On the front page of The New York Times last week, there was a fantastic article about how the abusive practices faced by workers in Florida tomato fields have virtually ended. Laborers, mostly immigrants, are now less likely to be abused, and they experience better working conditions and receive higher pay.
The article did a great job explaining the community organizing and advocacy efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) that led to the improved conditions. But one important piece of the story was left out: the role that foundations and other grantmakers played in helping make the organization's accomplishments possible.
Since the late 1990s, a handful of U.S. grantmakers have invested heavily in the coalition and its campaign. Foundation funding made CIW's initiatives possible. The coalition has a modest annual budget that only recently passed the $1 million mark, and most of its funding comes from foundations and other institutional grantmakers. Twelve grantmakers invested $100,000 or more to make this work possible:
- The Kresge Foundation, a large foundation based just outside Detroit that works to create opportunity for low-income people, registered the largest single grant to CIW with $1,285,000 in 2011.
Without the support of these twelve grantmakers, and others, it is likely that workers in Florida's tomato fields would still be facing horrendous working conditions today. And with their continued support, the Coalition will be able to expand the remarkable gains enjoyed today by 30,000 Florida tomato workers to farm workers in other crops and other states.
What is the value to society when thousands of workers no longer face sexual harassment, get paid a fair wage and are no longer poisoned or otherwise endangered? I won't even attempt to put a price tag on this victory. However, a rigorous study conducted by the organization I lead shows that over time, foundation funding for high leverage strategies like advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement produces a return on investment of $115 to $1. That's a pretty good bang for the buck.
Funding for work that brings about real improvements in people's lives and changes unjust systems is still uncommon among U.S. philanthropies. Just fewer than 100 of the nation's largest 1,100 foundations, about 8 percent, can be considered serious social justice funders, meaning they devote 25 percent or more of their grant dollars to high impact strategies like the advocacy and community organizing work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Our research on foundation giving trends shows this number is increasing, but slowly.
Kudos to these twelve grantmakers who have supported CIW's important work.
Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP). Follow NCRP on Twitter (@ncrp).