New NCRP Report Shows Family Funders Are Uniquely Poised for Social Justice Giving

Written by: Aaron Dorfman

Date: October 06, 2015

Today, I’m proud to announce the release of a new white paper analyzing social justice philanthropy among family foundations, building on NCRP’s Philanthropic Landscape series. Families Funding Change: How Social Justice Giving Honors Our Roots and Empowers Communities explores the trends in social justice grantmaking from family foundations, and makes the case that family funders are uniquely equipped to fund equitable, long-term systems change work. It is our hope it will provide valuable insight for family funders into the challenges they may face when they consider adding a social justice lens to their work.

The numbers are in!

  • Between 2004 and 2012, unfortunately only 9 percent of grant dollars from family funders was categorized as being for social justice purposes, including support for grassroots advocacy, community organizing and public policy change work.
  • Family foundations lag behind the sector as a whole, which gave 14 percent of its total grant dollars in that period in support of social justice efforts.

Some foundations, however, encounter challenges when they consider a shift to strategic social justice grantmaking. Foundation size, location, type and issue focus can all add hurdles to a foundation’s path toward socially just philanthropy.


Funders Funding Change includes useful tools and tips for foundations that are ready to boost their impact:

  • A discussion guide for grantmakers: Seven key questions to consider when developing strategies, recognizing perceived barriers and solutions to overcome them.
  • Profiles of family foundations: Recognizing that each family foundation will find a different entry point to invest heavily in advocacy, organizing and civic engagement, learn from three different family philanthropies that went through the process of explicitly deciding to engage in social justice work: Hill-Snowdon Foundation, the Needmor Fund and the Surdna Foundation.
  • Additional resources: A handy list of resources to help family philanthropies understand the nuts and bolts of how to effectively incorporate a social justice lens into their work.

Social justice grantmaking is an important aspect of many family foundations’ strategies. Funders such as Unbound Philanthropy, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and the Melville Charitable Trust all gave more than half their grant dollars as social justice funding in the nine years surveyed.

Family foundations are in a unique position to leverage their reputational and financial capital for systemic reform. I encourage you to read the report, engage with your families and peers to discuss the findings and join the conversation on our blog and social media. Check out Families Funding Change and start the discussion in your organization!

Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow @NCRP on Twitter and join the #FamiliesFundingChange conversation!