Grantees & Grantmaking | June 26, 2024

Social Justice Fund: Grassroots Organizing Led by Those Most Impacted

Several members of Radical Donors of Color for our Collective Liberation (RDCCL), a cohort at SJF, celebrate SJF's 45th birthday. Photo courtesy of SJF.

Funding that builds on a deep history of supporting justice.

From promoting environmental leadership among communities of color and fighting anti-LGBTQ legislation in the 1990s to support for the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years, Social Justice Fund Northwest (SJF) has a long track record of supporting grassroots work for justice.

Based in Seattle, SJF supports communities of color in Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana through community organizing. And how they do it is gaining momentum and interest from other regional funders.

Engaging donors of all sizes, SJF creates a space for learning about the root causes of disparities and works in partnership with donors to make decisions on funding grassroots groups for social change.

SJF supports Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-led organizations addressing systemic inequality through honest collaboration with donors. Engaging donors of all sizes, SJF creates a space for learning about the root causes of disparities and works in partnership with donors to make decisions on funding grassroots groups for social change.

SJF 2024 member meeting

Committed SJF champions—community members, donors, and staff— gather for SJF’s 2024 member meeting. Photo courtesy of SJF.

SJF recognizes that race is at the heart of inequity.

For decades, even generations, communities of color have lacked access to critical resources that are readily available to white communities: housing, education, income, healthcare, criminal justice, and beyond. This was especially apparent during the pandemic, when BIPOC persons were four times more likely to be hospitalized and nearly three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white people.

The resource disparity between these communities reflects policies and practices that originated from racial biases. SJF and others refer to this as structural racism, which is a major reason how and why racial injustice continues to exist in our society.

There are many ways to address structural racism. Funding efforts to promote social change is one way. Yet many funders, whether individuals or organizations, can be reluctant to fund efforts that might chip away at structural racism.

SJF is working to change that mentality. Its grants span a wide variety of issues and invest in some of the most under-resourced and innovative organizations making effective social change. And other funders are taking notice.

This is how to move from injustice to justice.

Addressing root causes starts with who is doing the work. SJF believes in supporting organizations led by the people most impacted by injustice.

Representation is key.

Addressing root causes starts with who is doing the work. SJF believes in supporting organizations led by the people most impacted by injustice.

SJF’s former executive director, Mijo Lee, described SJF’s approach in an interview:

“If we’re funding an organization addressing homelessness, that organization is going to have people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness in the leadership of that organization—they’re experts on that. They understand the solutions in ways that are too often ignored and apply that principle to literally any issue, any movement you can think of.”

SJF uses Giving Projects to make philanthropy more accessible.

SJF’s Giving Projects are a unique way of funding. They support grassroots groups by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds who want to make a difference and learn more about fundraising and community building. Participants collaborate to better understand social justice and collectively raise and donate money to support grassroots organizations.

Through Giving Projects, SJF helps funders—of any size—become more comfortable supporting organizations outside traditional models and gives those organizations the flexibility for long-term campaigns. These efforts aim to change systems of policies and practices that sustain resource and power inequities.

SJF 2024 Environmental Justice Giving Project cohort

Cohort members and facilitators of SJF’s 2024 Environmental Justice Giving Project enjoy a lighthearted moment during a Zoom meeting. Photo courtesy of SJF.

2022’s Queer Justice Momentum Giving Project, for example, brought together a passionate collective of donor organizers, surpassing expectations with $440,000 in grants for grassroots LGBTQIA+-led organizing in the region. The project enabled groups to build systems ensuring queer communities thrive without discrimination.

Another, the Black Led Organizing Giving Project (2020-21), funded 12 organizations and prioritized Black-led grassroots groups working in essential industries led by and serving queer, trans, and youth people. These organizations supported new collectives responding to frontline pandemic challenges, while making spaces for collaboration between Black and Indigenous people. Their work also addressed other immediate community needs, such as crucial support to those impacted by incarceration.

And wrapping up in July 2024, the Environmental Justice Giving Project supports community-based organizations working for clean and sustainable environments with a focus on racial and economic justice. Members have engaged directly in issues ranging from climate action to community building.

SJF continues to listen and learn for change.

SJF is listening to its grantees and learning alongside donors to positively impact the communities it cares about. It ensures that grantees receive the resources they need without interference from less-informed funding sources, while positioning grantees to drive meaningful changes to policies, practices, and beliefs in a self-determined way.

Through it all, SJF remains committed to evolving as a funder. An SJF staff member states, “We’ve built relationships, learned from our missteps, and continue to grow as we work to fund a just society.”

Read more about the organizations supported by SJF’s Giving Projects and how you can participate:
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