When Rapid Response Isn’t Enough

This month, the Kataly Foundation redistributed an additional $1.5 million to fortify the reproductive justice efforts of 19 grassroots organizations. Of these 19 organizations, 15 are existing grantees of Kataly. Traditionally, this redistribution of resources would be categorized as rapid response. But in unprecedented times, what are the ways that conventional rapid response funding is insufficient?

We are living in unprecedented times — it has become a constant refrain with each passing week. It has been true not only within the past couple of months, but within the past few years as we have continued to ride the deathly waves of the global pandemic and faced the compounding impacts of rising white supremacy.

With each news update providing details of the most recent devastation a community has endured or a natural ecosystem has suffered, our team at Kataly has grappled with an unsettling question: “What is the role of philanthropy in this moment?” While we do not believe that money can solve all the problems of the world, like many of you, we find ourselves grasping at straws and our own feelings of helplessness as to what we can do to help others in this moment. We see ourselves, families and loved ones, neighborhoods, and our own histories reflected in so many that are hurt by unjust and oppressive systems.

We feel called to leverage the power and privilege entrusted to us by the nature of our positions in philanthropy to do something to lessen the pain and impact, and if possible, support the healing and repair. Philanthropy is the tool that we have at our disposal and we aim to make the highest and best use of it in service to those that are most directly impacted, challenged, and suffering in this moment.

Rapid response funding has been a rusty ax that philanthropy tends to wield with a blunt force. It is an attempt to hack away at the trunk of a problem that oftentimes has long and deep roots that need to be slowly, intentionally, and diligently eradicated right from the source. This flash flood of funding can quench organizations that have up until this point been in a drought, working with little to no funds to do the hard and necessary work needed to support their communities. But, this flood can sometimes saturate and overwhelm communities leaving them to struggle to catch their breath and stabilize as they adjust to their new reality.

This is not to say that philanthropy should not provide rapid response funding to communities in need, but rather we should reflect on what this strategy says about us as a sector, in addition to what the need says about us as a society.

The traditional ways of doing rapid response funding reveals to those of us in philanthropy where there might be gaps in our existing funding strategies. We may recognize that we are not moving resources in ways that allow communities to defend and protect their right to freedom and dignity. We may be faced with the humbling reality that we do not have authentic relationships with grassroots organizations and communities most directly impacted by injustice. These are sobering reminders of how our institutions and the philanthropic sector have failed to uphold our duty and responsibility to use resources to protect the public good and equitable systems that support our society.

We are living in a time when it can become overwhelming and exhausting to chase every issue and put out every fire through rapid response funding. This sectoral approach is ineffective and exposes a lack of understanding of the intersectionality and root causes of all the issues disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, and all communities of color. The strategy of divide and conquer is working as intended — to separate our communities and identities so that we compete and work at odds against each other.

It’s past time for philanthropy to FINALLY listen to social movements. We must reassess the landscape and conditions under which we are fighting for justice and freedom. We won’t win through funding just one issue area, one campaign, or one policy. We must fund social movements as a united front and at scale — trusting in the wisdom, expertise, and experiences of those that are most directly impacted by the systemic failures of our society.

Through a series of intentional conversations about the limitations and challenges with philanthropy’s approach to rapid response we have clarified and affirmed that for Kataly, when moments like overturning Roe happen, the answer is not to pivot towards a new issue area, or to sit back and hedge our bets as we wait to see what others do. Rather, we need to recommit our support to our grantees and those organizations that have been and continue to do the necessary and essential work of building community. We are continuing to focus on multi-year, general operating support, low-barrier reporting, and more, to make sure that our grantees have the trust, flexibility, and freedom to use resources in whatever way they see fit to serve their communities.

Whether that community building happens through environmental justice campaigns, healing justice strategies, or community wealth building projects, we recognize that our role and responsibility is to ensure that these communities and organizations have access to the resources that they need to defend and care for their loved ones, while building for a future where we all can be free and live with dignity.

The organizations receiving resources from Kataly are all caring for their communities — through reproductive justice organizing, through healing, through sustaining the ecosystem, and much more. Below are the organizations receiving additional funding in 2022 — we hope other funders will resource these organizations, and the many others that are caring for and fighting for communities:

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The Kataly Foundation

The Kataly Foundation moves resources to support the economic, political, and cultural power of Black and Indigenous people, and all communities of color.