Robin Beck and Malachi Garza, Guest Contributors
Recent coverage of the amount of funding the Black Lives Matter organization has raised triggered some sadly predictable responses. While some in philanthropy have acknowledged that Black-led organizations are getting long-overdue resources to tackle the systemic racism that has dominated American society for centuries, anti-Blackness, racism and ignorance have shown up, as well. Critics trumpeted headline-grabbing fundraising numbers, and almost immediately, there was skepticism and a propensity to want to “look under the hood” by those in philanthropy.
Bottom line: At this critical moment in the struggle for racial justice, it is ridiculous and deeply problematic to be asking if Black-led organizations have too many resources, especially when so many white-led groups are doing just fine pulling in far, far more funding. Rather, the important question is this: What would it look like for Black-led movements to have the abundant resources they need to eradicate systemic racism and support their communities to thrive? It is time to make sure the movement has more, not fewer, resources to do self-determined, vital work.
According to financial data, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation raised more than $90 million in 2020. The foundation supports the critical and mass work of Black Lives Matter and distributes funding to Black-led groups across the BLM ecosystem, including by regranting funds to Black-led organizations, allocating cash to individuals and families, and giving grants to family foundations started by directly impacted people who have lost family members to state violence.
Let’s put this number into context by looking at another philanthropic cause—environmental work: Three percent of all charity dollars go to environmental and animal groups, and yet roughly $1.25 billion per year goes to just four largely white-led environmental organizations. For example, during 2019, the Nature Conservancy spent hundreds of millions of dollars on land and easement purchases on top of $520 million for other activities. The point is not that environmental organizations like the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, NRDC and the Sierra Club receive too many resources. The point is that few are decrying this level of funding as unjust. In fact, many would assert it is too little.
Donors—people and institutions, making gifts large and small—rightly stepped up for the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation in 2020, along with more for the Movement for Black Lives, Color of Change and other Black-led advocacy and organizing groups that are doing the work to create a more just world for us all. And yet, even with this welcome inflow of new funds, Black-led organizations across the country remain underfunded, especially when compared to white-led groups. According to a 2020 study from Echoing Green and Bridgespan, based on Echoing Green’s applicant pool, the revenues of Black-led nonprofits were 24% lower than those of their white-led counterparts. The gap in unrestricted assets was much wider—76%.
We need to get to funding Black-led racial justice movements at scale. Imagine a world in which philanthropy made hundreds of billions of dollars available to support Black-led movements and institutions. We would be miles ahead of where we are in achieving equity and justice for all communities and the Earth we inhabit.
The second important piece of context: We’ve got a lot of work to do, and Black leaders need our support in leading the way. The Black Lives Matter movement was started by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer in 2013. Seven years later, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others continue to show us that interpersonal, institutional and state sanctioned anti-Black violence is a continuing crisis that cannot be ignored. Black organizers have once again responded. Through organizing, advocacy, communications and narrative change, organizations across the United States and around the world recruited new allies, trained grassroots leaders, conducted groundbreaking research, and mobilized Black communities and allies to stand up for change.
These Black leaders and many others continue to take on the extreme difficulties of leading at scale in times of crisis. And in doing so, they continue to put themselves in the real and present danger that comes with being a visible Black leader in a country hell-bent on decimating Black movements and leaders. As these leaders weather threats, extortion and disinformation campaigns that question their credibility, they remain dedicated and steadfast, all the while being under-resourced and unprotected.
Black liberation work and leaders need and deserve support, and that includes funding at actual scale. Philanthropy has increased its commitment to this work in the past year, but it’s not nearly enough. Black-led organizing has been leading all of us for generations; this increase in funding isn’t just overdue in terms of returning wealth and worth, but also in terms of supporting extremely effective, brave, large-scale social change for a population that has managed to do so much with so little for so long.
Let’s ask ourselves, with informed perspective, just how much is enough to right centuries of wrongs? Just how much is enough for those carrying the burdens of being directly targeted by savage injustice to lead us all out of its grasp? Let us all commit to doubling down on our support of Black-led social change to get the results we all want to see.
Robin Beck is president of the Max and Anna Levinson Foundation and a board member of Solidaire Network, which works to fundamentally change economic, political and cultural power systems by growing and nurturing a network of donor organizers to accompany movements for social and racial justice.
Malachi Garza is the organizing director at the Solidaire Network and board member of Southerners On New Ground, the Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat & Historical Center (“The House of GG”) and the Auburn Theological Seminary.