This is Not a Drill: We Must Fund Election Work Now  

Movement organizations are the backbone of our social justice infrastructure. Without them, the electoral wins that uphold democracy and make our lives better would not be possible. Organizers work year-round to listen to community members’ needs, educate and empower people to get involved in their communities, and move folks to action to shift systems to support their interests.  

This work is intensified during election years for many reasons. Although funding may increase in election years, it often comes with restrictions that prevent organizers from doing their best work and aren’t reflective of the realities their communities are facing. Funding also comes far too late. For organizers to do their best work, build robust strategies, and hire folks for outreach, they need funding by spring. Funders who want to make a difference in November but haven’t committed funding yet are already behind schedule.  

To support these efforts, Grantmakers for Southern Progress has signed onto the All by April campaign, a push by philanthropy to move money early in support of free, fair, and representative elections. We also sat down with Valencia Gunder of The Smile Trust and The Black Collective to gain insight around what funders must do differently to support effective power building strategies during election years.  

While studies show there has been a growing interest in democracy by philanthropy since 2016, investments in democracy still account for less than 1% of all philanthropic giving. Gunder sees the effects of this underinvestment firsthand when she talks to folks on the ground. “Many of our community members say they no longer believe in democracy. The majority say hell no, they don’t believe their voices matter to local leaders. They only feel heard by the grassroots, and that is a problem” she said. These findings come from Gunder’s work on The Noir Project, a community building project centering the voices of Black people in Miami-Dade County, Florida. 

Bad funder behavior is partly to blame for people not feeling heard. During election years, funders often prioritize policy outcomes over the power building strategies that encourage civic participation. “It’s hard for me to get funded if I don’t say I’m going to fight the governor. Our job is to organize community to use their collective power to get their needs met. We are going to continue losing our base if we’re not responding to the people directly” said Gunder.   

We wanted to learn more about where funders should be placing their focus if we want to see real change. “If you want to flip the country, you need to grab it by the handle” Gunder said. In other words, it is imperative that we invest long-term in Southern communities and listen to grassroots leaders. Gunder was clear: contact with community is what shifts systems. “We have seen that long-term strategy doesn’t always help us break even” she said. “We need to see increased investments and we need funders to trust organizers and the work we are doing” to make up for the history of underinvestment in the South.  

As investments pour in throughout the country during election season, the South only sees a fraction of these funds and is treated like a lost cause. Meanwhile, movement organizations led by Black, Brown, Indigenous and frontline leaders in the South continue to mobilize their communities, fight voter suppression, and ensure that we are building a just and healthy democracy for all. If philanthropy is serious about investing in democracy, we must align ourselves with movement organizers and understand that a healthy and just democracy cannot exist without centering people. Policy change is great, but being in right relationship is non-negotiable. We must commit ourselves to funding organizations now, so they have the best chance of making change. Our grantmaking portfolios should be the floor, not the ceiling. We can use them as a fence to keep out risky investments, or we can see them as a portal that, if we are brave enough to step through, will lead us to the future we want to see.   


  • Visit to read and sign the letter urging philanthropy to move money early for free, fair, and representative elections.  
  • Movement leaders need multi-year, long-term, general operating support funds. Folks have a harder time getting people to the polls when they are worried about keeping the lights on at the office.  
  • Ask movement leaders what strategies they are having trouble getting funded and provide the resources, technical assistance, and networking opportunities to help them attain the support they need. 
  • Encourage other foundations to do this work alongside you.  Become a member of GSP for access to a network of more than 40 funder organizations transforming social justice philanthropy in the South.