Nine Recommendations to Guide Your Democracy Giving

Our American democratic system is in crisis. The June 2022 Supreme Court rulings expanding gun rights, overturning Roe v. Wade, and restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to mandate carbon emissions are the latest examples of U.S. government rulings that are out of step with majority public opinion; 64% of Americans opposed overturning Roe v. Wade, only 1 in 10 Americans believe gun laws should be less strict, and 71% support regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

The corrupting influence of special interest money in politics, voting rights restrictions, gerrymandering, lack of civic education, rampant mis- and dis-information campaigns, systemic racism, and economic inequality are a few of the issues undermining a well-functioning, truly representative U.S. democracy.

We often hear from philanthropists that funding democracy work feels too overwhelming and too political. But a stable democracy is vital for progress on all issues that philanthropists invest in, and the future of our country.

To help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by this cornerstone issue, here are nine recommendations to inspire and guide your democracy giving:

  1. Racial inequities deepen the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of our democracy. Invest in and trust organizations that are representative of the communities you seek to support. Those who are closest to and most affected by structural racism are best positioned to build effective solutions.

  2. Go further into one democracy category or give to a few that you are most passionate about (see list of democracy categories here).

  3. Add democracy issues to your current philanthropic portfolio. For example, if you currently fund education, add civic education. If you are ready for ongoing strategic investments, create a separate democracy portfolio that you fund annually. If you want to start smaller, create a temporary democracy fund and monitor the impact before scaling it in the future.

  4. Choose rapid response (e.g., donate to specific urgent needs as they arise) and/or long-term efforts (e.g., fund civic education, a free and fair media)—both are necessary.

  5. Invest at the local, state, or national level—all levels of the ecosystem are critical for progress.

  6. Give to small, underfunded organizations that often lead specific, community-based efforts and where smaller donations will make a significant difference, and/or larger, more visible organizations that generally have numerous projects that can rapidly scale. There are compelling reasons to fund each.

  7. If you are able, give personal funds to candidates, 501(c)(4) organizations, and PACs that can influence elections and are important for both immediate and structural change.

  8. Consider increasing your payout in the interim to meet the urgency of shoring up our democracy.

  9. Get started now and stay in it for as long as it takes—this is not about one election or a single moment, it is about strengthening our democratic system for the long-term health of our country.

The 2022 Supreme Court rulings, near-constant crises, and the ongoing trend of hyper-partisan politics makes the state of our democracy feel bleak. But there is reason for hope.

Voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election shattered a 100-year record, as two-thirds of eligible voters cast over 158 million ballots, enabling overdue political progress. That 2020 election was also certified as the most secure in American history despite occurring in a global pandemic.

Philanthropy helped make the 2020 election success possible. Now it must play an essential role in rebuilding a more just, vibrant, and multiracial democracy that works on behalf of everyone.