Foundation CEOs and trustees, don’t let your power go to waste

Written by: Ryan Schlegel

Date: August 06, 2019

The president of the United States, one of the country’s major political parties and its most-watched news network have stoked a long-simmering anti-immigrant white nationalist movement, one of whose pledged adherents murdered 22 people at a grocery store this weekend in an attack explicitly meant to maim and kill immigrants and their families.  

Anti-immigrant hatred is not new to this country. But the way the president, his political party and their cable news enablers have used it to gin up fear of immigrants based on malignant lies is unprecedented. 

Anti-immigrant hatred is dangerous for all Americans, not just immigrants. The ongoing campaign of white nationalist violence and threatening rhetoric negatively impacts us all.  

The body count increased dramatically with this weekend’s tragedy, making clear that the target on immigrants will always result in collateral damage. 

Immigrants are part of every community, big and small. When immigrants are threatened, our schools are less enriching, our communities are less healthy and our economy suffers.  

Immigrants are our family members, neighbors, teachers, doctors, nurses, entrepreneurs and community leaders.  

The rhetoric used by white nationalist leaders, including the president, is meant to intimidate and discourage. 

Only a grassroots, nationwide movement that is unabashedly pro-immigrant can keep our communities safe from the growing threat of white nationalist violence.  

And yet, foundation funding for a pro-immigrant movement has not even come close to matching the threat.  

Between 2011 and 2016, just 1.3% of grantmaking by U.S. foundations was for pro-immigrant work. In 2016 – the most recent year of data available – foundations gave more to leisure sports like badminton, sailing and golf than they did to support immigrant communities.  

And, while NCRP has seen preliminary evidence that foundation support for the pro-immigrant movement has increased since 2016 when Donald Trump ran a successful anti-immigrant campaign for president, it is exceedingly unlikely the level of funding has increased enough to be commensurate with the threat. 

The obstruction in Washington is meant to make the vast majority of Americans who are pro-immigrant feel powerless. Remember, foundation CEO’s and trustees, you have power and you can choose to use it.  

The threat this coordinated assault on immigrants poses to all Americans requires an unprecedented response by foundation leaders.  

“Next grant cycle” won’t be soon enough to keep our communities safe. We cannot afford the luxury of test grants or exploratory research. Five or 6% payout may be justifiable in ordinary times, but this is no ordinary time. 

Here are some actions you can take: 

1. Examine your current docket of grantees. Where and how can grantees be encouraged to collaborate with pro-immigrant groups in their communities? How can you help current grantees follow pro-immigrant movement groups’ lead?  

2. Make an investment in the long-term safety and health of our communities by exceeding ordinary payout ceilings. Your endowment can weather an emergency response to urgent needs. Move that money to pro-immigrant movement groups as soon as possible. Expedite grant application and review processes; lean on your staff and board to think creatively about how to take bold action with integrity to your institution’s values and mission. 

3. Look to field leaders for advice on how and where to move more pro-immigrant resources. FIRM, We Are All America, the Four Freedoms Fund, United We Dream, the Security and Rights Collaborative, the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, the Rise Together Fund and NCRP’s many pro-immigrant nonprofit member organizations are good people with whom to start a conversation. 

4. Talk to your peers about their role in changing the conversation. Foundation CEOs and trustees respond to each other’s example and take seriously their peers’ advice. Work your network. Help them understand the extraordinary circumstances the country finds itself in and how they can use all the resources and influence at their disposal to fight for what’s right. 

Foundation CEOs and trustees are entrusted with resources meant for the public good. Their positions of authority at grantmaking institutions make them civic and community leaders whose voice carries far.  

In a time of escalating rhetoric that has led to real violence, CEOs and trustees owe it to their communities to ask themselves a few fundamental questions:  

1. What good is a multi-million-dollar endowment if it can’t be put to use in times of emergency?  

2. How can you leverage your role as community leader, convener and conscience-keeper to advance a pro-immigrant message that will ensure we are all safer and healthier in the long run?  

3. What do you hope history will say about your tenure as guardian of your institution’s values when it looks back on this uniquely perilous time in America? 

You have the power to begin answering those questions for yourself, for your institution and for your community. Don’t let that power go to waste. 

Ryan Schlegel is NCRP’s director of research. Follow @r_j_schlegel and @NCRP on Twitter.