Local grantmaking to immigrants and refugees doesn’t reflect demographics, threats

Won’t You Be My Neighbor: Local Foundations, Immigrants and Refugee Populations

Written by: Aaron Dorfman

Date: May 13, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has re-affirmed how integral immigrants and refugees are to the health and security of the country as well as the unique challenges this community faces. Immigrants and refugees represent a disproportionate percentage of essential health care and food industry workers, yet many have been left out of federal and state relief packages.

As organizations serving immigrants and refugees navigate through current health and political crises, what financial resources can they expect from their local foundations? Not enough, according to a new analysis of publicly available data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia by NCRP.  

The new online tool, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor: Local Foundations, Immigrants and Refugee Populations,” found that pro-immigrant and refugee nonprofits are proportionally underfunded by state-based grantmakers when compared to the demographic reality on the ground.  

While immigrants and refugees represent 14% of the nation’s population, the share of local philanthropic dollars invested in this community from 2017-2018 was just 1% for service organizations and 0.4% for movement groups involved in advocacy and organizing. This is despite a series of aggressive anti-immigrant and refugee policies pursued by the Trump administration targeting both documented and undocumented people.  

“Local funders play an essential role in filling gaps experienced by their communities, shoring up vital immigrant-serving organizations and ensuring equitable, inclusive recovery in their own backyards. NCRP’s new tool can help funders see where resources are deeply needed and –- most importantly –- take action.”

MONICA MUNN, Senior Director
World Education Services Mariam Assefa Fund

Among the report’s notable findings: 

  • A sample of 530 of the largest state-based grantmakers in each state and the District of Columbia found that 254 foundations across 49 states (47.9%) gave at least one grant towards organizations serving this population in 2017-2018.
  • At least 50% of our sample of the largest local foundations in 26 states funded immigrant and refugee support efforts. In standout states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Minnesota, a full 90% of their Top 10 local institutional funders dispersed funds to nonprofits that serve immigrants and refugees.
  • Yet, foundations in less than a third of states (14) met or exceeded even the already disproportionately low 1% threshold for local grantmaking benefiting immigrants and refugees in 2017-2018.
  • Foundations in only eight states matched or exceeded the overall 0.4% share of local funding for movement advocacy and organizing.
  • Just 14 foundations of our sample of top local funders funded immigrant and refugee serving organizations at or above the same percentage as their state’s share of foreign-born residents.
  • Only two foundations — Rose Community Foundation (CO) and the Legal Foundation of Washington (WA) — distributed funds to the pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement at shares that matched or exceeded their state’s percentage of foreign-born residents.  

“As a newer national grassroots organization that is built and led by refugees and asylum seekers, it’s often hard to compete for local funding with larger, better-resourced organizations.This dashboard helps level the playing field for our all-volunteer membership, allowing us to advocate more effectively with and for our local and state communities.”

Refugee Congress

NCRP’s digital dashboard and executive summary is a direct follow up to a 2019 NCRP report, which found that, at the federal level, nonprofits serving immigrants and refugees received barely 1% of funding from the largest U.S. foundations nationwide. The new analysis and data tool puts that national trend in a state-by-state context.  

“Life for immigrants and refugees was precarious even before the current coronavirus pandemic. With fewer public resources available, this data dashboard is an important tool in ensuring that local philanthropy seizes the opportunity to fill in the gaps of support that we need to strengthen communities and turn back the rising xenophobia and stringent federal policies that threaten so much of our shared future.”  

DR. ABBAS BARZEGAR, National Research and Advocacy Director
Council on American-Islamic Relations

There’s a lot of discussion around how nonprofits will weather the current coronavirus pandemic, but not enough attention as to why movements continue to be underfunded in the first place.

If we want to effectively reverse decades of under-resourcing groups on the frontlines of catalyzing change, we need to be honest about where we are. This interactive dashboard provides both local activists and funders a shared view of where they stand and how to move forward together.