Less funding for youth-led organizations limits social change, Baltimore's Open Society Institute says

Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore,
Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore, (Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore’s philanthropic community should find ways to support organizations run by people younger than 30, the Open Society Institute’s local office said Wednesday.

Less than 1 percent of foundation grants made to Baltimore-area organizations between 2012 and 2016 went to the organizations controlled by young adults that are helping to confront police violence, disparities in education, economic injustice and other social ills, the nonprofit said in a report.


Diana Morris, who leads OSI in Baltimore, said the organization’s findings give local nonprofits a way to evaluate how they support grassroots movements. The release of the report, “Young, Gifted, and Underfunded: Strengthening the Relationship Between Philanthropy and Youth-Led Movements,” is the first step in a campaign by OSI to build ties between youth activists and local funders.

“Collectively, we must create more opportunity and space for Baltimore’s young people to act on their own behalf and move our city forward,” Morris said.


Adam Jackson, CEO and co-founder of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said he found out about the donation after receiving an Instagram notification from Kaepernick.

OSI called on foundation leaders to review their internal policies and practices for possible barriers, including the possibility of racial bias, that prevent youth-led organizations from accessing their grants. Young activists have said philanthropic groups tend to base their funding on academic research, and want to support only those groups with long track records of success.

OSI is planning a series of events to help OSI and other foundations steer grants to youth activists working with children and teens to improve conditions in distressed communities. The first, set for March, will allow the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers to get feedback from local funders on OSI’s findings and recommendations. Morris said future meetings would bring foundation leaders and youth activists together to share ideas and come up with strategies for working together.

Celeste Amato, president of the grant-makers’ association, said OSI’s report will be a useful tool to bring the philanthropic community together and start a dialogue. Many foundations that operate in Baltimore don’t have the staffing necessary to pull together an analysis of its scope, she said.

Dayvon Love is director of public policy for the Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a group focused on advancing the interests of black people in Baltimore. He said he hopes the conversation that follows the study helps disrupt the “white supremacy that is baked into” the operations of large nonprofits.

To tap into the power of black-led organizations that help young people, Love said, groups must find ways to bring together generations of people of African descent. Without a sophisticated approach, he said, the effort would do little else than to invest in black youths who are connected to white power structures.

“I am concerned those pipelines are socializing black youth around white adults that don’t have strong connections to movement history from the perspective of drawing from the history and culture of African-Americans in the city,” said Love, 30. He sees the report’s greatest value is in acknowledging a need for more investment to train young people to be civic leaders.

OSI found that funding for youth-led groups in Baltimore in recent years has remained low, even as contributions from foundations rose steadily between 2012 and 2014 and increased significantly after the death of Freddie Gray and the riots of 2015

The amount given to youth-led groups doubled to about $255,000 in 2015 while foundations gave nearly $13 million — 50 times as much — to adult-led organizations that were conducting youth organizing that same year.

Youth leaders interpreted the influx of money that went into West Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood and other troubled communities after the riots “as evidence of, and as an attempt to assuage the guilt local foundations felt for not fully acknowledging and addressing the issues that led to the Uprising,” the report said.

“This perceived ‘philanthropic guilt’ was not viewed favorably by youth participants,” the report said, “and highlighted a potential challenge to building trusting relationships between foundations and youth leaders.”

Morris said the challenge for foundations is to expand the ways they award money beyond the organizations they believe can create change that tend to have white, older executives. It will require them embracing organizations that are not structured with traditional internal hierarchy while balancing federal Internal Revenue Service regulations, she said.

Foundations also should make it easier to apply for grants, and work on being more transparent with how they dole out their money.


The Open Society Institute-Baltimore marks 20 years for its community fellows program.

She said Baltimore’s youth-led organizations — which by contrast are mostly led by blacks — should put more of their ideas on paper, follow concise time frames and identify partners to help them access grants.

“Youth leaders are really doing exciting work,” Morris said. “It is really a responsibility for all of us here in Baltimore to reach out to young leaders and speak to them, learn from them and do our best to respond to them. This is something we really can do something about.”

Ralikh Hayes, a 25-year-old community organizer, served on the advisory committee for the report. He has helped coordinate the activist group Baltimore Bloc and the Algebra Project — and run into fundraising challenges.

“As a black person in Baltimore who has tried to raise funds, this report reads like ‘water is wet’ to me,” Hayes said. “It comes as no surprise.”

The power of the report, he said, will be in using OSI to bring together other foundations to address the issue.

“This is a moment of opportunity and also a moment of accountability,” Hayes said.

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