An Assessment of Philanthropic Responses to the Black Lives Matter Movement

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Reviewed by Clare Fisher


This article examines how philanthropic foundations responded in the months following the 2020 killing of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests through a Critical Race Theory (CRT) lens. The findings provide perspective on a select group of  foundations’ communications on racial equity amidst recent BLM events along with their purported commitments to anti-racism. The authors argue that philanthropic foundations play a critical role in advancing racial equity in society. Therefore, it is critical to understand how their statements reflect or fall short of perpetuating actual antiracist discourse. 

Seoeun Jung is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Nebraska, Omaha’s School of Public Administration. Her research focuses on nonprofit and strategic management, nonprofit leadership, collaborative governance, digital technology, and social justice. Angela Eikenberry is a Professor at the University of Nebraska, Omaha’s School of Public Administration. Her research focuses on the social, economic and political roles philanthropy, voluntary associations, and nonprofit organizations play in democratic governance. Kathryn Webb Farly was an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University; she is now a Budget Officer at the Federal Transit Administration. Lastly, Lori Brainard is a Professor at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy & Public Administration. Her research focuses on how ordinary people, nonprofit and grassroots advocacy organizations, and government agencies use the internet to activate and mobilize for change and to disseminate information.

Methods and Findings

The authors conducted a qualitative analysis of 60 foundations’ official statements released in response to the killing of George Flyod and the BLM movement. The analysis included statements from family, community, and corporate foundations, including 20 from each category as described below. 

Foundation Categories

  • Family foundations are “independent charitable foundations, funded principally by the personal gift of an individual donor, family business or family member(s).”
  • Community foundations “raise funds from the public and make grants primarily within a targeted or defined geographic area.”
  • Corporate foundations are “established and funded by the corporate sector.”

The authors’ findings indicated that the language of foundations’ communications conveyed both racist and anti-racist messaging. Racist messages from the foundations included assimilationist and non-racist sub-themes.The authors explain that assimilationist messages are racist because they insinuate that “a certain racial group is culturally or behaviorally inferior and supports programs to develop the racial group.” Non-racist messaging seeks to disassociate an organization from racism through dismissing or ignoring the realities of racism in society, yet, ultimately uphold racism. Despite some foundations conveying racist messages, none overtly shared racist sentiments regarding George Floyd’s death or the BLM protests. Anti-racist statements “discussed institutional racism and the killing of Black Americans due to police brutality and the criminal justice system.”

Corporate foundations tended to share more racist messages, while family and community foundations shared more anti-racist messages. One corporate racist statement included an implication that Black communities needed their own organization’s support to succeed: “It is important that we connect Black business owners to insights, mentorship and resources during this time of crisis to help them not just survive, but to position them for life beyond the crisis […].” Anti-racist statements acknowledged the existence and prevalence of racism. This took a variety of forms, including this one from a family foundation: “The calls for justice that we see today are not new, but we can use this moment to reassess these structures of inequality, redistribute resources to where they are needed most, reform the institutions that have perpetuated racism, and repair our trust in each other. Black lives matter and we must continue to speak up for equality.”

Foundations responded to racial inequality by making commitments, primarily focusing on financial support, organizational redesign, and direct engagement with the Black community. Additionally, some foundations vowed to prioritize racial equity in their grant-making strategies. A smaller number of foundations committed to engaging directly with the Black community through initiatives like recruitment and mentorship programs.

In the authors’ analysis, 118 corporate foundation statements were identified as having racist statements while 83 statements were identified as anti-racist. Family foundations had 160 statements identified as anti-racist and 138 statements identified as racist; community foundations had 134 anti-racist statements and 126 racist statements.

The research detailed in this article did not analyze the follow through of these organizations through their actions and sentiments over time. This work solely focused on the content of the statements made by organizations.


The findings from this study highlight the content of philanthropic communications on racial equity, and their initial impact on the landscape of racial equity institutional; work in the United States. Racist communications and messages from philanthropic foundations subtly convey Black communities’ inferiority and perpetuate the idea that they need guidance from foundations, while also diverting attention from the realities of perpetual systemic racism. Anti-racist messages denounce institutional racism and police brutality, and promote efforts to address systemic racism. 

The study authors emphasized the need for critical analysis and accountability for promised actions of foundations in order to ensure their effectiveness in combatting systemic racism. The article provides an important baseline of data on the commitments and intentions of an array of philanthropic actors. Further research on the follow through and impact of these commitments, would benefit the field and offer a more robust analysis of the tangible impact of these foundations on moving money and power, rather than mere statements and pretext.


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