The protracted “movement moment” of the past few years has put philanthropy to a critical test. In 2016, the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Jamar Clark in Minneapolis, and 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando were among the searing tragedies that turned into critical moments for action. Each incident resulted in both tragic loss of life and deep impacts on surviving friends, family, and communities. The planned construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatened the water resources and sacred land of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe drew protests and political action from hundreds of indigenous communities and allies. These flashpoints called upon philanthropy to respond quickly to urgent needs while also leveraging the opportunities for broader, longer-term change.

Inspired by challenges foundations encountered in coordinating response after police killings of people of color and the ensuing uprisings in St. Louis and Baltimore, the EA established a rapid response capacity to assist community stakeholders serving Boys and Men of Color in times of urgent need. In considering the most strategic uses of limited rapid response dollars, the EA staff identified a market gap in philanthropic support to communities of color in crisis. As a result, the EA made rapid response grants to support key movement-building efforts in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, Orlando, and Indian Country from 2015-2016.

In Baton Rouge, the EA covered administrative costs for the Foundation for Louisiana so that 100 percent of other donors’ contributions could go directly to mission-critical organizations on the ground through the foundation’s response fund. Flozell Daniels, Executive Director of EA member Foundation for Louisiana, said of Mr. Sterling’s death, “We had the opportunity in this terrible tragedy to highlight historic inequities and abuses against vulnerable communities as a means of looking at what high quality and responsive policing looks like.” He continued, “One of the advantages of the Executives’ Alliance as a group of seasoned executives and grantmakers is that they understand the operational context.” Foundation for Louisiana was able to leverage the EA’s early investment to support local organizations creating community data collection processes, inform communications strategies, and strengthen platforms for police accountability.

Likewise, after the killing of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by police and the subsequent shooting of five local Black Lives Matter activists by white vigilantes in Minneapolis, the EA’s initial funding catalyzed further investment in community organizations. “When we got the funding commitment from the EA, we were able to get on the phone instantaneously with our donors and inspire others to give,” said Maria de la Cruz, the Associate Executive Director at Headwaters Foundation for Justice. Headwaters used EA support to pool and re-grant over $100,000 to Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby praised the impact of funding during such a crucial time. “At NOC, we have developed an organizing model that can create power in movement moments, but we haven’t found a way to resource the work in those moments,” he said. “In the past we have resourced them and then had to catch up later.” The injection of funds from the EA and Headwaters allowed NOC to staff the policy efforts of the United Black Agenda, ultimately securing a commitment from the Minnesota Governor’s office to devote $32 million to fund economic justice, education, and police accountability from a racial equity lens. Lorraine Ramirez of the Funders for Justice network added, “The EA partnership with Headwaters was exciting to witness. The emergency fund was able to raise more than its original goal. I believe the early support from EA was a catalyst for this momentum and success.”

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, In the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the EA convened its network on an emergency call to learn more about on-the-ground response efforts in the LGBT and Latinx communities, which include boys and men of color whose stories are too often untold due to common stereotypes and normative views about gender and masculinity. The EA immediately provided a rapid response grant to the CONTIGO (“With You”) Fund—an initiative originally envisioned by Kevin Jennings, then Executive Director of EA member Arcus Foundation. Along with contributions from other foundations including EA member Ford Foundation, the EA grant was part of a philanthropic investment that totaled over $2 million in only two weeks. “EA immediately stepped forward to offer its support to a reeling community,” said Jennings. “It was proof positive of the enormous leverage the EA can bring to bear in supporting some of the most vulnerable in our society.”

In the midst of the efforts of indigenous communities to protect the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation from the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the EA provided funding for Native Americans in Philanthropy (NAP) to make rapid response grants. NAP leveraged $30,000 in funding from the EA to secure an additional $15,000 from other donors to create the #GenIndigenous Response Fund. This provided NAP the opportunity to identify and support Native-led, youth-focused groups that are often overlooked by funders. “The rapid response grants have allowed NAP to start building the bridge between youth-focused groups and longer term funding,” said Sarah Eagle Heart, CEO of NAP. National attention to Standing Rock has galvanized action in Native communities nationwide. While two of the rapid response grants were made to organizations from Standing Rock, seven were provided to Native-led organizations in other areas of the country, reflecting how the issues there resonate in every Native community. And while rapid in nature, the grants also helped Native youth leverage the momentum of the water protectors’ resistance to address future challenges.

The impact of the EA’s movement-building rapid response grants illustrates the need for increased investment in rapid response capacity by the philanthropic community – both in local communities and also on a more nimble regional and national basis. “These movement moments add new leaders, reframe public opinions, and shine a spotlight on key issues,” explained Anthony Newby of NOC in Minnesota. Lorraine Ramirez noted, “Local foundations that have been supporting grassroots organizing for many years are looking for new, like-minded partners as they adjust their grant making to be even more responsive to organizing happening on the ground.” Flozell Daniels added that in order to enact policy change, grantmakers must support the organizations who undertake great risk during moments of crisis: “Funders must give protections to partners in the streets and invest in coalitions that are willing to put themselves on the line.” That is the power of rapid, collective philanthropic action.


  1. The ability to provide immediate support in rapidly changing environments is a critical growth edge for philanthropy.
  2. In order to provide rapid response investments, philanthropy must cultivate relationships between trusted local intermediaries (including local and community foundations) and national philanthropic organizations that can be leveraged when a crisis occurs.
  3. A more robust national/regional network is needed to provide rapid response dollars because it is difficult to anticipate where the next flashpoint will occur.