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:
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.
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:
This directory currently does not include:
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.