10 Lessons Learned From 10 Years of RTF Grantmaking

Lesson 2: Rapid Response Support is Critical to Sustaining Movements

Lesson 2: Rapid Response Support is Critical to Sustaining Movements - Proteus Fund

Throughout 2019 as we celebrate 10 years of grantmaking, the RISE Together Fund (RTF) team will be sharing 10 lessons we’ve learned.

RISE Together Fund (RTF) director Shireen Zaman recently co-authored this article for the National Committee For Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), along with Melissa Spatz, director of the Piper Fund. (RTF and Piper Fund are both initiatives of Proteus Fund.) The article shares insights RTF has gleaned through our rapid response grantmaking to the Muslim, Arab, and South Asian (MASA) field over the past several years.

Our rapid response and opportunity fund grants range from $2,000-$10,000. These grants support projects led by community-based organizations and that have momentum and/or buy-in from the MASA community, including partnerships with other MASA or movement organizations, religious centers, etc.

Proteus Fund reviews these grants within a matter of days, enabling us to respond quickly, and support and catalyze relationships between MASA and non-MASA communities toward shared goals. RTF receives frequent requests for rapid response grants; in fact, although small in amount, the number of rapid response grants we make per year nearly matches the number of core annual grants RTF makes. In 2018, RTF made a total of 21 rapid response grants totaling $135,000. Eighty-one percent went to non-core RTF grantees, and 57 percent were located outside of the two coastal regions. Our rapid response grants are open to any organization that fulfills our strategy – not just our core grantees – enabling us to reach a broader cross section of communities and organizations.

A key example of our rapid response funding impact is the #NoMuslimBanEver campaign. After the first Executive Order banning travelers from several Muslim-majority countries was announced in January 2017, RTF’s response was swift – we funded a convening so that advocates could plan their response, as well as made small grants and provided ongoing coordination for local and national MASA-led groups. With our support, grantees including Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, Project South, and One America mobilized against the ban to shape the public narrative for MASA communities. On the day of the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii in June 2018, RTF also funded seven community actions throughout the country. Through our rapid response grantmaking RTF supported actions in San Diego, Tennessee, Seattle, Anaheim, New York, South Dakota, Raleigh, San Francisco, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. ranging from press conferences to rallies to poetry reading on the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Here are some key lessons we have learned from our rapid response grantmaking:

  1. Rapid response must be truly rapid: RTF provides support within weeks, if not days, allowing movement leaders and organizations on the front lines to “do the work” without being hamstrung by administrative red tape.
  2. Rapid response goes beyond grantmaking: from support for anti-doxxing services, to curating a national MASA Organizing listserv, RTF’s rapid response support goes beyond simple grants. We have learned to be flexible in the types of applications we accept – including holding phone calls when necessary versus a written grant application – and trust our field partners to use funds in a way that makes sense for their impacted community members.
  3. Rapid response is only one part of field support: For many on the front lines in MASA communities and beyond, the rapid response never goes away – it is sustained over months and years by regressive policies, hate crimes, and digital and physical attacks. Foundations must help these communities and organizations move beyond a rapid response mindset by providing long-term, sustainable support that is not tied to any one event, such as an election cycle.

Recent rapid response grants have supported MASA advocates’ swift response to the asylum ban and public charge rule changes, and advocacy on behalf of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. Making modest grants to MASA racial justice advocates in a flexible, responsive way through our Rapid Response and Opportunity Fund permits advocates to respond to harmful policies, and to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities to promote policymaking that is responsive and sensitive to the needs of MASA communities.