Center to Support Immigrant Organizing teens

Civil Rights and Democracy Initiative Strategies

Supporting civil rights protections and a fair and accurate 2020 Census count in New England.

For this time-limited initiative beyond Barr’s core programs and areas of expertise, we used the following criteria to help identify the most compelling and appropriate opportunities, which:

  • Focus on the implications of near-term changes in the federal policy environment, rather than on longer-term issues related to democratic institutions.
  • Require funding now for expanded impact (rather than for ongoing issues that would exist regardless of the immediate policy environment) and not generate the need for long-term, ongoing support.
  • Are conducted by established organizations or collaborations.
  • Have support from other respected funders.
  • Avoid politically divisive approaches to their work.

In addition to these criteria, we have considered how Barr’s regional scope could complement our local peer funders’ activities and how relationships with national nonprofits and foundations could support regional responses to the present challenges. Consistent with our approach across Barr’s core program areas, this initiative combines a regional focus with selective national engagement.

We also have been mindful of what OpenImpact recently termed the “new normal” and the ways in which funders and nonprofits must shift mindsets and behaviors to advance social change today. To that end, nearly all grants made through this initiative consist of multi-year support, and many grants provide unrestricted, general operating support.

Priority One

Support civil rights protections for communities in New England threatened by the current political and social environment.

As in its 2017 Special Initiative, Barr is focusing in 2018 on organizations serving immigrants and refugees, Muslims, communities of color, and LGBTQ people. These communities are among those most directly affected by recent policies that restrict their rights, as well as by the negative rhetoric from top federal officials.

Through 2017 grants provided by Barr and other Boston-based foundations, leading organizations working to secure civil rights for these communities gained important and needed support. Yet these organizations have continued to experience an exponential increase in demand as policy and safety threats continue unabated. Local needs have increased, and several of these organizations have been further strained by responding to need and demand from communities beyond Greater Boston. In some instances, they are called upon for information and trainings by small nonprofits located elsewhere; sometimes they directly serve individuals in other regions.

In 2018, Barr has pursued the following types of grantmaking opportunities to help support civil rights protections in the face of these threats, and to strengthen community capacity to respond to new challenges:

  • Regranting funds awarded to the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, a public-private partnership to meet the increased need for legal services, community outreach, and credible information; The Lenny Zakim Fund, which provides both sustained and rapid-response support for a range of grassroots social justice organizations; and the Proteus Fund’s Security and Rights Collaborative, which supports Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities by addressing profiling, discrimination, hate crimes, anti-Muslim bigotry, and xenophobia.
  • Direct funds awarded to Massachusetts-based advocacy, direct service, and capacity building organizations, including the Center to Support Immigrant Organizing, the Muslim Justice League, and Centro Presente (the grant to Centro Presente includes support for 2020 Census outreach).
  • Competitive funds through an open Request for Proposals for efforts to support civil rights protections and strengthen community capacity to respond to new challenges in communities throughout New England.

Priority Two

Ensure a fair and accurate 2020 Census count in New England.

The decennial census is a critical element of our democracy. Among census data’s many purposes, they: reapportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives; inform state and congressional political district boundaries; determine the proportionate allocation of about $600 billion in federal funds to states each year, as of FY15 (including $16.1 billion to Massachusetts in FY15); and inform the monitoring and enforcement of civil rights laws in areas such as education, housing, employment, and criminal justice. And we have only one chance every 10 years to conduct a fair and accurate count.

Structural racism and classism have historically led to the undercounting of people of color, immigrants, young children, and poor people—often termed “hard-to-count populations.” Conducting a fair and accurate 2020 Census is further jeopardized now by numerous factors, including:

  • A significant budgetary shortfall and no increase in the dollars allocated from 10 years ago.
  • A Census Bureau decision to roll back door-to-door canvassing and instead conduct a largely Internet-based census, which presents challenges to reaching hard-to-count populations (e.g., ethnic communities, immigrants, young children).
  • Fear and distrust of government among hard-to-count populations, given the chilling rhetoric about those in our country who are foreign-born or of the Muslim religion, as well as the Trump Administration’s efforts to insert a citizenship question that the federal government disavowed 60 years ago.

The National Council of Nonprofits’ May 2018 statement to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform offers a detailed account of the current challenges and the interests of both the nonprofit and business communities in accurate census data. Additional resources and updates are available from the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation and the United Philanthropy Forum.

In 2018, Barr has pursued the following types of grantmaking opportunities to help ensure a fair and accurate 2020 Census count in New England:

  • Collaborative funds awarded to the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund 2020 for statewide outreach, education, and advocacy; and the New Venture Fund for nationally-coordinated activities that benefit state-level efforts, including research on population distributions, federal and state budget analyses, and message development.
  • Direct funds awarded to Massachusetts-based community and civic engagement organizations for outreach and organizing, including MassVOTE and Centro Presente; and to the Leadership Conference Education Fund, the education and research arm of a coalition of more than 200 national civil rights organizations, for education, policy, and communications activities to promote a fair and accurate 2020 Census.