The Role of Philanthropy in the U.S. Immigrant Rights Movement

by Ted Wang; Louis Freedberg

Dec 1, 2014
As the Ford Foundation marks 25 years of involvement on U.S. immigration issues, it is a good time to take stock of what has occurred and to examine more closely philanthropy's role in supporting the growth of a national immigrant rights movement. There are many reasons for the field's rapid growth, including extraordinary leadership by those who have headed the movement. But the support of numerous foundations and other donors has played a vital part in fueling the field's expansion. Contributions have come from all parts of the philanthropic community. Smaller foundations, for example, have played a significant role in strengthening the capacity of regional and local immigrant-serving organizations that are backbone of the movement. To help tell the story of philanthropy's contribution to the development of an immigrant rights field in United States, the Ford Foundation commissioned journalist Louis Freedberg, with assistance from Ted Wang, to write this report. It describes how Ford initially entered the field, the challenges the Foundation and its grantees faced in the early years, how funders have worked together to support an emerging but vibrant movement, and the lessons learned to help inform future efforts to support the field. The authors' observations are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Ford Foundation. They point out that the power of philanthropic grantmaking in this area has come from a combination of factors: committed long-term funders who have supported this field for many years; a willingness to fund a wide range of organizations that provide complementary activities; flexibility to adjust grantmaking to changing conditions; and an openness among funders to collaborate with each other and as well as with grantees to achieve a shared vision.
  • Long-term, sustained support for key institutions is crucial to building an effective immigrant rights movement.
  • Grantmaking that expands the capacity of key immigrant-serving organizations has been essential to building an immigrant rights movement.
  • A successful movement requires many different types of organizations that provide complementary programs and serve different functions.
  • People who are directly affected by immigration policies -- immigrants themselves -- must have the opportunity play a leadership role in seeking and shaping solutions.
  • Collaboration among funders is critical to supporting a broad movement.
  • There is no reason why the process of incorporating today's immigrants as full participating members of American society should take several more decades."
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