October 20, 2020

Philanthropy Isn’t Doing Enough to Support Youth-Led Voter-Mobilization Efforts

Alejandra Ruiz, Executive Director of the Youth Engagement Fund, and Lori Bezahler, President of the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, write about youth of color civic engagement and voter mobilization work as a core opportunity for grantmaking on racial equity, leadership development, and building people centered long-term infrastructure that transforms our communities and democracy. This op-ed was originally published here in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Alejandra was part of the 2019-2020 Philanthropy Forward: Leadership for Change Fellowship cohort, a joint initiative of Neighborhood Funders Group and The Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions. The Youth Engagement Fund is a donor collaborative dedicated to increasing the civic participation and electoral power of young people. The Hazen Foundation is a longtime NFG member and is comitted to supporting organization and leadership of young people and communities of color in dismantling structural inequity based on race and class.


Three youth-vote organizers with Arizona Coalition for Change stand together wearing orange t-shirts that say, "Voting is dope. You registered?" Photo credit: Alexa-Rio Osaki.
Youth-vote organizers with Arizona Coalition for Change. Photo by Alexa-Rio Osaki.

Through their votes and their activism, young people — especially youth of color — are transforming the electorate. Youth organizing accounts for a major share of voter mobilization efforts in key battleground states such as Arizona, Florida, and Georgia. These states are in play in the upcoming election thanks in large part to years of persistent organizing by youth-led groups.

Despite their effectiveness, young leaders are often overlooked by donors and excluded from strategy tables of more established organizations, even as they mobilize hundreds of thousands of voters for the November election — and beyond. If we value a just and functioning democracy with an electorate truly representative of the populace, we must support the efforts of young organizers of color who are doing the critical work of building an electorate that will not only vote but will also hold government leaders accountable to those who elected them.

Unfortunately, philanthropy has yet to offer the level of support young leaders need. When the Youth Engagement Fund, which one of us leads, recently asked a group of about 50 donors whether they believed young people of color are key stakeholders in democracy, 100 percent agreed. Yet follow-up questions revealed that fewer than 25 percent of the donors support the young people who are doing this work, and of those that do, less than 25 percent are supporting youth of color.

The reality is that even donors who understand the importance of voting efforts led by youth of color aren’t ready to fund them. But to truly eradicate structural inequalities, philanthropy must resolve this disconnect. Offering nice words isn’t enough. Philanthropy needs to provide tangible support, resources, and funding.

Consider the demographics. Young people today are one of the nation’s most important voting blocs. Americans under the age of 39 now make up 37 percent of eligible voters, marking a notable shift in the generational, racial, and ethnic makeup of voters from previous election years.

Young voters of color can wield tremendous power in this election, as they did in 2018 when 31 percent cast a ballot — the largest turnout in a quarter of a century. Their participation increased in every state, reaching as high as 40 percent in some states and proving decisive in several statewide races. The youth vote could have a disproportionate impact on the presidential, Senate, and House elections in 10 key states this year, according to research from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement.

Ready to Lead

In a nation with far lower voter participation than most other developed countries, young voters of color are positioned to assume a leadership role.

Black and Latinx youth have proven especially effective at connecting with young people who have long been ignored by traditional voter-engagement efforts. Through our work leading the Youth Engagement Fund and the Edward W. Hazen Foundation, we’ve seen the power of these youth leaders first-hand through groups such as One ArizonaDream Defenders in Florida, and Women Engaged in Georgia. These organizations combine traditional get-out-the-vote, voter-registration, and voter-education efforts with sustained engagement of their peers focused on developing lifelong civic involvement.

Similar groups are also hard at work in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, which could become the next set of swing states later this decade. Mississippi Votes, for instance, has events planned through the election season to mobilize voters through prizes and virtual parties, while Woke Vote in Alabama already broke voter registration records earlier in the year through get-out-the- vote efforts at protests for Black lives.

Young people understand the connection between inspiring their peers to vote and engaging them on issues such as racial justice, immigration, and climate change. And unlike many of their more established adult counterparts, these young organizers can adapt quickly to changing environments.

They have proven especially adept at harnessing a robust digital infrastructure during the pandemic. For example, New Mexico Dream Team, which is led by immigrant youth, quickly pivoted their in-person programs online through digital organizing and offline engagement. They were well positioned for such a move given the group’s previous experience running campaigns through online media, phone banks, and texting because immigration checkpoints made it difficult to reach parts of their communities in person. In Georgia, Women Engaged heightened its online programming by hosting summer civic learning trainings and amplifying social media messaging. These strategies allowed them to connect with youth who were not previously politically engaged.

How such groups are funded — not just how much funding they receive — is critically important. Both of our organizations put young people of color at the center of our work as decision makers and leaders and base our funding on trust and collaboration. At Hazen, our decision to distribute all our assets over five years was made in consultation with young people of color who challenged us to meet the needs of the moment and free up capital to invest in the communities that need it now. At the Youth Engagement Fund, our multiyear support for youth-led groups includes funding, executive and wellness coaching, mentorship, and skills training in areas such as fundraising, management, and storytelling.

