Foundations Break Their Grant Guidelines and Speed Cash to Immigrant Needs

Thursday, July 19, 2018
Foundations Break Their Grant Guidelines and Speed Cash to Immigrant Needs

Private foundations, including some that have never supported immigration issues before, have dedicated millions of dollars in quick-turnaround grants to provide legal and health services for immigrant families caught up in the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" immigration policies.

Some of the newcomer philanthropies cited a visceral opposition to the Trump administration’s application of immigration policy — which has resulted in the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border — for moving beyond their normal grant-making guidelines.

The Barr Foundation is one such grant maker. Two years ago it rededicated itself to programs that support the arts, climate-change response, and education. But earlier this month it strayed far from those priorities when it announced $500,000 in grants to three immigration efforts: the Four Freedoms Fund’s rapid-response fund on family separation; the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights; and the National Domestic Workers Alliance for its leadership in the End Family Separation campaign. The philanthropy’s founders, Barbara and Amos Hostetter, also committed $500,000 of their own money.

The family-separation policy showed a "lack of humanity" that is "antithetical" to Barr’s values, said Jim Canales, the foundation’s president.

"We felt a responsibility to step up, even though it took us far beyond the scope of the work Barr traditionally engages in," he said.


Foundations that have developed rapid-response grants to help immigrants and asylum seekers have sought help from other grant makers already active on the issue. Kellogg and Ford have provided advice, as have intermediary groups like Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refugees, Borealis Philanthropy, and NEO Philanthropy — which manages the Four Freedoms Fund’s rapid-response fund. Including Barr’s recent grant, the Four Freedoms Fund had raised nearly $1.2 million in response to family separations.

Scott Moyer, president of the Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation, looked for outside help The New York grant maker focuses its support on groups that work to reduce chronic violence and promote health care in community and correctional settings.

When the impact of the family separations became clear, Moyer decided to tap a rapid-response fund the foundation had set aside for emergencies that didn’t require the board to gather for formal approval. Still, Moyer sought board sign-off over email, and he relied on information from the Four Freedoms Fund.

"We’re a fairly small staff of three. We don’t have the capacity to go out there and do a landscape analysis of organizations" working on the issue, he said.

Similarly, the Barr Foundation found itself eager to chip in, but it lacked direct experience. The Boston grant maker hired a consultant with expertise in immigration and coordinated its work with Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, a network of donors.