What nonprofit and philanthropy must do now to help ensure this nightmare won’t happen again

[Image description: Black and brown protesters, all wearing covid masks, holding up signs, including a large one that says “We who believe in freedom cannot rest. Ella Baker.” Others hold up signs that say “prosecute killer cops,” “end police brutality,” and “Black lives matter, Black trans lives matter.” Image by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.]

Happy Monday, everyone! The happiest I can recall in a while! I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in a long time, and my stress acne magically cleared up and has been replaced by hope acne. (Look, even my sense of humor is returning!) Before I forget, Crystal Hayling, ED of the Libra Foundation, and I will be having an informal conversation this week, November 10th at 1pm PT, to debrief philanthropy and anything else that we want to discuss. We didn’t plan any talking points, so half of the conversation may just be about our favorite shows, who knows, join us.

I know that most of us are taking some time to celebrate this political and moral victory. Some of us are still in disbelief, and like a large multi-year pledged donation that hasn’t been paid, we can’t really believe that this is real until our new president and vice president are sworn in on inauguration day. I too am a jumble of emotions: hope, catharsis, joy, but also hypervigilance and fear at the backlash that may be coming.

So I am not as coherent as I would like to be, but here are some preliminary thoughts on the lessons we as a sector must learn from this challenging election and the last four nightmarish years. Many lessons are for funders, some for nonprofits. Some are my thoughts, many are aggregated from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders I’ve been learning from over the years:

We must significantly invest in Black, Indigenous, and communities of color: BIPOC communities, especially the Black community, saved our democracy and the soul of our country. But it remains that only 10% of philanthropic dollars in total go to BIPOC organizations. This year, funders invested more in racial equity work than ever before. This is great, but it still not enough. Do not rest on your laurels because you increased investment in BIPOC communities or racial equity work this year. You need to give out significantly more to even BEGIN to make up for the lack of investment in these communities in the past. If you feel a sense of relief right now, then you owe it to Black, Indigenous, and POC communities and should fund accordingly.

We must significantly invest in community organizing and power building. We see funders praising the work of the brilliant Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other POC community organizers, especially women, in Georgia, Arizona, and other critical states. Yet these are the same leaders and groups that you are least likely to fund. BIPOC leaders have been pleading for philanthropic support to mobilize our communities to vote and be civically engaged, only to be dismissed again and again. Imagine if philanthropy had invested in community organizing and voter mobilization decades ago; maybe these last four years would have been different. Give out more money to ensure our communities have the power and resources to continue to be a buttress against the storm of white supremacy and injustice.

We must focus on ending voter suppression: Despite the relentless efforts to suppress the votes of marginalized folks and disenfranchise folks from being able to vote in the first place, our communities still came through, sometimes waiting 12 hours in line. In Florida, people voted to allow 750,000 formerly incarcerated folks to vote; then Republicans passed a law saying they couldn’t vote without first paying their court fines. These suppression tactics will only get worse. Ending voter suppression must be one of our sector’s primary goals, as whom we elect and which policies we collective choose determine every issue area we’re working on. Until we have fair voting laws everywhere, nonprofit and philanthropy can still play a major role. $16 Million, for example, a drop in the bucket for many foundations, paid off the court fees of 30,000 folks in Florida, allowing them to vote. We need more of that!

We must get out of our geographic siloes: Right now, the two Senate run-off races in Georgia in January will determine which party holds majority. Climate change, student debt relief, affordable health care, minimum wage increase, everything is on the line. The entire sector, no matter what state we work in, must focus attention on these races. Foundations all need to immediately fund these organizations working to mobilize voters: Fair Fight Action, Black Voters Matter, New GA Project, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, GALEO, Mijente, and others. If you think “But we don’t fund in Georgia,” you need to get over it. Do you want to solutions to the issues you’re working on or not? The rest of us need to gear up to donate, volunteer to phone bank and text, or do whatever the BIPOC leaders in Georgia ask of us.

We must support youth, especially youth of color: Younger voters voted overwhelming for Biden. But if we break this down, it is young people of color who made critical differences. In Georgia, as seen in the same link above, 90% of Black voters age 18 to 29 voted for Biden, while a horrifying 63% of white voters of the same age range voted for Trump. This is not by random chance. As this report summarizes, conservatives invest THREE TIMES more in instilling conservative values in youth. “The largest conservative youth organization’s total revenue is larger than the combined revenues of the wealthiest four progressive youth organizations.” Progressive funders need to stop ignoring this and start investing significantly more in organizations that lift up BIPOC youth voices, like Rise Free.  

We must greatly invest in disabled-people-led organizations and movements: People with disabilities are a vital voting block, making up 1 out of 6 eligible voters. And yet they are constantly ignored by pundits, political leaders, and the rest of society and often disenfranchised from exerting their rights to vote. For instance, the Supreme Court struck down curbside voting in Alabama, forcing disabled people to risk their health and safety to vote. I’ve been following #CripTheVote on Twitter, and you should too. Philanthropy must invest in organizations and movements led by disabled leaders working to protect and advance the rights of people with disabilities. And the rest of us need to do a way better job being more accessible in everything we do.

We must enable our own team members to be more active in civic engagement: This year, I volunteered to phone bank, calling swing state voters and asking them to vote. I made hundreds of calls, with most people being unreachable, a few hanging up on me, and a few people yelling at me. I am so thankful for the folks who organize these efforts, and those who volunteer. Every nonprofit and every nonprofit professional should be involved. This should be a trademark of our sector. Make time for it. Meanwhile, Election Day should be a national holiday to make it easier for folks to vote, since they won’t have to take off work and risk getting fired or losing wages. This bill is being blocked by conservatives. Until it passes, I am calling for every nonprofit and foundation to add Election Day into your personnel manual as one of the paid days off. Staff can use this day to vote, phone bank, volunteer as poll workers, etc. Stagger it if needed, with some folks taking other days off, since many nonprofits still must run vital services.

We must challenge white supremacy directly: While Biden-Harris won this vital election, it is scary that a significant part of the country still voted for an openly racist, fascist demagogue. White men voted for Trump at 58%. Meanwhile, 55% of white women went for him, shockingly (or not) up 2% from last election. People of color, especially Black and Indigenous folks, voted overwhelmingly for Biden. Again, it is these communities that saved democracy. And yet our sector continues to spend energy denying how much white supremacy is built into our systems, instead of fighting it. So many people in nonprofit and philanthropy can’t even say the words. Until we acknowledge and challenge it directly, we continue to be complicit in advancing it.

We must demand justice, not continue to be tricked into the toxic empathy of white moderation: If you’re one of those people who are like “let’s forgive and forget” or “we should empathize with those who voted for Trump to understand them better,” you need to get the hell out of my face and the faces of all other people from marginalized communities who have been brutalized, traumatized, and killed these past four years. There is no middle ground if you support separating kids from their families, caging children, ending the rights of LGTBQIA folks, allowing the police to kill Black people with impunity, letting religious assholes discriminate against whoever anyone they don’t like, removing the rights of women to choose what happens with their bodies, and destroying our planet. Our sector, both nonprofit and philanthropy, must not push to “leave the past in the past” or whatever bullshit that white moderates are calling for. Forgiveness cannot happen without justice.

OK, I know that’s a lot of serious stuff to think about. I promise in 2021 the posts on this blog will be funnier. For four years we were fighting back the tides of injustice, trying to help our communities through wave after wave of suffering. Many of us are still traumatized. It will take us a while to fully process everything and heal. We still have a lot of work to do. But for now, let us all find some time to celebrate and breathe and take care of our acne breakouts.

Donate now to elect Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and help Democrats take back the Senate!