Fifty years ago, the Civil Rights movement claimed millions of supporters and achieved major victories in legislation and everyday life. America’s social problems have not disappeared, so where are those powerful people’s movements today?
For the authors of The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, that question calls for a reexamination of the non-profit model of social action.
The book is edited by the members of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, a group known for drawing links between war, police brutality, and domestic abuse. It includes essays by academics and activists from a wide variety of backgrounds, most of whom do not flatly condemn grant funding. Instead, they target what they see as excessive dependency on grant money and the idea that foundation-funded non-profits in themselves can comprise a social movement.
The authors begin with a challenging, sometimes disturbing critique of foundations. These groups, they argue, are unaccountable, undemocratic, more interested in temporary fixes than in addressing the roots of social problems, and a drain on tax revenues to boot. While policy analyst Christine Ahn acknowledges that foundations have at times also “challenged the excesses of government and corporate power,” she believes they are in need of reform.
Even more problematic for these authors is the overly professionalized approach funders demand in their non-profit clients. Portland-based organizer Amara Pérez describes her experience with foundations that preferred narrow projects to broad engagements and encouraged competition against similar groups rather than cooperation.
“The ongoing work to maintain and prospect foundation money … was more taxing and exhausting than confronting any institution to fight for a policy change,” she writes.
Like other contributors, Pérez chose to reduce her organization’s budget and raise money through her membership in order to stay focused on what she saw as a broader, more collaborative, and more radical vision of social justice work.
While a few of the authors call for organizations to avoid foundations altogether, most favor a continued but more autonomous relationship. Chilean community organizer Paula X. Rojas offers the example of Brazil’s Movement of Unemployed Landless Workers, which partners with nonprofit groups for their skills but grants them no decision-making power. This movement, whose members operate without formal hierarchy and without pay, has nonetheless organized 1.5 million people and secured land for more than 350,000 families.
Do U.S. social movements depend too much on foundation funding? For readers inclined to wrestle with such questions, this collection makes a provocative read. It offers thoughtful ideas on how alternative strategies could be constructed and reminds us that political work is sometimes most effective when it is organized—and funded—from the bottom up.