As we’ve been pointing out over the last several months, this is a complicated time for community foundations that have to tread carefully with funding that touches on controversial political issues. Those types of issues are in no short supply these days, but it’s still the job of community foundations to secure donations and set up charitable funds from donors on all sides of the political spectrum. Community foundation staff and board members across the country have been trying to balance the idea of being responsive to community needs while also keeping donors coming to their door.
A while back, we wrote about how the New York Community Trust set up a separate funding opportunity called the Liberty Fund to support legal assistance, citizen action workshops, advocacy efforts for sanctuaries, safe havens for immigrants, and more. The new effort got off to a fast start, calling for letters of inquiry at the beginning of the year.
It also pulled in contributions from the New York Foundation, the Jerome L. Greene Foundation, and three NYCT donor advisors.
Earlier this month, the Liberty Fund awarded its first round of grants, totaling $1 million. Twenty-one nonprofits received money to provide on-the-ground assistance to immigrants and other New Yorkers threatened by Trump policies.
Lorie Slutsky, president of New York Community Trust, made the following statement:
This dynamic fund aims to make sure that all New Yorkers, regardless of country of origin or any other characteristic can thrive here. The goal is to provide rapid response even before we know exact changes to the safety net or immigration, environment or health care policies. We want to address these changes from a place of strength and preparedness.
In addition to grantmaking efforts going towards the prevention of discrimination and hate crimes, there were a couple other interesting points that stand out about Liberty Fund grants. First, this is money that’s expedited and that doesn't linger in bank accounts for very long. Rapid-response grantmaking has become an important feature of philanthropy since Trump's election—driven by a sense of urgency we rarely see outside of natural disaster relief. While foundations have often been criticized for not being nimble and responsive enough, Trump's rise has shown that some can indeed work super fast when the stakes feel high enough.
NYCT has also indicated that it plans to support immigration-related causes for the foreseeable future, suggesting that this isn’t just a short-term fund to address a current need. NYCT has a long history of supporting immigration work, as you might expect in a city with so many immigrants. But Trump's election has put this issue on the front burner in a new way. It's worth recalling that the welfare reform law of 1996, which also targeted immigrants, was another occasion when NYCT, along with other Gotham funders moved to high alert in this area. Back then, the trust and its Fund for New Citizens helped "many small immigrant organizations offer legal, policy, and advocacy services."
A final thing that we’ll point out about how NYCT’s Liberty Fund is playing out is that applicants to the fund are being invited to submit proposals to the foundation’s regular competitive grants program. This further suggests that immigration issues are bleeding over into NYCT’s larger strategy and becoming more of a priority than in the recent past.
The largest recent Liberty Fund grants went to DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving ($100,000), the Immigrant Defense Project ($75,000), Make the Road New York ($60,000), and the New York Immigration Coalition ($60,000). You can learn more about what these groups are doing in the five boroughs and how they caught NYCT’s attention here.