US philanthropy promoting democracy sees dramatic rise since 2016


Shafi Musaddique


Funding towards the promotion of a healthy democracy has been on the up in the US, driven by rising threat of authoritarianism and concerns over democratic institutions ever since the 2016 election victory of former US President Donald Trump, according to the Democracy Fund. 

Since 2016, new philanthropic actors, structures and funding models have bolstered pro-democracy efforts “infusing the movement with needed dynamism,” according to a report published by the non-partisan, independent organisation. 

It warns that pro-democracy funding could soon wane. 

The findings, which includes surveys and interviews with 70 institutional funders, warn that from funder perspective, shifts in the philanthropic landscape are becoming “increasingly complex, confusing, and difficult to navigate”.  

Institutional philanthropy for democracy is estimated to have grown from between $3.8 billion and $4.3 billion in 2017–2018, to between $5.4 billion and $6.9 billion in 2021–2022.  

Institutional philanthropic funding for democracy is expected to grow further in 2023–2024, with 45 per cent of survey respondents planning to increase funding and just 8 per cent planning to decrease it compared to 2021–2022. 

Long-term and unrestricted funding is becoming more common across institutional philanthropy, despite concerns that funding growth has focused on short-term goals. 

There is also increasing support for key issues dominating progressive philanthropy, with 70 per cent reporting funding for social and racial justice work and 59 per cent reporting funding for media policy and misinformation and disinformation. 

This is a remarkable commitment and represents a dramatic increase from where we were at just five years ago. But that figure doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Joe Goldman, president of the Democracy Fund 

“For democracy to thrive, we need significant long-term commitments to the pillars that support it. While it’s encouraging that democracy funding has increased significantly in recent years — by our estimates, somewhere between 42 and 61 percent growth from 2017–2018 to 2021–2022 — we must do more. And we can: Less than one percent of philanthropy was devoted to democracy in 2022, while other issue areas still receive far more attention and support.” 

Shafi Musaddique is the news editor at Alliance Magazine.

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