Current philanthropic efforts to strengthen democracy
Since 2011, philanthropic organizations of all types have allocated some $5.7 billion in grants to strengthening U.S. democracy, according to the Foundation Center. Support for democracy can take distinct forms: support for the institutions of democracy for democracy’s sake, and the use of those institutions to advance another cause. Democracy Fund exemplifies how philanthropy can support democratic institutions through research, convening, or advocacy (among other activities) designed to strengthen the system of rules and norms that shape our politics, things like elections, the press, or Congress. Funders motivated by a particular issue, such as Carnegie with immigration reform, work within the democratic system to affect change, using tactics like policy development and strategic communication to influence actors in legislatures and the press.
Strengthening Democracy: Two Distinct Approaches
Carnegie Corporation of New York and Democracy Fund shown below have an explicit focus on democracy but take two distinct approaches.
To foster a pluralistic, vibrant democracy through the civic integration of immigrants, support for nonpartisan voter registration and education, and voting rights.
To ensure that our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people.
• Field Building
• Strategic Communication
• Policy Development
• Civic Engagement
• Public Square
Ways of categorizing democracy grantmaking
Our interviews with representatives of a dozen funders and philanthropic advisory organizations demonstrate the variety of ways the philanthropic community frames the democracy space. Even funders with the same focus area might differ in their programmatic divisions, grouping grantees by issue areas, strategies, or by which institution of democracy they support. Our framework for strengthening democracy was designed to be applicable to funders regardless of their programmatic priorities.
National Civic Engagement Funder
Leadership, Grassroots Organizing, Voting Rights, Tax & Budget, State-based
Journalism and Movement Building
National Issue-based Funder
National Journalism Funder
Policy, Strategic Communications, Civic Engagement, Field Building, Alliance Building
Innovation, Financial Sustainability, Academic Research
National Research and Higher Ed Funder
Free Speech & Toleration, Criminal Justice, Technology & Innovation, Corporate Welfare, Foreign Policy
National Democracy Funder
Governing Institutions, Elections & Voting, Civic Participation, Free Press, Civil Society and Rule of Law/Civil Rights
National Funder Affinity Group
Values, Issues, Systems, Processes
New Democracy Funder
Policy-focused, Centrists/Political Independents, Grassroots Organizers, Marginalized Communities