OVERVIEW: The Ford Foundation is one of the stalwart funders of social justice work. Until recently, Ford's Advancing LGBT Rights program funded projects to "secure legal rights, improve economic security and address safety concerns" of LGBT individuals, with the overarching goal of ensuring "equal rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people." Owing to its recent restructuring, Ford's support for LGBT communities and organizations will all take place outside of the U.S.
IP TAKE: Ford is very well resourced and funds a wide array of LGBT projects, but competition is stiff for money from this well known funder. Furthermore, LGBT organizations based in the U.S. are no longer eligible for funding.
PROFILE: Established in Michigan in 1936 with an initial gift of $25,000 from Edsel Ford (then president of the Ford Motor Company), the Ford Foundation, now based in New York, and has grown to become a national and international grantmaking institution.
After a recently announced restructuring, the Ford Foundation has restated its driving mission to focus on addressing “inequality in all its forms—in influence, access, agency, resources, and respect.” In that vein, the foundation has identified five elements that it believes perpetuate inequality. As quoted directly from Ford's website, these elements are:
- Cultural narratives that undermine fairness, tolerance and inclusion
- Unequal access to government decision-making and resources
- Persistent prejudice and discrimination against women as well as racial, ethnic and caste minorities
- Rules of the economy that magnify unequal opportunity and outcomes
- The failure to invest in and protect vital public goods, such as education and natural resources
As part of this focus, the foundation has highlighted an initiative it calls BUILD, which is geared towards “building institutions and networks” and which will receive substantial funding in the coming years. In terms of BUILD, Ford states that its goal is to incorporate a diverse array of organizations, be they “big, small, new, old, movement based, online, on the ground—or something else entirely,” but also that in the more immediate term BUILD will “support a limited number of organizations" that will “likely be selected by invitation only.”
While the structural changes at Ford will affect various nonprofit sectors to varying degrees, LGBT groups working in the U.S. will be among those that feel the toughest impact. Until recently, Ford had a prominent presence in supporting LGBT rights in the United States through its Advancing LGBT Rights Program. Going forward, however, Ford's LGBT work will be done exclusively internationally, and it has explicitly said itwill "discontinue" its work on "LGBT issues in the U.S."
While the details are still murky, the most likely avenue through which international LGBT organizations will receive support is Ford's Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice program - and more specifically, GREJ's Freedom and Dignity sub-focus, which specifically mentions international LGBT rights as a pressing concern.
Regardless of its structural changes, if the past is any indicator, Ford will continue to allocate most of its substantial funds through larger grants. A look at Ford's LGBT recent grantmaking revealed grants ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, with the now-defunct Advancing LGBT Rights program recently recording an average grant amount of approximately $230,000. Past grants can be reviewed in more detail on the foundation's grants database.
Ford is a tremendously successful and well-known organization and, as such, it is inundated with requests each year. The foundation notes that less than 1% of unsolicited inquiries result in an actual grant, and while the foundation still plans to make thousands of awards each year, the total number of annual grants has been predicted to drop by 20%. Grantseekers should also note that Ford is not accepting proposals or inquiries until it “begin[s] new grant making in early 2016.”
- Margaret Hempel, Director, Gender, Racial and Ethnic Justice
- Mayra Peters-Quintero, Senior Program Officer, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice
- Lourdes A. Rivera, Senior Program Officer, Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice