Supporting Black-Led Movements: An Alternative to Inequitable Funding

Photo: Leaders Igniting Transformation, a grantee our Jean Hardisty Initiative has been funding since 2019

Dr. Jean Hardisty was a writer, scholar, public speaker, activist, and member of WDN for 21 years. Self-described as a “baby boomer who grew up in a genteel, white, upper-middle-class Southern family, went to the right boarding school, and attended the right cotillions,” Jean radically departed from her conservative roots and dedicated herself to fighting for economic equality and civil rights. She believed that the people who are most marginalized must be empowered and that it was important to fund movement building at the grassroots level. After joining WDN in 1994, she helped shape our network’s funding principles. We named our Jean Hardisty Initiative in her honor following her passing in 2015.

Supporting the Leadership of Black Women

Since its founding, the Jean Hardisty Initiative (JHI) has fueled progressive change by supporting the leadership of Black women and BIPOC communities working to dismantle racist and oppressive systems. In 2022, 100% of Hardisty’s grantees were BIPOC-led, and all but one were women or nonbinary-led. Our average grant size for our twelve 2022 grantees was $95,833 and 70% of them have been our partners for three or more years.

Inequitable Funding

However, equitably resourcing Black women and BIPOC movements is too often the exception rather than the rule within philanthropy. In 2020, the Ms. Foundation sparked shock when their study Pocket Change: How Women and Girls of Color Do More with Less revealed that Black women and girls received just .02% of all foundation funding in the U.S. They also found that the median size of grants benefitting Black women and girls was $18,000, compared to a median of $35,000 across all organizations. These disparities are baked into the funding principles of traditional philanthropy. Often grantmakers rubber-stamp Black feminist organizations as “too risky” because they are newer or smaller than legacy nonprofits. Instead of seeing the intersectional nature of Black feminist organizing as necessary, emergent, and innovative, institutional philanthropy labels it as “confusing”. On many occasions, Black feminist organizations aren’t able to apply for funding in the first place, locked out because they don’t have access to funders’ social and professional networks.

Black History Month: Black Resistance

“Black feminists are dreaming and delivering the solutions we need. History shows us time and time again: When Black feminists win, democracy wins. When Black feminists win, climate justice wins. When Black feminists win, inequality loses, and justice becomes closer to our reach.” – Black Feminist Fund 

The story of Black feminist movement in philanthropy embodies the theme of this year’s Black History Month: Black Resistance. Black women and nonbinary people are driving change at every intersection of injustice. They are pushing the institution of philanthropy to fund them equitably and they are making headway. Just this month, eleven major funders signed on to a letter calling for philanthropy to distribute more resources to Black feminist movement. However, there is still a long road ahead. While mainstream philanthropy may be moving towards greater support of Black women and nonbinary people, it is still underfunding them. And a recent report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy showed concerning trends in philanthropy’s resourcing of Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Native nonprofit leaders and communities. 

Looking Forward to 2023

As JHI prepares for our first grantmaking cycle of the year, we are inspired by the smart, strategic thinking of the groups we fund, and we know that there are ways we can grow to be even deeper and more equitable supporters of their work. We ground ourselves in the roots of our strong commitment to Black women leaders and BIPOC movements, and we ask ourselves the question, how do we continue to move forward as progressive philanthropists?

Learn more

  • Take a look at the Decolonizing Wealth Project to learn more about some of the funding principles we’re exploring.
  • See a list of all of JHI’s 2022 grantees.
  • If you’re a member of WDN, watch JHI’s January meeting for more on the history of the initiative and our priorities looking forward.

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