and through its three pioneer investigations is helping to shed light on these invisible crimes. Another human trafficking expert, Dr. Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, Professor in the Department of Public Affairs and Security Studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has traveled along the migration routes of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to interview victims of human trafficking and better understand their struggles. She feels that more organizations need to do work like this, in the most affected communities, and share these stories with the world. Funders can help bridge the gap between research and practice, ensuring that victims of human trafficking find a way to escape their situation.

Taking Steps to Make a Difference

When it comes to responding to the current political climate and how to serve marginalized communities, it is important to make a commitment to tackling key issues, have a long-term view, become involved in local politics, and to fund organizations helping to put a stop to global human rights abuses. By making investments in at-risk populations, funders can help nonprofits weather this storm.