Foundations Want You To Know They Make A Difference–Not Just Write Checks

The #ReasonsForHope campaign is trying to make people understand the powerful work of philanthropic foundations.

Foundations Want You To Know They Make A Difference–Not Just Write Checks
[Illustrations: agsandrew/iStock]

“HOPE.” That’s the one-word message at the center of a new awareness campaign backed by 39 charitable groups in response to recent shooting deaths in places like Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas.


It all started with Ford Foundation CEO Darren Walker, who was attending the international AIDS conference in South Africa in late July as news broke about police officers being shot in Baton Rouge. While he was already in meetings with some of the world’s top philanthropists many expressed feelings of grief and helplessness. “One of the questions I was asked was ‘What can philanthropy do about this?’” he says.

The answer is that many foundations are already doing quite a bit; they’re just really bad about sharing it.

Less than 24 hours after he heard about Baton Rouge, Walker had called an emergency meeting with heads of all the grant-making groups he could rally. “Part of the concern was that there was silence from philanthropy on the issue and that was really unfortunate. We wanted to give voice to a collective concern that we all have in philanthropy about what’s happening in our country.”

These groups are essentially the nonprofit world’s chief piggybanks, figuring out who is doing good work and funding it in ways that also ensure the groups who receive their money remain accountable. Over the last three years, the Ford Foundation has donated $142 million in criminal justice reform and racial justice projects. That’s not new. Martin Luther King Jr. was on a Ford Foundation grant at the time he was assassinated. But while the country lost an incredible leader, it didn’t lose one of the vital resources that helped make such work possible. More than a half-century later the foundation works with Black Lives Matter.

To trumpet this idea of hope–and that people are working hard to end the issues that are causing the despair–the coalition launched their ad, which recently ran as a full-page spread in major newspapers. It’s more of a manifesto. Beneath that big bold “HOPE” word, there’s another all-caps message, “EVERY GENERATION MUST FACE DEFINING MOMENTS. WE ARE FACING ONE NOW,” and suggestions for how Americans might pitch in to promote more dignity, equality, and justice for all.

The campaign asks people to tweet about organizations making a difference or social justice moments that inspires them at #ReasonsForHope. Since July 30, that hashtag has generated 10 million impressions and been used by everyone from Ford Foundation President Darren Walker to Secretary of Education John King, NAACP President Cornell Brooks, and city-level groups like the Skillman Foundation in Detroit.


At the same time, the Council on Foundations has shared a video about the movement, inviting more foundations to sign what’s become an industry-petition for optimism and growing rolodex of groups openly sharing their efforts to fix these causes.

#ReasonsForHope could attract new people to donate, volunteer, or even work for social justice causes. It may create new partnerships among funders and the groups they back, all of whom are hoping the public will watch them more closely and take heart. “It’s a way for us to hold ourselves accountable to do more,” Walker adds.

In a way, the effort echoes #RaceTogether, the controversial Starbucks-initiated effort to encourage more dialogue about racial issues. Except that many of these foundations have decades of credibility behind them. As Walker puts it, “I always like to say, you know, at the Ford Foundation we are in the business of justice and hope.” Both remain in high demand.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.