Ford Foundation Lifts Bond-Funded Grant Giving in Deep South

The Ford Foundation is increasing funding to not-for-profit and advocacy groups in the U.S. South as the 85-year-old organization doles out the proceeds from its record bond sale last year.

The foundation is using monies from its $1 billion bond deal in 2020 to give an additional $75 million to Southern organizations, according to a statement outlining the funding. The money will bring the foundation’s total giving in the region to more than $175 million since 2016.

“We are seeing a very exciting opportunity to shift power and create lasting change in the South -- at a time where the threats are enormous but the energy and the innovation and creative movement building in the South are also enormous,” Maria Torres-Springer, Ford Foundation vice president of U.S. programs, said in an interview. “That is an opportunity we want to seize and propel and nourish in the $75 million of additional funding.”

Ford Foundation Lifts Bond-Funded Grant Giving in Deep South

The Ford Foundation’s boost in giving comes after Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a sweeping Republican-backed voting law that imposes new voter identification requirements, limits absentee balloting and includes other restrictions that critics say make it disproportionately harder for Black people to vote. The move led the U.S. Justice Department to sue the state over the restrictions.

In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott backed a law that bars abortions at the onset of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before many people know they are pregnant. In Florida, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis barred transgender females from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes born as girls, a move echoed across red states that limits the rights of LGBTQ people.

Just over a year ago, the Ford Foundation sold $1 billion of taxable social-labeled bonds to provide grants to nonprofits as the coronavirus pandemic ripped through their balance sheets. The sale, which received orders from more than 100 investors, was a record for the market and set off a slew of sales by foundations seeking to take advantage of low interest rates to increase grant-making. In the months following, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The California Endowment and the Rockefeller Foundation all sold bonds for similar purposes.

More than $22 million of the Ford Foundation’s increased funding to the South is directed specifically to organizations in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee and $14 million will be dedicated to groups in rural areas.

“A lot of the battles on racial justice, reproductive justice, voting rights, transgender equality, workers rights have been fought in the South and continue to be fought in the South,” said Torres-Springer. She said that the organizations that are getting the grant funding are doing “critical” advocacy and litigation work “so we do not backslide in protecting those fundamental rights.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit focused on voting rights, racial justice and criminal justice reform will get $2 million of the grant money over five years. The additional funding comes as a relief, said Stephanie Schweitzer Garza, director of strategic partnerships at the organization, as philanthropic giving was volatile during the pandemic. Having a sustained stream of money will allow the organization to scale up projects and have a broader reach, she said.

”This funding trusts us to respond to the needs of this community and the threats we are facing,” Schweitzer Garza said. “The multi-year support provides us a runway to set up long-term programming to lasting systemic change.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.