Strength in Numbers: The New Donor Fund Resisting Trump

“Get Ready. Fight Back.”

Those are the words at the top of the homepage for the Emergent Fund, a pooled donor fund that just launched to respond to threats facing a range of communities under a Trump administration, but also to support long-term social justice work by diverse leaders. 

There are two clear messages behind the fund—first, that we don’t really know what’s going to hit the wide array of communities threatened by candidate Donald Trump once he’s in office in January. And second, that the way forward over the long term is through an intersectional approach that builds power in communities and looks to those within them to lead. 

“The way to fight extremism in our democracy is by embracing inclusion. The Emergent Fund will provide lightning-fast rapid response money to communities leading resistance and building a new way forward in the Trump era, where and when they need it,” said Donna Hall, president of the Women Donors Network, in the fund’s announcement.

The Emergent Fund is a new project of the Women Donors Network and the Solidaire donor network, two communities of philanthropists with shared goals of working toward progressive, systemic change. They also have some common values around movement building and taking a collaborative approach that emphasizes the connections between issues of race, economics, gender, sexual orientation and the environment. Solidaire launched in 2012 following the Arab Spring protests, Occupy Wall Street, and anti-austerity protests in Europe. It has a particular interest in protest, direct action, and movement capacity building.

After an election in which the strongest grassroots energy was on the side of conservative populism and a candidate that successfully divided lower income Americans by race, it's obvious why some donors see an urgent need to foster progressive bottom-up efforts that can build new and broader coalitions. 

The Emergent Fund is starting relatively small, seeded with $100,000 from the founders, but aiming to raise $500,000 before inauguration day. There are two basic categories the fund will back: efforts to help communities respond to rapidly changing conditions, and efforts toward long-term social and economic justice. Other priorities include racial justice and multi-racial alliance building, and supporting leaders in communities, especially women and people of color.

A key element of the fund is speed. Proposals come in the form of an online nomination form, a short set of fields allowing anyone to propose up to three candidates (including themselves). Decisions are guided by an advisory council that represents the two founding groups and others in philanthropy and nonprofits, such as Lateefah Simon of the Akonadi Foundation, Cristina Jiménez of the United We Dream Network, and Shireen Zaman of the Proteus Fund.

The fund is not the only philanthropic response to the election of Donald Trump, which has been followed by a spike in hate crimes and harassment nationwide, and a series of cabinet decisions that threaten everything from labor to the environment. The San Francisco Foundation post-election established a Rapid Response Fund for Movement Building to support marginalized communities including immigrants, LGBTQ, people of color, and women. The Open Society Foundations announced a $10 million rapid response initiative to “support, protect, and empower those who are targets of hateful acts and rhetoric.” And just this week, the California Endowment announced a three-year, $25 million Fight4All initiative to defend residents of that state who may be threatened by the Trump agenda. 

As the left debates just what to do under the potential disaster of a Trump administration, the Emergent Fund has a lot of promising traits that we've championed when it comes to funding priorities. 

As highlighted in a recent roundup of progressive funding strategies post-election, the next four years will be, if nothing else, highly unpredictable. Funders will need to be more responsive to a diverse set of needs as they come up. This fund provides a mechanism for that kind of giving, particularly for individual or family donors that may have limited networks. 

It also stands firm against a maddening impulse we're seeing to deemphasize diversity and equal rights as a political strategy. As we’ve pointed out, the resistance at Standing Rock has demonstrated the power of backing diverse justice movements (Solidaire was one of the funders involved). This is a refreshing move to support underfunded work when it’s needed most.