Lessons for Today’s Social Justice Movement from the Freedom Funders


The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) has released “Freedom Funders: Philanthropy and the Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1965” to mark the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The paper explores the impact of four foundations that defied convention by supporting the leadership organizations of the civil rights movement. While this financial support was modest, it proved to be a critical factor in passing the historic legislation.

Written by expert consultant Sean Dobson, the paper examines the roles played by  The Field Foundation, The New World Foundation, The Stern Family Fund and the Taconic Foundation as the fight for equality and justice for Americans of color intensified between 1955–1965. The paper also offers lessons for philanthropists aiming to support today’s social justice movements.

“As we mark the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it’s important to remember that inequality and injustice persist in many forms today,” said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. “In order to succeed, the many nonprofits and communities on the ground fighting to protect and promote human and civil rights for all, including for voting rights, living wages and an end to discrimination, need philanthropists and grantmakers that are effective partners.”

Dobson highlights three lessons from the Freedom Funders for contemporary philanthropy to best support today’s social justice movements: prioritize underserved communities, support efforts that empower underserved communities through grassroots organizing and advocacy and address those institutions and practices that promote and protect disenfranchisement, unequal treatment and injustice.

As Dobson writes, “Anything less and foundations risk reinforcing the very inequities they claim to address.”

Freedom Funders: Philanthropy and the Civil Rights Movement, 1955-1965” is available for free on NCRP’s website, www.ncrp.org and is also attached below.

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., is a national watchdog, research and advocacy organization that promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, is responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and is held accountable to the highest standards of integrity and openness. Visit www.ncrp.org.