Movements, Funders, and Making Change


Written by Frances Kunreuther

Last week, Sean and I participated in the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference on supporting movements. We did an introductory session for funders on the basics of movement building, and were joined by Laura McCargar from the Perrin Family Foundation and Peter Bloch Garcia from the Marguerite Casey Foundation who both did terrific presentations on how they are supporting organizing and social change work.

Throughout the conference we kept hearing themes that we have found so important in our work. Several sessions stressed the importance of an ecology of organizations and individuals that help build movements for social change. We especially appreciated the frankness offered by a panel discussing alignment – or lack of alignment – between national, state and local funders and their attempt to break through these barriers. A presentation on leadership looked at how to build the capacity of movement leaders – an issue we have grappled with in our own work. And it was great to hear our colleagues Kevin Jennings and Rea Carey talk about what’s next for the LGBT movement after marriage equality – echoing many of the findings in our recent report.

Most people agreed that the most important area of movement building was one that is too easy to lose sight of: movements should be led by those most affected by the injustice the movement seeks to overcome. In today’s political environment, there’s a temptation to build astro-turf operations that move policy demands through paid lobbyists, rather than investing in deep grassroots engagement. Some may try to call these campaigns movements, but achieving lasting social change requires both organized resources and organized people. There have been impressive new formations – such as the New Bottom Line and Caring Across Generations (which Sarita Gupta described so movingly in the closing plenary) – that bring organizing groups together to combine their grassroots bases to achieve national scale and leverage that power to make possible changes that seemed impossible only five years ago.

For the work that still needs to be done, we will have to think bigger, bolder, and more creatively about how to reach those whose lives can benefit most from social changes – and to listen and learn from their leadership and experiences. Then we will have a movement making moment that we can all join.

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