Protestors at a Juneteenth Rally in brooklyn. Fiora Watts/shutterstock
Protestors at a Juneteenth Rally in brooklyn. Fiora Watts/shutterstock

Last summer, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers sparked nationwide protests and calls for justice. The movement prompted a wave of commitments to racial equity from funders, nonprofits, governments, corporations and more—and almost certainly influenced a jury’s decision yesterday to hold former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin accountable for the brutal murder of Floyd.

Amidst the marches, protests and pledges of support, one way the public made their voices heard was through online petitions. Millions took to signing and sharing them online, particularly through Change.org. At last count, the petitions seeking justice for Floyd and Taylor had drawn more than 19 million and 11 million signatures, respectively, making them the two most popular petitions in the history of the popular petition platform.

Last year, Change.org, which is a for-profit B corporation, pledged all of the funds from the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor petitions to support racial justice work through a newly launched Racial Justice Fund. Change.org makes most of its revenue through advertising; individuals and companies can pay to promote their petitions to users who share similar interests. The company also makes revenue through donations. In the instance of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor petitions, donors chipped in to support the promotion of the petition, although according to news reports, some users believed they were donating to Floyd’s family rather than Change.org itself.

The company has now tapped social justice funder the North Star Fund to facilitate the donation of the funds generated from the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor petitions to support Black-led organizations that, as Change.org explains, are “on the frontlines of racial justice work.” The company has committed $5.5 million to the new fund.

“We saw what was happening around the world in terms of movements and things that were happening around racial justice in different cities…. It just made us ask tough questions as a company about who we are and how we want to support the movements that are happening,” said Rashawn Davis, associate director of Change.org’s Racial Justice Fund.

But as Davis explained, one of the most important things when beginning a new endeavor is to know what you don’t know. “Change.org isn’t a philanthropic organization….We help people create the change they want to see, but we haven’t done philanthropy at this scale, in this way before,” said Davis.

In order to identify which organizations to support, Change.org is partnering with the New York-based community foundation, North Star Fund, which is a 501(c)(3) public nonprofit. In addition, the company will work with staff members and petition starters to make decisions about which organizations it will support.

“We didn’t want to just assume that we knew the best way to move millions of dollars into the hands of activists and organizers and organizations, and so we started a search for a partner in this work.” With the help of outside advisors from Dragonfly Partners and Just Strategies in Philadelphia, Change.org settled on partnering with North Star Fund.

In the wake of last summer’s historic movement, we saw a flurry of new funds established to support Black-led organizations. In fact, a $5.5 million fund is relatively small compared to some of the pledges that came from foundations and corporations alike in the past year. Davis explained that Change.org wanted to be thoughtful about how they were putting that money to use.

“We just wanted to make the greatest impact with the dollars we had,” Davis said. “We knew that we wanted to do this in a way that was equitable. We wanted to do this in a way that elevated the voices and power of folks who are often marginalized in philanthropy.”

That’s where North Star Fund comes in.

“We are honored to partner with Change.org’s Racial Justice Fund team to move money to Black-led grassroots organizing in New York and throughout the U.S.,” said Jennifer Ching, North Star Fund executive director. “We can only dismantle white supremacy and build a world where all communities thrive with the leadership of Black organizers, like the ones this fund will support.”

North Star Fund, Ching explained, operates various philanthropic organizing and advisory programs. “We work with donors as individuals and groups (including companies or foundations) to move money, and to also learn about how to be more effective and responsible supporters of movements,” said Ching. The foundation is known for its strong backing of movement-building and its unique participatory grantmaking practices.

“I think what was most attractive to us about North Star Fund is that they’re all about centering the voices of and the power of folks who are actually doing the work,” Davis said. “And that was really important to us, to not be the focus, but to make the folks who are doing the work be the focus.”

North Star Fund employs a process that “shifts decision-making power to communities fighting for justice,” Ching said. It’s the community organizers themselves, including former and current grantees, that make the funding decisions, rather than a board of directors.

Continued need

Despite the philanthropic pledges and outpouring of support for racial justice in the past year, the need for systemic change remains as apparent as ever.

“The day the Change.org announcement came out, Minnesota—and our nation—were once again reeling in protests as we learned of Daunte Wright’s killing,” said Ching. “We were left to ask, once again, how many more Black people must die before we reckon with our nation’s violent history and the woven threads of anti-Black racism and white supremacy that form our everyday lived reality.”

Ching added that she hopes the project can inspire more companies and groups to meaningfully support Black-led movements.

“Throughout history, movements have been largely funded by people. Large philanthropic and corporate interests are afraid of systems change,” Ching said “As a result, of the billions and billions of dollars that flow through formal philanthropy each year, only a tiny fraction goes toward the sort of visionary grassroots organizing we will be supporting through the Change.org Racial Justice Fund.”

The first round of grants, totaling $350,000, has already gone out to five Black-led organizations. These are the Black Lives Matter Global Network, Children of Promise, the Hidden Genius Project, the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice, and Black Swan Academy.

There’s no set date for second round funding, but Change.org is hoping to award grants by this summer. Change.org will also be contributing $2 million to North Star Fund’s Let Us Breathe Fund, which is a grantmaking program for and by Black activists who organize against police violence and structural racism.

“I think for us, it’s about supporting the work that’s happening around the country, particularly the work that’s being led by Black-led organizations and Black organizers and Black leaders,” said Davis. “And so I think that’s important to Change.org and that’s certainly important to me as a Black man who works at Change.org, so it’s exciting to be able just to support so much of the work that’s going on around the country.”

“The work that was started last summer—and even before last summer—continues to this day, and that work still needs resources, still needs support,” Davis added. “We are just hoping in a small way to help support the work that’s going on.”

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