Meet the Freedom Funders: The Foundation Supporters of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Kristina ("Yna") C. Moore

Date: June 16, 2014

Fifty years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, we’re at a point in history when many social justice victories have been achieved, and yet many basic civil liberties remain at risk. In recognition of the continued relevance of this landmark legislation – and the work still left to do to end discrimination and injustice of all kinds – NCRP today released “Freedom Funders: Philanthropy and the Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1965.”

Written by expert researcher Sean Dobson, “Freedom Funders” takes an analytical lens to the specific strategies that made the Civil Rights Movement a success, including everything from grassroots and organizing tactics to the necessary question of funding. In particular, it addresses the impact of the four foundations that backed leading civil rights leadership organizations in the decade when the Movement reached critical mass. While their financial support was modest, it proved to be invaluable in ultimately passing the historic legislation. These “Freedom Funders” were The New World Foundation, The Field Foundation, The Stern Family Fund and the Taconic Foundation.

The paper offers lessons for foundations and grantmakers looking to support today’s social justice movements. Dobson outlines three lessons from the Freedom Funders for contemporary philanthropy: prioritize underserved communities, support efforts that empower underserved communities through grassroots organizing and advocacy, and address those institutions and practices that promote and protect disenfranchisement, unequal treatment and injustice.

NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman affirms, “In order to succeed, the many nonprofits and communities on the ground fighting to protect and promote human and civil rights for all, including for voting rights, living wages and an end to discrimination, need philanthropists and grantmakers that are effective partners.”

As the “Freedom Funders” report shows, “Anything less and foundations risk reinforcing the very inequities they claim to address.”

Check out “Freedom Funders: Philanthropy and the Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1965,” available for free on

Yna C. Moore is communications director at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow NCRP on Twitter (@ncrp).