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Philanthropies Stepped Up, But Have Lessons to Learn from Standing Rock

Joe Brusky/Flickr
Joe Brusky/Flickr

The U.S. philanthropy community has lessons to learn from the way it responded to the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies in their campaign against Energy Transfer Partners’ controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Standing Rock fight was “undeniably successful in demonstrating the strength of a community-led, grassroots movement that captured the global spotlight, attracting support and solidarity across a huge array of groups and people,” Inside Philanthropy reports.

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“Standing Rock has also been a meaningful moment for philanthropy, as millions in funding poured in from small donors, celebrities, and some fast-acting foundations, helping to fuel the work on the ground as it unfolded,” adds correspondent Tate Williams. “It shows how effective rapid response funding to grassroots, community-led movements can be, and philanthropy can look to what happened there to adapt, improve, and win future victories down the line.

The foundations that had the greatest impact “were those that either had existing relationships with Native-led organizations and coalitions and could move money fast, or those that were willing to suspend barriers and take a chance on such groups even if they did not,” IP notes.

“This is what success looks like when we make the bold investments that are needed into direct action organizing and movement work,” said Tyler Nickerson of The Solutions Project, which supported Standing Rock with rapid response grants through its Fighter Fund.

One difficulty for potential donors was a structure of non-profits, tribes, and individuals that was far more decentralized than a traditional 501(c)(3) charity. “It’s been admittedly a little challenging because of the desire on the part of a lot of folks in philanthropy to have a really convenient, easy, one-stop shop, especially in a quickly changing situation,” said Farhad Ebrahimi of the Chorus Foundation, “and that’s not how social change works.”

On the other hand, Ebrahimi said the cross-section of environmental justice, climate change, Indigenous rights, and poverty issues in play at Standing Rock pushed funders to resist the usual practice of breaking grantees down into silos.

“For all the supporters that did step forward, Nickerson pointed out a notable gap between philanthropy and Native American communities, which made it a challenge for many funders to respond in the moment,” Williams writes.

“Clearly,” Nickerson said, “this is a moment for us to learn, both from those who’ve stepped forward and done it, and those who were thinking about it and trying to make it work. This shows us and gives us a sign of success that moving money in the right way to groups on the ground is incredibly beneficial for all of our movements.”