The innovative efforts of Black, Latinx, and other young leaders of color should be a source of excitement and inspiration to all who care about democracy. These young people have accomplished much on their own, but they can do so much more with our help. We need to provide the resources they need to succeed and then get out of the way so they can keep doing their vital work during this election and in the years to come.

January 13, 2022

Saying ‘no’ and rest as resistance: NFG's December 2021 Newsletter

At the beginning of this month, Neighborhood Funders Group hosted our final Member Connection Call of 2021. These calls are informal virtual spaces for grantmakers to truly connect and co-conspire; if you haven't joined one yet, we hope that you will in 2022 — register here for our next call on January 26!

On this year's Member Connection Calls, we've talked about how we're infusing care into our organizations and grantmaking, racial capitalism, racial justice organizing in specific places (and how philanthropy must move more + more + more money to BIPOC and low-income communities), rapid response funding, and lessons revealed to us by the pandemic on how to be better grantmakers and liberate all philanthropic assets.

We've shared the things that never fail to bring us comfort, offered tips for harnessing joy in all of the seasons, and taken each other on trips through our memories to our favorite vacation spots.

After co-hosting Member Connection Calls with NFG's President, Adriana Rocha, for well over a year, I've found that something that someone shares at each call resonates deeply for me. On this December call, it was:

'No' creates space to be a whole person at and outside of work.

It feels fitting to me to be putting the finishing touches on this message to you on NFG's final workday of the year. Beginning tomorrow (December 15), NFG will be closed for a three-week paid administrative break. We're saying 'no' to more meetings, more emails, and more work in favor of pausing, stopping, and creating the space to rest. Because we know from Tricia Hersey at The Nap Ministry that REST IS RESISTANCE.

The NFG team will return to our respective home offices on Wednesday, January 5. Here's a sneak peek into NFG's 2022: we'll be sharing our new theory of change, updating our website and brand, and announcing plans for our 2022 National Convening. And we'll continue sharing how we're centering our culture of care in our efforts to shift power in philanthropy towards justice and liberation.

Truthfully, I don't expect us to feel fully rested when we return — if 'feeling fully rested' is even a possibility in a capitalist world that values grind culture and all too often uplifts white supremacy culture characteristics of perfectionism, urgency, and quantity vs. quality. But I do know that this team-wide break moves us closer to a vision where all of our communities thrive in a liberated world where we are all well, where we are all cared for, and where there is abundance for all —and NFG is invested in this vision.

We look forward to co-conspiring with you to move money to racial, gender, economic, and climate justice in 2022. And we hope that you too say 'no' to what you need to and rest in any & every way that you're able.

Courtney Banayad
Director of Membership and Communications

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January 12, 2022

2022 Discount Foundation Legacy Award: Call for Nominations

The nominations are now open for the 2022 Discount Foundation Legacy Award!

The Discount Foundation Legacy Award annually identifies, supports, and celebrates an individual who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and contributed significantly to workers’ rights movements in the United States and/or globally. Through public recognition and a $20,000 stipend, we hope to recognize and amplify the work of individuals at the intersections leading the way toward justice for low-wage workers of color. This is a one of a kind opportunity to recognize the often unheard voices of worker movements — that includes volunteers, members, workplace leaders, and more who are transforming the lives and rights of their fellow low-wage workers of color.

To be eligible for the Award, a nominee must be active in worker justice, including but not limited to organizing and advocacy-related work. Additionally, nominees do not have to be employed at an organization or institution whose mission is to advance worker justice — they can be volunteers, members or other leaders at an organization or workplace organizing effort. We will not be asking questions regarding immigration or other legal status, and nominees do not have to reside in the US.

Nominees need to be nominated by someone other than themselves, through a simple, quick and accessible application process found here. The Award is meant only for individuals. Organizations, groups of individuals or institutions are not eligible for consideration. If you know anyone who you think should be recognized for their significant commitment to worker justice at any level — from a workplace to the neighborhood to the nation — this is your chance to provide them a powerful boost and real resources they can use in whatever way they choose! 

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In addition to being publicly recognized for their remarkable contributions to the movement, the 2022 Discount Foundation Legacy Award winner will receive a $20,000 stipend to provide them with the flexibility to expand upon their professional activities and achievements They will not be asked for any reporting requirements, and the funding has no specific strings attached or other specific obligations. The winner of the 2022 Discount Foundation Legacy Award will be invited to be honored at a virtual event in 2022. To learn more about the eligibility requirements and nomination process, please see our FAQs here — and please spread the word about this opportunity to your networks, colleagues and friends!

All nominations must be received by 11:59pm ET on March 7, 2022 through the online nomination form. We’re happy to help answer questions about the award, or support with any trouble you have with the application — please reach out to emily@jwj.org.

Created in partnership with Jobs With Justice Education Fund and the Neighborhood Funders Group’s Funders for a Just Economy, the Discount Foundation Legacy Award was launched in 2015 to commemorate and carry on the legacy of the Foundation’s decades-long history of supporting leading edge organizing in the worker justice arena beyond its spend down as a foundation in 2014. Learn more about the Discount Foundation Legacy Award.

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