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Democracy Frontlines Fund

The Democracy Frontlines Fund (DFF) is a project of the left-of-center Libra Foundation designed to combat alleged “systemic racism” by funding left-of-center nonprofit organizations that are focused on criminal justice and electoral policy and led by African Americans. [1]

DFF is funded by 12 left-of-center nonprofit organizations that have committed $36 million in unrestricted funding to 10 grant recipients over the course of three years. These include some of the most powerful philanthropic organizations in the country, including the Hewlett Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and Schmidt Family Foundation. [2]

DFF’s initial round of grant recipients features left-of-center and left-wing organizations, including the Movement for Black Lives (MBL), Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), the Communities Transforming Policing Fund, and the Southern Power Fund. [3]

History

In September 2020, following months of protests after the death of George Floyd, the Libra Foundation announced the creation of the Democracy Frontlines Fund (DFF). Citing “an unbroken string of unjust Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement” and claiming a “chronic crisis of racial injustice” in the United States, DFF committed to funding left-of-center political advocacy organizations in African American communities to push social change. [4]

DFF was announced as a philanthropic project through which 12 left-of-center foundations committed to funding 10 organizations led by African American activists and focused on the supposed “movement to end systemic racism” by promoting left-of-center social policy. The collaborative committed to giving $36 million in grant funding over the course of three years. [5]

DFF committed itself to a new, expressly political type of philanthropy, calling on other nonprofit organizations to “learn in order to fund organizing” efforts, rather than funding social services or direct aid work. DFF also claimed to seek to lessen administrative burden on nonprofit organizations by providing unrestricted, multi-year grant funding. [6]

Activity

The Democracy Frontlines Fund has provided funding to 10 organizations that promote left-of-center social policy, especially on racial issues. The collaborative claims to fund “national organizations building sustainable local power” with a specific focus on criminal justice and voting issues. [7] DFF has prioritized its funding to organizations that put “Black, LGBTQI+, youth, disabled, undocumented, and formerly incarcerated” people into leadership positions. [8]

The original slate of organizations funded by DFF includes several left-of-center and left-wing organizations, including the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, Blackbird, the Movement for Black Lives, Black Youth Project 100, the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP), the Southern Power Fund, and the Black Futures Lab. [9]

While relatively little is known about how recipient organizations have spent their DFF grant funding, the Southern Power Fund has used its approximately $1 million in DFF funding to provide grants to other left-of-center nonprofit organizations. The fund has pooled DFF funding with grants from other left-of-center organizations, including the Ford Foundation, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), and the JPB Foundation, to distribute nearly $10 million to other organizations as of June 2021. [10]

Funding

Although the Democracy Frontlines Fund is technically a project of the Libra Foundation, DFF has received financial support from some of the most powerful left-of-center foundations in the country. These include the Hewlett Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Someland Foundation, Kataly Foundation, and Schmidt Family Foundation. [11]

DFF has also received funding from Wend, a fund affiliated with Walmart heir James Walton; Tao Rising; Sobrato Philanthropies; and the Kelson, Loud Hound, and Crankstart foundations. [12]

Leadership

Democracy Frontlines Fund grant recipients are chosen by a so-called “brain trust” which advises the Libra Foundation on how to distribute grant funding. [13] The committee includes the leaders of prominent left-of-center and left-wing organizations, including Way to Rise, Borealis Philanthropy, the Solidaire Network, the Groundswell Fund, the Emergent Fund, and the Ms. Foundation for Women. [14] The Libra Foundation has claimed that the “brain trust” is changing philanthropy by putting women of color in charge of selecting grant recipients. [15]

Aside from the grant selection committee, DFF also has two executive team members. Tynesha McHarris is the DFF curriculum and facilitation director. McHarris has previously worked for several left-of-center advocacy and philanthropic organizations, including the Movement for Black Lives, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC), and the NoVo Foundation. McHarris also sits on the board of Funders for Justice (FFJ), G4GC, and the Just Beginnings Collaborative. [16]

Daniel Lau is an employee of the Libra Foundation and the DFF initiative officer. Lau previously worked with the left-of-center Northern California Grantmakers and attended the Justice Funders’ Harmony Initiative, a left-of-center philanthropy program. [17]

References

  1. “New Initiative Rallies Philanthropy behind Black-Led Grassroots Organizing.” The Libra Foundation, September 10, 2020. https://www.thelibrafoundation.org/2020/09/new-initiative-rallies-philanthropy-behind-black-led-grassroots-organizing. ^
  2. Daniels, Alex. “Foundations Pool $36 Million for Black-Led Organizing Groups.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/foundations-pool-36-million-for-black-led-organizing-groups?cid=gen_sign_in. ^
  3. “10 Grantees.36 Million Dollars.Infinite Opportunities.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/home/#slate. ^
  4. “10 Grantees.36 Million Dollars.Infinite Opportunities.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/home/#slate. ^
  5. “New Initiative Rallies Philanthropy behind Black-Led Grassroots Organizing.” The Libra Foundation, September 10, 2020. https://www.thelibrafoundation.org/2020/09/new-initiative-rallies-philanthropy-behind-black-led-grassroots-organizing. ^
  6. Daniels, Alex. “Foundations Pool $36 Million for Black-Led Organizing Groups.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/foundations-pool-36-million-for-black-led-organizing-groups?cid=gen_sign_in. ^
  7. “The Case for Dff.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/about-the-fund. ^
  8. “10 Grantees.36 Million Dollars.Infinite Opportunities.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/home/#slate. ^
  9. “10 Grantees.36 Million Dollars.Infinite Opportunities.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/home/#slate. ^
  10. Perkins, Olivera. “Fund for Black-Led Grassroots Groups Is Upending Traditional Grant Making.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, July 21, 2021. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/how-a-14-million-fund-for-black-led-grassroots-groups-in-the-south-is-upending-traditional-grant-making. ^
  11. Daniels, Alex. “Foundations Pool $36 Million for Black-Led Organizing Groups.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/foundations-pool-36-million-for-black-led-organizing-groups?cid=gen_sign_in. ^
  12. Daniels, Alex. “Foundations Pool $36 Million for Black-Led Organizing Groups.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/foundations-pool-36-million-for-black-led-organizing-groups?cid=gen_sign_in. ^
  13. Daniels, Alex. “Foundations Pool $36 Million for Black-Led Organizing Groups.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/foundations-pool-36-million-for-black-led-organizing-groups?cid=gen_sign_in. ^
  14. “The Case for Dff.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/about-the-fund. ^
  15. Daniels, Alex. “Foundations Pool $36 Million for Black-Led Organizing Groups.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2020. https://www.philanthropy.com/article/foundations-pool-36-million-for-black-led-organizing-groups?cid=gen_sign_in. ^
  16. “The Case for Dff.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/about-the-fund. ^
  17. “The Case for Dff.” Democracy Frontlines Fund. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.democracyfrontlinesfund.org/about-the-fund. ^
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