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More about PFFs and Eligibility Requirements

About Population-Focused Funds
History of Population-Focused Funds
Eligibility Requirements
PFF Directory

About Population-Focused Funds

Population-focused funds are giving vehicles that are created, led and supported by members of a racial, ethnic or cultural community to address critical issues within that community. They can be thought of as community foundations where “community” is defined culturally instead of geographically. They build on many cultural traditions of philanthropy and mutual aid within diverse communities and are uniquely equipped to address community need. Population-focused funds are active in (but not limited to) the African American, Latino, Asian / Pacific Islander, Arab American and Middle Eastern, Native American, women, and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered (LGBT) communities.

Philanthropy is a powerful vehicle through which diverse communities can exercise self-determination. Community capacity for social change includes a broad array of components: the ability to meet immediate and urgent needs of community members; the ability to build, nurture and grow community-based infrastructure; the ability to build and sustain leadership; and the ability to advocate, all of which underpin the ability to build and mobilize social movements.

A community’s philanthropy from within its own resources makes a powerful statement about its own efficacy and expectations of itself. Supporting the growth of philanthropy in diverse communities has significant potential for activating community-led social change and a more just and equitable society for all.

In general, population-focused funds share the following characteristics. They are:

  • Culturally specific and community defined: population-focused funds raise resources from community donors for community causes and nonprofits, where “community” is defined by the shared culture and identity-based experience.
  • Funded by a mix of donors, but for a shared purpose: although many of these funds raise money from diverse sources, the focus on building a connection between the identity-specific donors and a particular community need is a critical structural and visionary component.
  • Intentionally focused on grantmaking to community-specific causes and nonprofits: the ability of these funds to focus exclusively on organizations within the defined cultural community uniquely equips them to identify and address issues within that community. Board, staff and donors are community members and bring that perspective to identifying needs and solutions.
  • Uniquely positioned to generate donor leadership and activism: these funds have ties with donors who are often not on the radar of mainstream philanthropy and can leverage their social, civic and political capital to generate resources for emerging issues and organizations.

History of Population-Focused Funds

Population-focused funds build on strong, community-specific traditions of self-help and self-advocacy, and often serve the dual purpose of addressing critical needs within communities and advocating for them externally. Their roots are deep, numerous and inextricably linked to histories of emerging social movements, resisting marginalization, and waves of immigration.

Although some population-focused funds trace their roots back to the turn of the 20th century – particularly women’s funds and African American funds – the major growth of population-focused funds began in the 1970s. This growth came in the wake of the civil rights movement and in tandem with other social and empowerment movements of the time including the women’s movement, the Native Rights movement, and the LGBT rights movement. Funds in the Asian American / Pacific Islander and Hispanic / Latino communities parallel waves of immigration, and as a result tend to be younger.

Since the 1970s, the number of population-focused funds has been increasing fairly steadily. In the broadest sense, most funds were established to address overarching issues of poverty, discrimination or the combination of the two as they affected their community.

The larger philanthropic sector has also played a role, with private independent foundations partnering with population-focused funds and investing in the sector through specific programs over the past fifteen years. In particular, there were several efforts by major foundations to establish population-focused funds in community foundations. Separately, philanthropic affinity groups, including those in the Joint Affinity Groups, have seeded initiatives in specific communities to start and support funds or strengthen networks.

Eligibility for the Population-Focused Fund Directory

For the purposes of D5’s PFF Directory, we define population-focused funds as ethnic and race-based funds, women’s funds, and LGBTQ funds that:

  • Raise funds from community donors to give to community causes (within cultural as opposed to geographic communities)
  • Operate through a 501 (c) (3) organization – either their own or a sponsoring organization’s (e.g. a community foundation, a larger community-based organization, etc.)
  • Conduct a significant component of their giving domestically
  • Do not raise funds exclusively or primarily for the activities of their own or their sponsoring organization

This directory currently does not include:

  • Diaspora funds that conduct grantmaking primarily outside of the U.S.
  • Funds that operate informally, without a 501 (c) (3), (which includes many church-based funds)
  • Funds that give intermittently, forming and dissolving as community events evolve
  • Private and/or family foundations of individuals or family-owned businesses
  • Funds that primarily raise money for the activities of their own organization or those of their sponsoring organization

These restrictions are a result of current limits on research resources. However, funds that fall into the above categories still represent important philanthropic activity in diverse communities and areas for further study.