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Racial equality groups grapple with surge in donations

Donations came from all corners of the U.S. and the globe, including from prominent celebrities and huge companies, as well as individual donors.

A flood of donations during the surge of global protests following the death of Floyd has left racial equality and social justice groups in a position they might never have expected to be in: figuring out what to do with a surplus of cash.
AP Photo/ John Locher

A flood of donations following the death of George Floyd has left racial equality and social justice groups in a position they might never have expected to be in: figuring out what to do with a surplus of cash.

Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 pleading for air as a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly eight minutes, spurred global protests and a wider reckoning of police brutality and racism in the U.S., as well as a public clamoring to offer financial support to address those issues.

The donations came from all corners of the U.S. and the globe, including from prominent celebrities and huge companies, as well as individual donors putting up anywhere between a few dollars to hundreds of millions.

“Both individuals like Michael Jordan and corporations like Google across America are making much bigger commitments than they have in the past,” said Melissa Berman, President & CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “They are also increasingly willing to name the problem as racism and not use euphemisms.”

At the same time, GoFundMe sites have generated millions in donations, mostly made up of very small dollar amounts from a large number of people.

Minnesota Freedom Fund, a tiny nonprofit in Minneapolis working on reforming the bail system, had “scores” of donations last year totaling about $150,000, said Steve Boland, treasurer of the group and a nonprofit consultant. After Floyd’s death, their mission resonated with many people seeking ways to help, and they received 900,000 individual donations totaling $30 million.

Around the beginning of June, the organization realized it needed to take a pause to deal with the influx and began directing people to other local organizations, like Reclaim the Block and Rebuild Lake Street.

Although it has had growing pains as an organization with “1.5” permanent staff and some online criticism about how they have appropriated funds so far, Boland said it is a work in progress.

Now, the group finds itself in an “odd place,” in the nonprofit world, where they don’t need to fundraise anymore to accomplish their mission, which beyond paying people’s bail is to end the bail system.

It’s an “amazing shift,” he said. “The struggle to get resources is no longer our question.

It’s ‘how do we accomplish this mission and wind down?’ We want to get cash bail over in this state and we can do it now.”

Samantha Daley, development coordinator for BYP100, a black youth activist organization founded in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin, said the group has seen donations more than double and donation amounts have doubled and tripled.

The organization, which has 10 local chapters around the U.S., is still figuring out what to do with the influx, Daley said.

Even bigger organizations are figuring out new ways to deal with the donations.

The fund, called the “The Emergency Fund For Racial Justice” is in partnership with the Amalgamated Foundation. It will distribute corporate funding to local social justice, grassroots and nonprofit organizations based on “need, impact and opportunity.”

Some companies are going beyond pledging one-time donations to provide more sustainable aid. PayPal, for example, pledged $530 million, including $500 million in an investment fund that aims to support “Black and underrepresented minority businesses and communities over the long term.”

Celebrities also got involved, matching people’s donations to some organizations or creating foundations themselves.

“It’s not just a short-term response but long-term, maybe even a decade to rebuild communities,” said Una Osili, who heads Indiana University’s philanthropy research unit and the school’s May’s Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy. “As we think of the scale of issues we’re dealing with locally and nationally, it’s a longer term effort to stay with these issues and achieve a kind of social change.”