COMM-ORG Papers 2003

The Decline of Progressive Policy and the New Philanthropy:

Progressive Foundations and Other Alternatives to Mainstream Foundations Are Created and Become Substantial, But Fail to Reverse the Policy Decline


Robert O. Bothwell

President Emeritus, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
1025 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 205
Washington, DC 20036 USA
tel: 202-467-4495, 703-836-4857
fax: 202-955-5606, 703-836-1304


~Progressive Policy Making In Decline
~A  Dissenting View On The Diminution Of Progressive Policy Making
~Why Has There Been A Diminution Of Progressive Policy Making?
  1. The Conservatives Take Over Policy Making
  2. Conservative Foundations’ Strategic Philanthropy in Building the Conservative Movement
  3. Liberals' Control of Congress Encouraged Progressive Policy Silos
  4. The Trap of Policy Silos for Progressive Policy Making.
~What Has Philanthropy Done To Counter The Decline Of Progressive Policy?
  1. Introduction
  2. Foundation Funding of Progressive Causes
  3. Corporate Funding of Racial/ethnic Populations, Civil Rights, Race Relations & Advocacy
  4. United Ways Do Not Fund Social Change
  5. Project Support instead of Core Support
  6. Summary – The Insufficiency of Philanthropic Funding for Progressive Causes
~The Origins And Growth Of Progressive Foundations As Alternatives To Mainline Philanthropy.
  1. Definition of “Progressive Philanthropy”
  2. Revolution or Reform?
  3. Who Exactly Are the Progressive Foundations?
  4. Origins of Social Change Grant Makers
  5. The Total Social Change Grants of Progressive Foundations
~The Creation And Growth Of New Private Funding Institutions As Alternatives To Mainline Philanthropy
  1. Introduction
  2. Alternative Funding Institutions Provide $106 Million for Progressive Social Change from 248 Individual Funds
  3. How the Alternative Funding Institutions Differ from Mainline Philanthropy
  4. The Religious Funders
  5. Black United Funds
  6. Social Action Funds
  7. Women’s Funds
  8. Alternative Community Foundations
  9. Native American Grant-makers
  10. The Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transsexual Foundations
  11. Environmental Federations
  12. Hispanic Funds and Asian Pacific American Funds
~Summary And Conclusions:  Progressive Foundations And Alternative Funding Institutions.
~Can Philanthropy Be Reformed To Provide More Money For Social Change?


An abbreviated version of this paper will appear in Foundations for Social Change: Critical Perspectives on Philanthropy and Popular Movements, Daniel Faber and Deborah McCarthy, eds., Temple University Press.  COMM-ORG gratefully acknowledges permission of the publisher to make this paper available here.


For the past 22 years, there has been a diminution of progressive public policy in the U.S. Stated another way, public policy has less and less sought to improve the lives of low income people, working people who are not college graduates, racial/ethnic minorities, women and the disabled. Some big mainstream foundations have fought against this trend, as have some smaller foundations. They have been unable to reverse it. Fundamentally, this may be because there is insufficient foundation investment in progressive values and organizations. And because conservatives have organized their nonprofits and political movement much more effectively. But it may also be that the liberal foundations' support for the rights of disenfranchised populations has encouraged the development of nonprofit policy silos which have precluded organizing a broader movement for progressive values and votes. In reaction to the extremely limited mainstream foundation support for progressive organizations, a whole new set of progressive foundations and alternative funding institutions have developed. The latter include alternative funds seeking workplace contributions, women's funds, alternative community foundations, new religious funders, racial/ethnic philanthropic efforts, and more. The monies they raise for progressive social change are substantial, though no more than a quarter of all foundation money committed to social change. Thus far, they have failed to reverse the decline of progressive policy. Yet they may ultimately change the face of philanthropy's commitment to progressive public policy and social change.