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New Report | Democracy-Focused Philanthropy: Choosing Operating Models for Deeper Impact

December 02, 2022

For funders interested in protecting democracy, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors has created Democracy-Focused Philanthropy: Choosing Operating Models for Deeper Impact, a timely report created to highlight the importance of centering equity and racial justice in democracy-focused philanthropy.

As recent elections and societal trends have made all too clear, enabling an effective democracy is an important and much-needed focus of those pursuing social justice, racial equity, and the continuation of a civil society. Philanthropy has a significant role to play in this regard, and the rise in funding over the past decade shows how funders are stepping up. According to Candid’s Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy data tool, grant dollars dedicated to campaigns, elections and voting; civic participation; government; and other democracy-related activities in the United States went from a total of $740 million in 2011 to $2.5 billion in 2020. Given the importance of this issue to constitutional democracies, it is critically important that institutions funding democracy employ practices and approaches that make the organization’s work as impactful as possible.

This publication describes the various ways philanthropy can support efforts to build and preserve democracy, with a particular focus on addressing deep-seated and persistent problems of racial injustice and inequity in the field, and in our own philanthropic institutions. In providing a deep qualitative analysis of how funders engage in democracy-related philanthropy and focusing on the central role racial justice should play in democracy philanthropy, the report illuminates:

  • Models and trends among funders supporting democracy.
  • Assumptions that philanthropic leaders hold about the nature of the impact they seek to create for democracy, as well as how those assumptions are connected to their stated core values.
  • How aspects of a funder’s operating model facilitate different types of impact, and how to reengineer these if necessary.
  • Meaningful practices in philanthropy in advancing racial justice and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and implications of historical practices.
  • How funders create programs or portfolios that incorporate divergent strategies and approaches, as well as the implications of this strategic diversity for internal structures, communications and partnerships, reputation, and success in achieving impact.

Informed by interviews with leaders of ten foundations deeply engaged in democracy-related issues and six experts on racial justice and DEI, as well as desk research on an additional set of more than a dozen democracy funders, Democracy-Focused Philanthropy is based on research commissioned by the Democracy Fund for its own strategic planning process. Throughout the report, RPA employs its analytical tool, The Philanthropy Framework, to dive deep into observations about funder’s culture, structure, and strategy.

Click here to read the full report.

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