A RIPPLE, NOT A WAVE: COMPARING THE LAST DECADE OF FOUNDATION FUNDING FOR MIGRANT COMMUNITIES AND MOVEMENTS
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The Trump Response: Short-lived & Shallow Allyship
The 2016 election was a wake-up call for funders, but not a watershed. What will it take for philanthropy to fund our communities and the pro-immigrant and pro-refugee movement at the level we deserve?
Spooked by Donald Trump’s election and his anti-immigrant attacks, foundations started to give more money to explicitly benefit immigrants and refugees after 2016. Average yearly funding for the movement more than doubled from $130 million during 2011-2015 to $280 million during 2016-2020. For those who received it, this new money was meaningful as groups faced increased pressure from all sides. Many funders also signed petitions and made public statements in solidarity, which were valuable messages that at least some in the sector stood in solidarity with this community.
Once the headlines faded, however, far fewer foundations made migrant justice a core part of their mission or an intersectional piece of their racial equity grantmaking. This may be because relatively few funders understand that the Trump administration’s violence belongs to a bigger tradition that predates him. Anti-immigrant attacks, by both government agencies and political actors, have occurred for generations in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and they persist today.
As a result, this new support was less of a wave and more like a ripple. Funding to explicitly benefit immigrants and refugees only grew from 1.3% of all foundation funding in 2011-2015 to 1.8% in 2016-2020. Similarly, money for movement advocacy and organizing never exceeded 0.4% of U.S. foundation funding in any of these years. Given that 14% of the people living in the United States were born abroad, this continued underfunding is striking, and a missed opportunity.
The ripple may be fading as well. These new resources peaked in 2017 and 2018, often via one-time special grants, in the years immediately following Trump’s election. According to available data, annual funding for immigrants and refugees and for the pro-immigrant and pro-refugee movement decreased in 2019 and 2020. Anecdotally, that trend appears to have continued in the years since. The exceptions NCRP has seen as of publishing appear to mostly come from COVID-19 relief funds – crucial and necessary, but also time-limited.
Finally, this growth did not keep pace with foundations’ own wealth. Total foundation grantmaking in the United States quadrupled over the last 10 years – a reflection of growing wealth accumulation for the richest people and institutions across America.
Put another way: Even as grantmakers have gotten richer, the pro-immigrant and pro-refugee movement’s share of total foundation funding is actually smaller today than it was a decade ago.