The RISE Together Fund (RTF) celebrated President Biden’s executive order rescinding the Muslim and African Ban, after four years of supporting grassroots organizations in their efforts to end the discriminatory policies put forth by the previous administration. This notable proclamation came after an especially tumultuous year where RTF pivoted to meet the needs of our communities—responding to the pandemic, racial-justice uprisings, and an incredibly divisive presidential election.
Although we have always been intentional about supporting groups that center or are led by directly impacted communities, we leaned even further into this practice by increasing our funding and programming opportunities for Black-led organizations and communities dealing heavily with the COVID crisis. We joined forces with Pillars Fund to kick off a series of funder briefings that provide context on the diversity of Black Muslim communities and their work around policy, arts, and culture, and we offered recommendations to funders looking to support these communities over the long term. RTF is also digging deeper into building relationships with Black immigrant and Black Muslim community leaders and uplifting their voices within our network.
To meet the needs that emerged with the pandemic, we provided rapid-response funding to the Arab American Association of New York to offer shelter and programming to community members experiencing domestic violence, to the Coalition of Civil Freedoms to support their Coronavirus Prisoner Release Project, and to The Family and Youth Institute to develop resources around mental health and well-being in the midst of the crisis. RTF also shifted project support grants to general operating support grants to give organizations greater flexibility as they allocate funds for urgent needs. In addition, as we shifted to virtual platforms and we repurposed the convening fund we co-manage with Open Society Foundations to support the digital and tech needs of our grantees, while also sustaining our digital security funding.
Finally, as the 2020 election approached, we made sure that our field had sustained support for civic engagement work. After working with experts in our space to identify civic-engagement gaps faced by our community organizations, we moved forward on three key recommendations:
We increased our existing core grants to support nonpartisan voter engagement, invited new organizations focused on civic engagement in key states to join our grantmaking portfolio, and lifted up this work to other funders. Most critically, we improved our grantees’ access to voter data and provided technical assistance to tailor their outreach to newly identified voters through our partnership with Dr. Tom Wong of the University of California-San Diego and his team of research assistants. We organized an online data training for 24 grantees with Dr. Wong, who developed an algorithm to identify Muslim, Arab and South Asian voters and worked individually with grantees to tailor their civic engagement outreach lists. Dr. Wong supplied voter data to 20 grantees and worked one-on-one with a handful of groups in the following ways: 1) Non-partisan voter targeting support; 2) Support surveying voters/message testing; 3) Technical support with phone or text banking; and 4) Creating, commenting on, or editing scripts for non-partisan voter outreach. Organizations were able to extend their reach far beyond previous engagement and we eagerly anticipate unpacking this impact even further.
As the year came to a close, we were honored to win the American Muslim Community Foundation Award for Outstanding Grantmaker in November and we deeply appreciate the recognition from our community. Although 2021 has already brought new challenges, we look forward to expanding our work with advocates in support of Muslim, Arab, Black, and South Asian communities.