The shockingly brazen murder of George Floyd while he pleaded for his life has shown in unmistakable terms what anti-Black racism and police brutality look like in the United States. While Mr. Floyd’s horrifying death has galvanized millions, state-sanctioned violence against Black people happens every day. This week we also mourn Breonna Taylor, Dion Johnson and Tony McDade, and many others whose names we don’t know.

Much has been written in our sector over the past few days in response to these murders. In crises like this, funders typically rush to make rapid response grants to show concern. While we applaud the impulse to do something now, this approach is at best a band-aid and, at worst, can send grantees on a boom-and-bust rollercoaster.

When communities came together in grief and outrage over the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, funders pledged to support them. Yet, as Will Cordery writes in Nonprofit Quarterly, “Less than three years after Mike Brown passed [in August 2014], the philanthropic commitment for Black-led movement work had largely unraveled.”

Despite the creativity and resilience of Black communities, and the progress they have made with minimal funding, philanthropy’s disinvestment in Black communities has had real and painful consequences. This time, our sector must make a long-term commitment to fund grassroots organizations working to end anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence. 

Borealis’ Approach

Bottom-up change has led to every expansion of rights in US history because directly affected people always have the most at stake. Borealis regards directly affected communities as the essential creative force in the larger arc of social change, and we’ve built Borealis from the ground up as a vehicle to resource these communities. Our donor collaboratives fund brilliant, grassroots organizations and frontline communities that are devising solutions to complex societal problems.

As philanthropy considers how it can and should show up in this moment and⁠—critically⁠—in the months, years, and decades to come, Borealis offers some examples of our work:

  • Our Black-led Movement Fund supports local Black-led organizing groups and the connective capacity of the Movement for Black Lives. Grantees include Black Visions Collective in Minnesota, which has become a central organizing hub in the Twin Cities, providing leadership in this critical moment.
  • Our Communities Transforming Policing Fund supports local organizing and policy advocacy to increase transparency and accountability in policing, and to shift power and resources from the police and carceral state to communities most impacted by the criminal legal system.
  • Our Fund for Trans Generations supports frontline trans-led organizations to advance the safety, security, and rights of transgender people, especially Black, Indigenous and other communities of color addressing criminalization and gender-based violence.
  • Our Spark Justice Fund supports local organizing and advocacy groups to end cash bail, transform pretrial reforms, and build the power of communities most impacted by incarceration.
  • Our Transforming Movements Fund supports young LGBTQ leaders of color and their organizations to play a unique bridging role between movements so they may be more inclusive, connected and effective.
  • Our Racial Equity in Journalism Fund supports journalism by and about communities of color, a valuable counterweight to misinformation and gaps in coverage by mainstream or social media.

Beyond program strategy, funders can also move beyond crisis funding by examining and changing how they make grants and who is bringing lived experience to their staff and boards. For example,

We know that we still have much work to do to better support our grantees and to help philanthropy make long overdue changes, but we are committed to doing that work.

Three Things Funders Can Do Right Now

Here are three steps funders can take immediately:

There is much work to be done, and we can’t afford to waste this opportunity to get it right. We invite you to join us in investing in long-term partnerships with communities working to end anti-Black violence and police brutality, and build lasting freedom and dignity for Black and other communities of color.

In Solidarity,

Borealis Philanthropy Staff

This blogpost was updated on 6.12.20 to include all movement building funds at Borealis Philanthropy.