Democratizing Philanthropy

As an organization interested in social justice and promoting social change, Social Justice Fund NW has funded a wide range of activist organizations working in communities of color. And Social Justice Fund NW has always believed it is important to reflect the diversity of our society in our own organization, including people of different races, nationalities, genders, ages, and sexual orientation. In the 1990’s, Social Justice Fund NW made major strides to become an actively anti-racist and inclusive organization.

In 1997, the Board of Directors of Social Justice Fund NW decided to open membership in the foundation to people with a much broader range of incomes, and thus give Social Justice Fund NW a stronger democratic orientation and allow it to grow into a truly community-based foundation. The minimum contribution to join was first lowered to either $1,000 or one percent of their annual income and then, in 2003, to $240.

As a result, membership soared, bringing an increase in members, more volunteerism, and greater diversity and representation from the communities that Social Justice Fund NW serves, both in the membership and the Board of Directors.

Donor Organizing

Social Justice Fund embarked on the next step of democratizing philanthropy in 2010, with the first Next Generation Giving Project, a partnership with Resource Generation and our pilot Giving Project. NGGP was a huge success. We realized that through the Giving Project model we could not only make philanthropy accessible to an even broader range of people, we could also make it more sustainable and accountable through donor organizing. In 2011, we made Giving Projects our sole model for grantmaking. Through this model, 73 volunteers in 5 Giving Projects raised more than $300,000 from 479 donors, making 30 grants across 5 states.

About Giving Projects

At their core, Giving Projects are about raising and distributing resources. Between 2010 and 2017, 54 projects have raised an average of about $100k each from a total of 8,000 donors. The vast majority of these donors were not previously giving to social justice issues. Many were not engaged philanthropically at all. Giving Projects have been especially successful at reaching traditionally underrepresented communities, including young people (about 75% of participants are under 35) and people of color (about 50% of participants), as well as people with wealth. Regardless of their background, most participants make their largest gift ever through the process.

In addition to these fundraising outcomes, the Giving Project process engages people in transformative leadership development. Over 1,000 people have participated so far. We train with a social and racial justice framework through which participants come to view their volunteer and philanthropic activities. We provide training and coaching on fundraising, grantmaking, and grassroots organizing. All together, this has resulted in participants joining boards, launching independent fundraising campaigns, and getting directly involved with grassroots social justice organizations.

  • A Giving Project engages about 20 people over a 6-month period in the following activities:
  • Community building and personal storytelling
  • Political education and personal reflection on race and class identity
  • Learning directly from grassroots social justice organizations
  • Personal giving (no minimum or maximum contribution)
  • Grassroots fundraising, including training and personal support
  • Training in social justice philanthropy, principles of funding community organizing, and systems change
  • Democratic grantmaking including reviewing applications and site visits
  • Celebration and evaluation

Mission & Vision


Social Justice Fund NW is a member-funded foundation that supports the creation of a just society through fundraising, grantmaking, and member involvement. The foundation provides essential resources to organizations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming to strengthen grassroots efforts in the broad-based movement for progressive, systemic social change.


Our vision is of a world that is just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable for all. This multicultural world celebrates and supports diversity, community, intergenerational collaboration, and self-empowerment. Our image of success is a region with a thriving network of community-based organizations and coalitions and an increasingly equitable distribution and sharing of power and wealth.

Our vision of SJF is to be a leader in social change philanthropy and to mobilize philanthropic resources to support social justice. We envision vastly increased funds to finance the work of social change organizations in the Northwest. SJF will continue to support new and established organizations and to empower groups to build internal strength and capacity. We also support networking and collaboration among nonprofits working at the grassroots.

SJF will be a powerful and dynamic regional agent for social change, efficiently applying its resources to the needs of its grantees. We seek high visibility and active presence for SJF in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Through involvement in SJF, we envision members learning together, engaging in social change, and building community throughout each of the five states.

We envision SJF to be a multicultural, antiracist organization that affirms human dignity and struggles against all forms of oppression. We strive to be a broad-based membership organization, collaborating across boundaries of class with our leadership reflecting the communities we serve. We believe that working with those who share a common vision, SJF and our allies will foster positive change.

What is Social Justice Philanthropy?

Social justice philanthropy is the granting of philanthropic contributions to nonprofit organizations that work for structural change in order to increase the opportunity of those who are the least well off politically, economically, and socially.

It includes the following broad categories of activities:

  1. Researching root causes of social problems (like poverty, its implications, discrimination, lack of access to politics, public policymaking and the economy).
  2. Communicating and disseminating this information to the public, with a particular emphasis to reach those who are direct victims of social problems.
  3. Protecting and enhancing the legal rights of those who are marginalized in society or discriminated against.
  4. Strengthening new and/or existing social movements that work for social, political, and economic equity through:
  • Grassroots activism toward the mobilization of disadvantaged and disenfranchised groups;
  • Creating networks or alliances among social justice groups;
  • Community organizing toward increasing opportunity and redistributing socio-economic power;
  • Technical assistance – including board development, inclusion of constituencies and democratic funding processes – for social justice nonprofits;
  • Economic development that increases the socio-economic opportunities of disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations;
  • Environmental causes that ensure that disadvantaged groups are not disproportionately affected by harmful environmental practices;
  • Peace and reconciliation programs that seek to understand and address the causes of conflict; and
  • Advocacy and lobbying to enact changes in government policies regulations and programs affecting disadvantaged populations.

(Source: Independent Sector: Working Group on Social Justice Funding)