billions to fight poverty; Racial Justice Fund; Giving is strong but unequal
MacKenzie Scott, Sergey Brin, Duke Endowment and Zoom are among the diverse set of funders working together to make effective poverty reduction efforts through Blue Meridian Partners.
Our colleague Alex Daniels took readers inside the organization this week to show how it distributes large unrestricted grants and offers the coaching and other skills nonprofits need to become more effective. What sets it apart from other philanthropic work, experts say, is that it invests over a decade or more because that is often the time it takes to shape an approach that works.
Nancy Roob, the organization’s president, said that when the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation established Blue Meridian as an independent organization, it expected it to attract $ 1 billion within a decade. But in three years, he has already raised $ 2.5 billion. Even though it’s exceeded all expectations, it’s still a small part of what’s needed to help millions of Americans improve their economic situation, Roob says.
Among the efforts supported by Blue Meridian: It provided $ 37.5 million to the Center for Employment Opportunities, which provides jobs and other services to people released from prison. The group had grown rapidly from one site to 30, but it took time to figure out how to become more efficient. (One of its efforts is pictured above.) The center realized it needed to work more with government agencies and expand its policy and marketing teams, and its strategic work helped it attract grants from other foundations.
Now Sam Schaeffer, managing director of the center, hopes that philanthropy will remain active to help those in prison. “We have never seen more money come in so quickly” he says. “Despite a lot of enthusiasm around justice reform over the past five to ten years and the growing acceptance by people to do better when they return home, there is still a lack of services.”
Another effective donor collaboration was in the spotlight this week as our colleague Olivera Perkins took a look at the Southern Power Fund, which took a very different approach than Blue Meridian, but which also seems to work.. The fund sought to raise $ 10 million after last year’s racial calculation, but it has already attracted more than $ 14 million and has appealed to nonprofits closest to the problems to find a way to distribute the money.
Most of the more than 250 grants distributed to grassroots groups in the South amounted to $ 40,000, and those tiny amounts have made a big difference. “It takes money out of the hands of institutional philanthropy and into the hands of people who actually know what’s going on and do the job,Says Ash-Lee Henderson, Co-Executive Director of Tennessee’s renowned Highlander Research and Education Center.
(This article is part of a joint Chronicle of Philanthropy and Associated Press project exploring racial justice and equity efforts in philanthropy.)