American democracy has received a lot of criticism in the past few months. Even before the events of the 2020 election, the system was getting significant criticism. These has only ramped up since November. The news constantly inundates us with stories of voter suppression, wealth inequality, outright corruption, and systemic racism.
With the pandemic and the divisiveness of the Trump administration exacerbating the overall situation, people may be asking what role philanthropy should play in addressing the problem. Philanthropy itself has had a difficult relationship with democracy lately as critics equate the unbalanced power of wealthy donors to an oligarchy.
Still, philanthropists may have a role to play in rehabilitating American democracy. Here’s what you need to know:
How Philanthropy Can Address the Issues with American Democracy
Ultimately, the job of fixing American democracy rests on the backs of everyone living in the country. Democratic processes depend on people understanding the importance of voting and engaging with civic discourse. However, philanthropists can make it easier for people to do this, especially in moments when crisis leaves gaps in representation and response.
Especially during moments of stress, philanthropists can support the nonprofit sector in its mission to meet the basic needs of people in the United States. When people are wondering how they will access healthcare or put food on the table, they are unlikely to become civically engaged. If these basic needs are addressed, people are more likely to actively participate in the democratic process. This assistance is a nonpartisan way of supporting democracy.
Philanthropists need to recognize the difference between making processes more democratic and influencing the outcome of those processes. Wealthy Americans certainly fund political processes that can influence outcomes, such as donating to their preferred candidates. However, rehabilitating democracy through philanthropy approaches the issue from a completely different angle.
Philanthropy can help ensure that the system becomes more representative by working to give people equal access to the political process. Addressing issues of voter suppression and ensuring that people have what they need to become politically involved is key to making American democracy more effective. This approach is perhaps even more important than donations meant to influence outcomes.
What Philanthropy Intended to Restore Democracy Looks Like
The question of what exactly philanthropy meant to rehabilitate democracy looks like remains. This question is somewhat difficult to address because this approach to philanthropy can approach the issue from so many different angles. The most effective approaches will likely be those that address a specific issue.
For example, to increase representation of diverse populations in the government, philanthropists could support organizations like New America Leaders. The nonpartisan nonprofit engages first- and second-generation Americans in the political process.
Another issue that has emerged as a concern recently involves the electoral process. Local and state administrators needed support during the COVID-19 crisis to serve as many voters as possible while keeping constituents safe. The Center for Technology and Civic Life is one organization that worked with under-resourced areas to ensure they had what they needed to maintain safe voting.
Still another approach that philanthropists could take is expanding overall civic education, thereby increasing participation. Some communities have been systematically excluded from political processes. Many nonprofits are specifically working to address this problem, such as More Than A Vote, which has been championed by Lebron James.
In recent years, media has also become a threat to the American democratic process. Many local and public sources of information, not to mention sources of nonprofit investigative reporting, are severely underfunded. Investing in organizations supporting this type of news reporting helps get unbiased, accurate reports to the American people. These in turn can help reduce the disinformation that gets spread, especially through social media.
Ways to Participate in Philanthropy to Rehabilitate Democracy
The avenues for rehabilitating American democracy through philanthropy are too numerous to enumerate in a single article. Individuals who want to get more involved should look to others doing similar work to understand what more they can do. A number of major philanthropic organizations have made democracy rehabilitation a central drive, such as The Solidago Foundation, The Werner-Kohnstamm Family Fund, and The Klarman Family Foundation.
While each of these organizations approaches the issue from a different angle, they can give donors a sense of what sort of work has the greatest impact. Another resource is Giving Compass, which created an entire resource for donors around Election 2020. Even though the election has passed, the organizations and funds included on this list are doing much of the work necessary to restore American democracy and can prove a great avenue for getting more involved.
Importantly, the task of rehabilitating American democracy does not belong solely to philanthropists. However, people with wealth and privilege are in a unique position to facilitate lasting change. This is why it is so important for philanthropists to get involved—not just in supporting the politicians they endorse, but also the political process itself.