A RIPPLE, NOT A WAVE: COMPARING THE LAST DECADE OF FOUNDATION FUNDING FOR MIGRANT COMMUNITIES AND MOVEMENTS
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The Shifting Funding Landscape
Who are the biggest players in pro-immigrant, pro-refugee movement funding after 2016?
The Ford Foundation is still consistently the largest funder of the movement. But as more funders join in, Ford Foundation’s share of the movement’s grants has decreased from roughly 25% to 10% in recent years.
This is a good thing. In the last 5 years, funding for the movement became slightly less top-heavy, with 16 funders making up half of all movement funding rather than just 7. In fact, the total number of funders who have given at least once to the movement grew from around 500 in 2011 to about 2,500 at the funding peak in 2018, mostly through small, scattered grants.
Movement leaders should be proud of their own leadership in making this happen, speaking truth to philanthropy and making bolder asks that reflect their needs. Philanthropic groups like GCIR, Four Freedoms Fund, and Hispanics in Philanthropy stepped up, too. These networks recruited more funders to give consistently to the movement, and they even set up innovative funds of their own, often prioritizing undocumented, Black, and indigenous migrant communities transnationally. Immigrant leaders within foundations have also begun to create important political homes in the sector, like the Undocumented in Philanthropy Network.
But the movement’s ongoing reliance on a relative handful of foundations creates instability as well as increased pressure on the top funders. If just one major foundation shifts its priorities, as we’ve seen in other movements before, it affects the entire ecosystem.
And because big funders tend to give bigger grants to better-known groups, movement funding is also top-heavy. At the movement’s funding peak in the years after Trump’s election, the top 50 movement recipients received over half of the funds. National organizations focused on federal policy and litigation still dominate that list as well.
Because this is an underfunded movement, many of the biggest groups are still relatively small for the scope of their work. This includes policy, communications, and litigation groups, whose work is important and deserves much more funding. But community-accountable power-building groups – particularly at the local level – consistently shoulder the most critical work, and they are the most under-resourced.
Every federal policy push, narrative campaign, and legal strategy ultimately relies on grassroots community-driven groups to build the power and political will for change. And while power-building groups’ share of the movement funding pie did increase slightly in recent years, they only made up 40% of the top 20 recipients between 2016-2020.
Furthermore, only a handful of these top recipients were regional or local, rather than national groups.