A flood of donations following the death of George Floyd have 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, has 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 have come 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. A GoFundMe for the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot while jogging, has raised nearly $2 million from more than 60,000 donors. A fund for Breonna Taylor, who was shot in her home by police, has raised more than $6 million from more than 200,000 donors. And Floyd’s GoFundMe site had raised $14.5 million from more than 500,000 donations from 140 countries.
There have been $2 billion in racial equity pledges and commitments since May 25, 2020. By contrast for the whole calendar year 2019, donations in the same category totaled $166.4 million. That’s according to Candid, a nonprofit which tracks donations.
On the receiving end of that money are large organizations like the NAACP, Color of Change and ACLU as well as local community organizations that target issues like bail reform, according to Jacob Harold, executive vice president of Candid. But figuring out how best to distribute the newfound bounty has sometimes been a challenge.
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.
Part of the surge came from celebrities ranging from Janelle Monae to Seth Rogan, who took to Twitter saying they would match individual donations. 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, among others.
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.
“It’s a moment in history, so many people needed to be involved in the solution, so they found this as one path and took it,” he said.
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.
“We’re looking to reinvest in the communities that we have chapters in and figure out new and creative ways to support Black and brown folks,” she said. “We’re thinking about long-term strategies. Understanding the pandemic might go on into 2021, how are we thinking about long-term strategies that will take care of their basic needs?”
Even bigger organizations are figuring out new ways to deal with the donations. The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation said last week it established a fund worth more than $12 million to aid organizations fighting institutional racism after donations began pouring in. The group said it received more than 1.1 million individual donations at an average of $33 per gift since the death of Floyd.
The fund includes $6 million in donations to support Black-led grassroots organizing groups. Two weeks ago, it unveiled a separate $6.5 million fund for its network of affiliate chapters.
Color of Change, one of the largest online racial justice organizations, didn’t quantify how much donations have increased over the past few weeks. The organization doesn’t accept money from corporations, but because so many wanted to donate to it, it set up a fund to redistribute 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.”
“Color Of Change’s board is now taking time to thoughtfully set up a transparent process to account for the amount of corporate money raised and set up a responsible process for redistribution,” said Color of Change President Rashad Robinson.
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 are also getting involved, matching people’s donations to some organizations or creating foundations themselves. Michael Jordan pledged $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education.
“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.”