Borealis Philanthropy works to resource grassroots movements for transformative change by building bridges between funders and organizers. We do this in service of a future world that is safe for all communities.
Our most recent donor learning event, Fund Safe Futures was inspired by this mission and by the one-year anniversary of the Summer 2020 uprisings following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and many more. During this gathering, movement leaders Mariame Kaba (Project Nia and Interrupting Criminalization), Andrea Ritchie (Interrupting Criminalization), Rachel Herzing (Wellspring Philanthropic Fund), Miski Noor (Black Visions Collective), Kayla Reed (Action St. Louis), and Karissa Lewis (Movement for Black Lives) called funders into a deeper commitment to divest from policing and invest in advocating for services that truly make communities safe.
During this gathering, movement leaders Mariame Kaba (Project Nia and Interrupting Criminalization), Rachel Herzing (Wellspring Philanthropic Fund), Miski Noor (Black Visions Collective), Kayla Reed (Action St. Louis), and Karissa Lewis (Movement for Black Lives) called funders into a deeper commitment to divest from policing and invest in advocating for services that truly make communities safe.
Watch Miski Noor, Co-Director, Black Visions Collective, talk about the opportunities and challenges in building genuine and lasting safety in Minneapolis. Miski will also be speaking at “Yes 4 Minneapolis, The Movement for Safety Beyond Policing: A Series for Invited Partners” on June 2nd.
As organizers and protesters continue to show up for racial justice and call for divesting from policing and the prison industrial complex, it is our responsibility in the philanthropic sector to support them in ways that match the needs of the moment. 2020 was a banner year for protesting racial injustice in policing, which has also led to significant backlash from state legislatures, police fraternal associations, and white supremacist groups who don’t want to change the status quo.
Our moderator, Andrea Ritchie, began the conversation offering powerful context for the collective impact of last year’s racial reckoning. “More people are engaged in a national conversation about what lasting safety looks like and more people are turning away from more or better policing as the answer. More people are engaged in community building. More people than ever are talking about and learning and engaging in advocacy about how we raise and spend our collective resources through budget advocacy. The summer of 2020 was more than an uprising or budget fights. It was a portal into new conversations and visions for the world we want to build.”
Kayla Reed, co-founder and executive director of Action St. Louis explained, “We talk about the money that we cut from police in this country [since 2020], and this year we are seeing the response to that. It’s being met with more than 27 states introducing bills to prevent localities from cutting police budgets. There’s a preemptive behavior happening to curtail the power that we’re building in real time to make cuts.”
Our response as funders has to be to deepen our education on abolition, place more trust in grantees on the ground to use resources strategically, and think critically about how our institutions might be standing in the way of more effective organizing for justice.
For example, “[Funders] need to fund at the scale at which they want to see change happen,” Rachel Herzing, Program Officer for Wellspring Philanthropic Foundation said. “Fund for the long-term. Grants need to be multi-year, and they need to be renewable. Funders have to break the boom and bust cycle and not just dump money into groups when a crisis happens.”
Karissa Lewis, National Field Director for Movement for Black Lives, added, “There’s opportunity in the sheer number of folks looking for political homes and for places to make meaning of the moment. But we are limited by this boom-bust.”
A significant part in shifting funder behavior has to involve redefining how we view terms like “public safety” and the idea that police are for violence prevention, says Mariame Kaba, founder, and director of Project Nia and researcher at Interrupting Criminalization. Highlighting the fact that police show up after a crime has been committed, she urged, “Cops know nothing about decreasing crime; they’re not experts on violence reduction. So stop treating them like they are.”
Our Call to Action for Funders
As funders, we have a critical role to play in making sure the movement has the resources needed to counter systems of white nationalism, policing, and oppression. It is our hope that our partners and colleagues will join us in deepening our education about the need for abolition and the history of abolitionist movements. To ramp up your efforts to support leaders and organizations on the ground fighting for a safe future without policing, jails, and prisons, we recommend:
- Align your funding strategy with the movement. Some questions to consider about your strategy include:
- Is my strategy putting more resources into policing, prosecution, jails, and prisons?
- Are the people leading the work from the communities most impacted by policing and criminalization?
- Does my strategy increase the power of system actors (i.e., prosecutors, police chiefs, judges, family regulation systems) or communities?
- Does my strategy promote or hinder cross-movement solidarity among people impacted by carceral state violence?
- Break the silos to resource (or partner together to resource) various movement strategies.
- Networks and shared learning spaces
- Base building/power building
- Electoral organizing
- Narrative/culture shift
- Movement lawyering
- Research infrastructure outside of the academy
- Radically reframe your definition of a win.
- This work is generational, not annual.
- The nature of the backlash and context matters.
- Experimentation and failure are a part of the process.
- Winning must include implementation and changed conditions on the ground.
Read our Fund Safe Futures toolkit for more actions funders can take to come into alignment with movements calling for investment in communities and divestment from carceral systems.
For funders who are looking to join a learning community, our partners at Funders for Justice are hosting a range of Strategy Groups for ongoing political education as well as an Invest/Divest Virtual Institute this year.
For more information about Borealis Philanthropy or our funds, please contact: