Philanthropy aiming to support minority groups is nothing new. What’s less common, however, is when the donations themselves are being raised and directed by the very groups they seek to uplift.
That’s the ethos behind the Groundswell Fund, a grantmaking charity unique not only in its mission to fund both reproductive justice and electoral work in tandem, but also because of who calls the shots—women and transgender people of color, making Groundswell the only national foundation of its kind.
The donor group has been around for 15 years and funds more than 150 organizations doing intersectional work on reproductive and social justice. They’ve launched such high-impact campaigns as the Rapid Response Fund, which seeks to steer resources swiftly to important causes; the Birth Justice Fund, which focuses on pregnancy disparities for women of color and trans people; and the Black Trans Fund, whose 2020 grantee, For the Gworls, became an essential source of mutual aid for Black trans women in New York City amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Groundswell’s latest initiative, however, may be the group’s most ambitious—and potentially meaningful—yet. With its new Blueprint plan, Groundswell has vowed to move $100 million to reproductive rights and electoral organizations run by women and trans people of color with the help of funders large and small, from the Ford Foundation to the Black-Led Movement Fund, and lots of organizations and individuals in between.
The goal is to move $80 million in 501(c)(3) dollars and $20 million in 501(c)(4) dollars, with grantmaking decisions made in each case by leaders coming directly from community, labor and electoral organizing. For perspective, the group has moved more than $65 million to date. The Blueprint plan counts such movement heavy-hitters as Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, Women’s March’s Linda Sarsour, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Ai-jen Poo as endorsers and advisers, and it’s not hard to see why.
“We are an essential irrigation system for social justice movements—a channel into which individual donors and foundations can pour resources to reach vital work at the grassroots,” Groundswell Executive Director Vanessa Daniel told Inside Philanthropy. “We are proof that when philanthropic decision-making power sits in the hands of women of color and transgender and gender non-conforming people of color who come out of grassroots organizing, the giving looks different.”
As they look forward to a new guiding plan, a new year, and a new administration, Groundswell is perfecting what works rather than changing gears. Daniel said the new Blueprint “offers a pathway for Groundswell to stay the course in our existing successful strategic direction,” while innovating as needed.
This means continuing to do what Groundswell is best at: “getting general support dollars to sustained, intersectional organizing at the grassroots, providing capacity building support on integrated voter engagement and grassroots organizing, and organizing within philanthropy to unlock more resources for this kind of organizing work.”
In doing so, Daniel said, the group will also sharpen its approach to fundraising “by more explicitly centering our giving on work led by women of color, particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, transgender and gender non-conforming.”
Rather than letting their guards down in the wake of President Donald Trump’s defeat, Groundswell is learning from the mistakes groups with similar goals made during the Obama administration.
“Right now, what grassroots people of color leaders are telling us is, as Maurice Mitchell of the Working Families Party and the Movement for Black Lives says so clearly, ‘Biden is a door, not a destination,’” Daniel said. “They are reminding us that the mistake that movements made in taking their foot off the gas after Obama was elected is one that we cannot afford to make again.”
Launched in the aftermath of the 2016 election, Groundswell’s c4 fund is part of a trend we’ve seen during the Trump era, as more progressive donors set out to fight on all fronts, including 501(c)(3), 501(c)(4) and PAC giving. “Resourcing [women of color] leadership in the electoral arena is not an addendum to winning—it is a requirement, and 501(c)(4) organizations are key,” its website states. “Groundswell Action Fund is dedicated to doing just that.”
The group is not alone in its desire to carry that resolve into the Biden administration and beyond. Leah Hunt-Hendrix, co-founder of donor collectives Solidaire and Way to Win, wrote an op-ed for Inside Philanthropy in the run-up to the election, calling for progressive donors to remain engaged in both electoral work and grassroots organizing beyond 2020. “This requires constant funding from both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) donors year-round—not funding that is simply tied to one election cycle or partisan organization.”
The biggest change Groundswell anticipates in the coming years is one of scale rather than politics. The group plans to double its individual donor community from 500 people to 1,000 and to increase visibility among the non-philanthropic set by partnering with like-minded influencers.
As the largest 501(c)(3) funder of the reproductive justice movement and one of the leading funders of 501(c)(4) electoral efforts by women of color and trans and gender-nonconforming people, Groundswell’s solidarity-based fundraising efforts back up their bold claims.
“We know it works,” Daniel said.