Ms. Foundation: Donors Must Step Up for Women and Girls of Color

As feminist giving strategies have evolved, an awareness about intersectional factors for women and girls of color has grown. With that growth has come bold new imperatives to earmark funding specifically for women and girls of color, in order to ensure maximum impact. Now, Ms. Foundation for Women and Strength in Numbers Consulting Group (SiNCG) have come out with research that gives more information about how these intersectional strategies are progressing and where they stand in relation to the rest of philanthropy.

Pocket Change–How Women and Girls of Color Do More With Less” examines the funding crisis for organizations that serve, are led by, or are founded by women and girls of color. (Image Credit: Ms. Foundation/Strength in Numbers Consulting Group)

Pocket Change–How Women and Girls of Color Do More With Less tells us just how little funding women and girls of color receive, and how often their survival is threatened due to this chronic underfunding.

Historically, women and girls of color (WGOC) make up the frontlines of activism in the United States and abroad. However, organizations that are primarily WGOC-led suffer from budgetary troubles that make nonprofit funding look like winning the lottery. Compared to the high-end budgets of larger foundations, nonprofits and other organizations that serve, are founded by, or are led by WGOC must do the work of much larger-scale organizations while subsisting on “pocket change” budgets.

Working with Strength in Numbers Consulting Group (SiNCG), the Ms. Foundation commissioned a survey of “nearly 1,000 organizations identifying as by and for women and girls of color” and 24 committed donors in the United States and surrounding territories. Working with data collected by SiNCG, this dive into the budgets and leadership of WGOC-serving or WGOC-led organizations paints a concerning picture of how little these organizations truly have to work with.

More importantly, however, Pocket Change answers the question: What can feminist funding do for women and girls of color?

WGOC orgs pursue large-scale operations on “pocket change” budgets

It’s no secret that the nonprofit world is rife with funding difficulties. Most not-for-profit and community-serving organizations have to get by on shoestring budgets. However, this funding disparity becomes much more pronounced when we consider organizations that primarily serve, are founded by, or are led by women and girls of color.

According to the Pocket Change report:

  • In the United States, total philanthropic giving to women and girls of color is about $5.48 per year for each woman or girl of color in the U.S.
  • Approximately 0.5% of the total $66.9 billion given by foundations directly supports women and girls of color.
  • 4.5% of WGOC-serving or -led organizations have no revenue whatsoever.
  • 26.2% have an annual revenue of less than $50,000.
  • Of those with budgets over $50,000, only 6.3% have paid staff (compared to 36.7% in organizations with budgets greater than $50,000).

WGOC orgs do awe-inspiring work–but they need our help.

Despite these funding hurdles, the surveyed organizations manage to roll out impressive services and campaigns with an extremely limited budget.

According to the Pocket Change report, these organizations utilize their limited funding by “providing services, conducting policy advocacy, community organizing or doing base-building, providing leadership development or training, and conducting voter registration activities.”

Most organizations that offer services or campaigns in the above categories offer many of them at once: “Nearly nine in ten (89.2%) organizations by and for women and girls of color work on three or more issues because it reflects their reality and lives experience–their communities face multiple issues and need multiple strategies to address them.”

When viewed collectively, the data suggests that these organizations roll out multi-faceted, community-serving approaches while relying on volunteer (e.g. unpaid) staff and lackluster resources. It’s a wonder that organizations like those surveyed can continue to keep their programs in action, in spite of their overall lack of funding.

Pocket Change also notes that these funding disparities are even more obvious when considered geographically: the U.S. South, historically, receives less funding for women and girls of color than other regions of the country. With this in mind, the feminist funding approach to helping these organizations needs to focus not just on distributing funds to organizations that need our help, but distributing those funds with careful consideration of the communities those funds will be used to serve.

Ms. Foundation on “Putting Into Practice”

In an interesting addition to the report, the Ms. Foundation included frequent call-outs in the form of sections headed “Putting Into Practice.” These inserts identified shortcomings the Ms. Foundation saw in its past operations, and outlined its strategy for improving these shortcomings in the future.

For example, in the Pocket Change section that addressed service-based models of WGOC organizations, the Ms. Foundation called out the need to be more vocal in its support for service delivery: “Although we have not been as vocal as we could be about our willingness to support service delivery, we have always been committed to how grantees need to do their work. Based on what we have heard from grantees, we believe being more vocal about our willingness to support services is an important shift.”

This is encouraging for other foundations considering taking a closer look at their giving strategies and data-driven findings about the people we serve. Examining past failures, not through a lens of guilt or shame, but rather with the hope of improving in the future, is a critical component of utilizing feminist funding to its maximum efficacy.

What can other foundations do to help?

The Pocket Change report examined sources of funding for WGOC organizations. About 49.4% of organizations rely on fundraising events in and around their local communities, and 42.0% source funding from public or private foundations*. When we consider that many of the communities these organizations operate in are suffering from lack of resources themselves, this reliance on events funding suggests even more of a necessity for foundation dollars.

(Image Credit: Pocket Change Report)

“Donors interested in supporting the leadership of women and girls of color may benefit from being explicit and asking about the composition of collectives, membership bodies, and boards that are involved in financial decision-making,” the Ms. Foundation report suggests. “Even if an organization has less representation of women and girls of color within these bodies, they could set goals for improvement and find other mechanisms to gather community feedback about whether their work is meeting community needs.”

(Image Credit: Pocket Change Report)

One of the most important ways funders can support WGOC organizations is to be explicit about their intent to fund women and girls of color. In the Pocket Change report, the Ms. Foundation found that while 90% of surveyed foundations name a commitment to WGOC in their internal strategy, only 50% name WGOC in their external mission statements.

Furthermore, WGOC organizations have reported a difficulty in finding funding because donor requests for proposal do not include an explicit call-out to their desire to support women and girls of color — adding in this language can go a long way to connecting organizations with the funding opportunities they desperately need.

Other ways donors can directly support WGOC organizations include:

  • Publicly and vocally espousing your commitment to women and girls of color (as opposed to including this commitment in internal strategies alone)
  • Put out open calls for proposal that directly call for applicants that support women and girls of color
  • Lower the barriers to funding applications (by rolling out participatory grantmaking and trust-based grantmaking models, for example)
  • Consider increasing funding for service-based models and voter registration programs rather than community organizing, policy advocacy, or leadership development programs

*It’s important to note that the Ms. Foundation report listed NoVo Foundation as number one on its list of “Top 20 Foundations Funding Women and Girls of Color in the United States,” beating out Ford Foundation (#2), Spelman College Special Ventures Fund, Inc. (#3), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (#9).

As we’ve discussed often, NoVo Foundation has drastically cut back its funding for this sector, which puts the burden of responsibility even more heavily on the shoulders of the rest of the foundations supporting this critical work.

Funding for women and girls of color is funding the future.

What I take from the Pocket Change report is that WGOC organizations have enough on their proverbial plate–and feminist funding has an opportunity, and a responsibility, to share some of the financial burden these organizations face in their day to day operations.

By serving women and girls of color, funding the organizations they found and lead, and being vocal about our commitments to our communities, we can continue to work toward an equitable future.


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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist. A Maryland transplant by way of Florida, DC, Ireland, Philadelphia, and -- most recently -- Salt Lake City, she has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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