New Initiative Seeks to Protect Civil Liberties, Informed Democracy

First grants of 2017 Special Initiative aim to bolster organizations’ capacity to respond to growing demand and to extend their reach.

In my last blog post, “In Changing Times, Philanthropy Must Adapt,” I introduced four principles to guide Barr’s response to dramatic shifts in the national context for our work, to increased polarization, and to growing concerns about threats to equity and opportunity for vulnerable populations. Guided by these principles and the Foundation’s core values, Barr seeks to help protect and strengthen civil liberties and an informed democracy.

Based on further discussion with community leaders, funder colleagues, staff, and trustees, I am pleased to announce a new Special Initiative in 2017 that will focus on two goals:

To support frontline organizations working with vulnerable communities, promoting human rights, and protecting civil liberties in Massachusetts through legal protection, community education and organizing, and public awareness efforts.

To strengthen and sustain journalism in the United States as an essential part of democracy, with a focus on investigative journalism and protections for freedom of the press.

Consistent with our approach across Barr’s core program areas, this Special Initiative will combine a regional focus with selective national engagement.

Barr seeks to help protect and strengthen civil liberties and an informed democracy. Tweet This

Today we are announcing the first set of grants to advance the goal of protecting vulnerable communities and civil liberties. Next Tuesday, April 4, we will announce a set of grants related to journalism.

In total, Barr has awarded $1 million to the following six organizations:

Given Barr’s intention to act swiftly, and to do so in the context of a time-limited special initiative (rather than as a new, enduring focus area for Barr), we depended greatly on partnership with other funders with expertise in this area, where we could build upon each other’s work. The Klarman Family Foundation, The Hyams Foundation, and The Boston Foundation have been valued resources and thoughtful partners for us as we learned about the landscape and assessed opportunities. We also sought to work through intermediaries and with coalitions, where possible, to enable to us to reach a larger set of organizations via re-granting and other collaborative activities.

We are investing in the capacity of this outstanding group of partners to expand their impact at a critical time, when the demand for their services has appreciably increased. Most of these grants offer unrestricted operating support, and all are multi-year grants to provide some ongoing stability when some of these organizations are experiencing a one-time influx of resources with uncertainty about the continuation of that support. Finally, we are grateful for the opportunity to deepen Barr’s partnership with local and national peer funders committed to striking the right balance between focus and flexibility, to be responsive to urgent needs.

Next week, we will announce another cohort of grants focused on efforts to strengthen and sustain journalism and ensure protections for freedom of the press.

View our grants database


  • “New Grants to Promote and Sustain a Healthy Democracy,” published on April 4, announced the second cohort of grantees under this special initiative.
  • Grants have also been awarded to MAS Boston Society, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, and Social Innovation Forum. Click here to view all grants awarded under this special initiative.
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