Social justice organizations face well-funded and well-organized opposition, yet often lack flexible funding or reserves to innovate, learn, take risks, and develop their work for the long term. The restrictive funding practices of many foundations contribute to this problem, preventing organizations from investing in strengthening areas that are vital to their impact—strategic vision and clarity, leadership, management systems, and financial stability, to name a few.
We believe that funders can do more to help social justice organizations become more durable, more resilient, more effectively networked with each other, and better able to enact real change over time.
BUILD is a focused initiative to strengthen select organizations and networks that are central to our overall strategy to reduce inequality. In doing so, we seek to enhance the evidence base about “what works” when it comes to nonprofit institutional strengthening. We do this through flexible grantmaking, collaborative relationships with grantees, and holistic support for institutions. By strengthening civil society organizations and networks, we help them become more effective at achieving their core missions. And we hope to encourage other donors to adopt flexible institutional strengthening support as an effective, long-term, systemic approach to social change.
If the BUILD initiative is successful, in ten years we will have supported hundreds of strategically vital civil society organizations in strengthening themselves to better advance their social justice goals. These organizations will have demonstrably improved their management, resilience, and impact. Moreover, they will have greater capacity to collaborate, promote peer learning, and develop a shared and coordinated agenda to address inequality. Finally, the Ford Foundation and many of its peers will have fundamentally changed their approach to grantmaking—adopting a long-term, collaborative, and flexible approach as the norm in funding the fight against inequality
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At the ground level, strong organizations need a clearly defined mission—along with strategic goals, and a plan to achieve them.
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Impactful organizations invest not only in functions specific to their missions, but in the essential capabilities that every institution needs to succeed—such as leadership and governance, financial management systems, and legal support. They have systems in place that ensure their day-to-day effectiveness, and workplace environments that reflect a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
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Social justice organizations must be adaptable and quick on their feet—able to take risks, and to bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Reserve funds help organizations overcome obstacles and recover from setbacks.
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At the peak of the pyramid, organizations are able to expand their efforts so they can have the greatest possible impact over the long term. This kind of growth is not about size—it’s about impact.
In the first five years of the initiative, we will focus on achieving four outcomes:
Organizations participating in BUILD receive a multi-year funding commitment. A significant portion of that commitment comes in the form of general operating support, with the remainder designated as core support for institutional strengthening. Organizations develop their own plans for the type of institutional strengthening they wish to pursue with these funds, based on the essential building blocks of strong and resilient organizations.
Because every organization determines its own institutional strengthening needs—and every organization is unique—no two BUILD grants are identical, and the mix of strengthening support and general support varies in each grant.