Grant Makers and Donors Call for Focus on Grassroots Giving in Wake of Likely Supreme Court Ruling on Abortion

A coalition of philanthropy groups has pledged to put more money behind grassroots efforts, particularly those led by women of color, to increase abortion access as the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised this month to reverse the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

This piece was originally published by the Chronicle of Philanthropy on 6/7/2022.

A coalition of philanthropy groups, including the Women’s Funding Network and the Ms. Foundation for Women, has pledged to put more money behind grassroots efforts, particularly those led by women of color, to increase abortion access as the U.S. Supreme Court seems poised this month to reverse the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The drafters of the pledge did not aim to raise a specific amount of money or call upon signers to dedicate a certain amount in grant dollars to support access to abortion. Elizabeth Barajas-Román, president of the 120-member Women’s Funding Network, an international group of 120 donors and grant makers that supports gender equality and a leader of the pledge effort, says organizers want to put attention on how the money is distributed, not how much it totals.

In the past, grant makers have focused mainly on defending legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, which has protected the right to an abortion for nearly 50 years, Barajas-Roman says. As the court ponders overturning the decision, she says grant makers should focus more on providing grassroots groups that work to advance local policies and provide support for women who need abortions as well as money for related services likechild care for patients and transportation to abortion facilities in states where the practice is legal.

“This is really a call to set a new watermark for what funding in this arena looks like,” she says. “We’re failing right now because we didn’t listen to movement leadership who have been screaming into the wind about this type of nightmare scenario happening,” she says.

Elizabeth Barajas-Román, president and ceo of the Women’s Funding Network

A leaked draft opinion suggests that the Justices would strike down Roe v. Wade before the court term is scheduled to end on June 27.

The pledge has been signed by more than 80 philanthropy organizations and individuals, including Barajas-Rojas’s network, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Ford Foundation, Funders for Reproductive Equity, the General Service Foundation Groundswell Fund, and the Ms. Foundation for Women. Other signers include ABFE, formerly known as the Association of Black Foundation Executives, the Funders for Justice, the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. It lays out actions philanthropy can take as access to abortion is threatened by the pending court decision. Among them:

  • Give more and trust small groups to get the job done. National reproductive-rights organizations are likely to be “flooded” with donations, the pledge says. Grant makers should consider giving to smaller, less established groups, particularly those led by people of color.
  • Listen to leaders of movements that represent women, people of color, and others and pursue giving approaches that recognize that post-Roe, women of color will bear a disproportionate share of the burden as access to abortions are restricted in many states.
  • Focus on the ways race, sexuality, income level, and other issues intersect in making funding decisions about abortion and other rights.
  • Invest in a variety of strategies, including abortion services, litigation, and advocacy.
  • Make multi-year grants without restrictions to groups already working on helping women gain access to abortions.

The drafters of the pledge were influenced by the outpouring of philanthropic commitments that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. They took note, Barajas-Román said, of the fact that actual amount of money devoted to racial justice is likely much smaller in total than the amount grant makers, corporate foundations, and individuals have pledged publicly. For that reason, the drafters of the pledge focused on how grant dollars were distributed and who set priorities, rather than how much is committed.

From 2015 to 2019, foundations made grants totaling nearly $1.7 billion to nonprofits focused on reproductive rights, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. About 21 percent was designated for advocacy and services, and less than 2 percent was designated for abortions and related services.

Since the draft decision on Roe was leaked, groups that advocate for legalized abortion and those that oppose it have reported an increase in donations.

More money is likely to flood in, says Pamela Shifman, president of the Democracy Alliance, a network of progressive donors. She said many of the group’s members are likely to give to prominent political and charitable organizations, such as Emily’s List, Naral Pro-Choice America, and Planned Parenthood. But, she said, many donors recognize that small grassroots nonprofits led by people of color, particularly in the South, are at the forefront of the fight.

“Those organizations have been sounding the alarm for years that this day is coming,” she says. “The response to that warning did not come fast enough. But now in philanthropy, our donors are mobilizing, are fired up, and are enthusiastic.”

Philanthropy Advocacy