Defending the Dream Fund: Year Two

Black Voters Matter

By Holly Bartling

The Defending the Dream Fund (DDF) is a collaborative funding partnership launched in 2017 with  General Service Foundation, Hill-Snowdon Foundation, Hyams Foundation, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the Veatch Program, the Whitman Institute, and other funders. The project came out of a desire by each of these progressive funders to rapidly resource grassroots organizations that were working to resist the draconian policies of the Trump era and to protect targeted communities. We wanted to work together so that we could align our funding and streamline the application process for organizations seeking funds for this important and urgent work.  

In 2018, the Defending the Dream Fund made its third round of grants, comprising $525,000 to 35 grassroots organizations advancing justice. Since the fund was created in early 2017, it has made 84 grants totaling over $1 million in support. In the second year of the fund, we chose to focus primarily on renewal grants to the organizations funded in the first round, and sought to give larger grants where possible. Given the importance of mid-term elections and get-out-the vote efforts, we also invited a small group of new proposals to support civic engagement work that fit the grantmaking priorities. As with past funding rounds, we prioritized work in the U.S. South and other under-resourced regions. The 2018 DDF grantees build power in their communities as they defend the rights of immigrants and workers, seek environmental protections, protect Native rights and sovereignty, challenge structural racism and Islamophobia, fight to maintain access to reproductive care, protect the rights of LGBTQ people, restore voting rights, and build infrastructure for civic engagement.

Our participation in DDF is helping us to see how so many social justice organizations see their fights for justice as interconnected in this moment. We supported a number of groups that worked in deep solidarity across different communities. For example, one grantee, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), which began as an organization focused on the needs of soldiers returning from the Iraq War, has evolved into a group that is standing with communities subjected to hate. This is just one of many examples of the kind of cross-community work that has increased since the 2016 election. By stepping back and asking broadly about all of the ways that our democracy was being undermined and our communities were in the crosshairs, the fund helped us to see the connected nature of the responses to these attacks.  

Our participation in DDF has also offered a vantage point on work that is more local and state-based, and has helped us better understand under-resourced geographies. Many of GSF’s grantees work at the national level, and because GSF prioritizes long term renewal support, we have historically taken on relatively few new grantees each year. The 500 applications that came in response to the Defending the Dream Fund’s open call for proposals were a welcome opportunity for us to learn about efforts far beyond our current grantmaking. The DDF call for proposals (which made a clear request for organizations with budgets of under $1 million and encouraged groups from under-resourced geographies to apply) opened our eyes to an incredibly rich and diverse body of work that we otherwise would not have known about.

We joined the Fund just as GSF was undergoing changes to our own grantmaking framework and strategy. Through the Defending the Dream Fund process, we were able to start making rapid response grants to organizations that fit under our new priorities. This gave us a chance to get to know new grantees and leaders and quickly learn about new and emerging work. One example of this is the love-fueled work of LaTosha Brown, Cliff Albright and their team at Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute. Their South is Rising Tour traveled by bus across the South to call on Black people to own their power and voice, and vote. Their vision goes far beyond a single election cycle, and their hope is to mobilize a vibrant, engaged community of Black voters. Their work is a beacon of light in the face of such unabashed efforts to keep Black voters away from the ballot box. We learned about the work of Black Voters Matter through the Defending the Dream Fund, and were able to step in early and fund their work as a result.

The other highlight of  our participation in DDF has been the opportunity to work together with a group of funders who are seeking to model the kind of philanthropy we hope to see in the world. Collectively, the “Dream Team” has been intentional about streamlining the application process, sharing grant applications beyond our fund and centering the grantees. We have worked as a team to bring forward new and emerging work, and we have learned from and adopted model grantmaking practices from each other. All of the funders at the table are committed to learn about something we are not yet funding, and we have all sought to fund work that expands the boundaries of what is possible within our institutions.   

We are grateful to our Defending the Dream colleagues for the insights and ideas they have brought to us through this collaborative funding project, and to all of the organizations that have enriched our understanding of the shape and scope of social movements’ collective efforts to protect our democracy in these disturbing times. We expect to keep the fund going in 2019, and will be working with the team to determine how it can best serve the field in the coming year. Please stay tuned! If you are a funder who would like to hear more about this fund, please don’t hesitate to reach out.