How a Reproductive Justice Outfit at a Small College Pulls in Grants from Top Foundations

A small program attached to an equally small liberal arts college has been providing thought leadership and a legion of boots on the ground for reproductive justice since the 1980s. Where do they get their money, and how has this operation been sustainable?

The Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (CLPP) at Hampshire College was founded in 1981, and since that time, it has fuelled both movement-building leadership and activist strategy for the cause of reproductive justice. Marlene Gerber Fried, Faculty Director of CLPP and Professor of Philosophy, and Mia Sullivan, Director of CLPP, took some time to discuss their work with Inside Philanthropy recently, so we could learn more about how this organization was formed and stays funded. 

"Adele Simmons was president of the college at that time," said Fried. "She went on to be the president of MacArthur." Fried described how, under Simmons' leadership, Hampshire College became home to a number of social justice programs, including the Civil Liberties and Public Policy program.

How campus-based initiatives like this fare on the fundraising front is an interesting question, especially when they are based at small liberal arts colleges. On the one hand, you'd think such outfits would be at a disadvantage compared to national nonprofits in places like Washington and New York. On the other hand, such programs have some advantages, in that they often have strong educational and academic components that appeal to certain funders and they can also tap into campus development resources. 

Meanwhile, you can see the appeal of setting up a policy or advocacy shop in a college setting. Professors can pursue their desire for more engagement with the "real" world, while schools can reap both financial and reputational dividends—not to mention exposing students to a different kind of learning.

The success of CLPP over three decades is thus worth a close look.

"The program started with a specific and relatively narrow mission to educate students about reproductive rights," said Fried. She described the hostile climate for reproductive rights under Ronald Reagan's presidency, which galvanized establishment of the program. The first donor to step forward was Toni Huber.

"The founding donor felt like there needed to be a place where discussion and learning on reproductive rights would happen," said Fried.

When Fried came on board in 1986, the program was still in its infancy. Through Fried's leadership, CLPP evolved into a movement-building organization. Fried was a leader who had both strong academic and strong activist leanings, and at Hampshire, she found a place that would allow her to put it all together. She recently received the 2014 Felicia Stewart Advocacy Award, as well as the Warrior Women Award from SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, for her leadership.

Fried spoke about how, through early encouragement of the founding donor, Hampshire cultivated a larger group of funders committed to the vision of reproductive justice. Fried emphasized that this vision encompasses a very wide field and seeks to address economic and racial justice, freedom from violence, and immigration status, as well as other factors that impact women's reproductive health.

Who are some of the funders committed to this comprehensive approach? One of CLPP's biggest supporters is the Ford Foundation, whose commitment to social justice in this instance is coupled with an affinity for the academic approach of Hampshire College, of which Ford is also a founding donor. "Ford was attracted to Hampshire's model for education," said Fried. Ford's most recent grant of $350,000 to CLPP for a two-year period starting in 2015 is for "core support." Ford also provided $300,000 in 2013, again for core operating support.

The David and Lucille Packard Foundation has also supported CLPP, and between 2007 and 2012, provided $965,000 in four separate grants. Other major funders include the Overbrook Foundation, which has provided a total of $180,000 in five grants since 2007; the George Gund Foundation, which has provided $250,000 in funding since 2007; and the Foundation for a Just Society which has provided two $50,000 grants in 2013 and 2014.

Other repeat funders for CLPP include the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Moriah Fund, and the General Service Foundation.

Mia Sullivan, CLPP Director, attributes their sustainability as a small shop to its extreme efficiency, as well as to the high caliber of the network and community-building that CLPP has been doing for the past three decades. "We're small, but very ambitious."

"Our primary work is in leadership development," said Sullivan. "We bring all the tools and resources of a liberal arts institution to bear on these issues, including interdisciplinary analysis and scholarship." 

Sullivan pointed to CLPP's summer internship program, called the Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps, which last year received over 1000 applicants for just 40 available spots. This program is testament to the high profile of the program among young people interested in reproductive justice, and a scroll through its page for this year's interns gives you a eyeful of all the diverse young talent and energy this program is bringing to the community.

CCLP also hosts an annual conference that brings in the biggest players in the field of reproductive justice and helps to keep the profile for the program high. A look at the list of supporters in last year's program gives you a sense of this organization's reach.

Sullivan and Fried, together with colleagues from Amherst, Smith, Mt. Holyoke and UMASS Amherst, created and launched a new Five College Certificate in Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice, which will provide students with education on the social, economic, legal, and political conditions that influence reproduction. This is part of CCLP's larger goal of developing new opportunities and resources for students and other academic institutions in reproductive justice education.

"We would love to help seed and grow other programs," said Sullivan. The students who come to the summer internship program are sometimes part of that process. Sullivan and Fried talked about a student in Hampshire's summer Institute for Transforming Social Justice who returned to her native Mississippi college and "made a proposal to her college to create a program in social justice education."

Both Fried and Sullivan acknowledged that Hampshire is a unique college and it has been extraordinarily supportive of them. "It doesn't charge us for our space. In terms of providing a supportive environment for us to grow our program, Hampshire is great." 

"Because Hampshire was founded to engage students to tackle the great public policy questions of the day, our work is possible because our mission is part of what the college is trying to accomplish in the world," said Sullivan.

But Fried was careful to point out that CLPP has its own robust fundraising program. "We raise the money for ourselves, although Hampshire always has an ear out and has introduced us to donors."

Fried sees part of the success for CLPP has been in understanding that Hampshire College can't provide funding, since it is a relatively new college and its endowment today stands at only $40 million. The "ability to raise our own funds and bring in our own money has been critical."

Sullivan also pointed to the "lean, mean fighting machine" nature of the program. "All of our staff operate out of two offices, one of which used to be a closet," she said. "We are able to be incredibly efficient and effective."