Funding Justice 2: a report on social justice grant-making in the UK in 2021-22

October 31, 2023


minute read
Eliza Baring
Project Support Officer, Civic Power Fund

Social justice is an increasingly urgent issue in philanthropy, and rightly so. 

It is minoritised and marginalised communities who are bearing the brunt of our current crises. From disturbing levels of destitution, to the growing inequality and democratic decline that threaten to drive us further apart. 

Funders are increasingly acknowledging their key role in tackling these challenges upstream. They are also questioning their own historic and present roles in upholding the systems that create and sustain these inequities. 

In this context, the Civic Power Fund and The Hour Is Late joined forces for the second year running, to analyse social justice grant-making in the UK in 2021-22. 

We wanted to understand whether this stated urgency around justice was matched by more and better funding for individuals and organisations on the frontline in the fight against injustice.

We also wanted to explore what it would look like to take a more deliberate and targeted approach to funding justice - working together across the funding sector to win big on key social issues.  

In Funding Justice 2, we looked at 18,816 grants from 60 funders, worth over £950m. These grants were equivalent to around 21% of all UK foundation giving in 2021-22.

We found that funder discourse is not yet reflected in funder practice.

To achieve the scale of change needed for a more just and equitable society, funders must also think about these problems and solutions collectively.

Eliza Baring
Project Support Officer, Civic Power Fund


1. Funding to challenge injustice is scarce

Of the 18,816 grants analysed, from many of the UK’s biggest social justice funders, 27% (worth £256m) were focussed on social justice work. This was just 5.7% of foundation giving in the UK that year.

2. The majority of social justice funding went to service delivery work, or work in elite settings

We categorised each social justice grant identified according to the type of work to tackle injustice that was funded. For this we used the Ayni Institute’s framework for understanding social movements, and the different theories of change that drive them. This analysis revealed that:

  • Almost a third of the 2,773 social justice grants analysed went to service delivery work. This is vital work, providing much needed support and care to communities and strengthening trust and relationships with and within them. But it focuses on the symptoms of injustice, and doesn’t go further in agitating for systemic change.
  • 37% of this money went to work focussed on change on the ‘inside track’, via legislation, policy, fiscal changes, strategic litigation, or changes in corporate practice.
  • By contrast, the ‘outside game’ work of community organising and mass protest that excluded communities rely on to be heard received less than 10% of the social justice funding analysed.

3. Social justice grants are not shifting power to or building the power of communities

Only 0.33% of all UK foundation giving, and 1.6% of the grants analysed in the report, went to organising or power building work. The majority of this funding - 63.4% - went to work carried out at the national level. Of the grants directed to sub-national work, London received the highest amount of grant funding - £407 of grants per 100 people, compared to £1 per person in five English regions.

4. Funding to challenge injustice is spread thinly across organisations

The 2,773 social justice grants in the dataset were distributed to 1,707 different grantees - an average of 1.6 grants per organisation. Many grantees received small sums of money - 43.2% secured less than £50,000 and 21.2% received £10,000 or less.

Call to action for funders

More money to tackle injustice and for grassroots organising.

The numbers show that, despite the growing number of funders motivated by injustice, social justice work continues to be under-resourced. And of the money that does go to social justice work, a very small proportion goes to community organising.

This is despite the growing recognition that community organising is one of the ‘few proven routes to social change when there is a salient issue regarding an imbalance of power'.

The good news is that there is already a lot of grassroots power building going on in communities across the UK. We saw this for ourselves at the Civic Power Fund when we opened the Community Action Fund to grassroots groups building the power of their communities, and received applications from 900 organisations that were potentially in scope. 

But we also saw how scarce funding opportunities were for these groups. The Civic Power Fund is working to overcome many of the traditional barriers they face, but we can’t do this alone.

Long-term, flexible funding for power building.

This research suggests there is a high turnover of grantees amongst UK social justice funders. And at the Civic Power Fund, we hear again and again from grassroots organisations about a lack of available long-term funding. Investment in people and communities for the long haul is essential in building authentic community leadership and sustained people power. 

The transformative wins of grassroots organising take years to achieve, but the journey to change can itself be transformative in strengthening the agency of oppressed communities. In practice, this requires flexible grant-making that leaves room for the mistakes and learning that are fundamental to sustainable power building.

More funder collaboration

To achieve the scale of change needed for a more just and equitable society, funders must also think about these problems and solutions collectively. 

Funder intermediaries are an effective way of pooling and directing resources to the grassroots groups who can go undetected by bigger funders. 

Funding Justice 2 also gives us a framework for funders to think strategically about how we are distributing our considerable capital in the pursuit of justice. 

We hope Funding Justice 2 helps funders and changemakers build a shared understanding of the problems of injustice, and work collectively towards a world in which oppressed communities have the power to win justice.

Get involved

Read more about how other funders can collaborate with the Civic Power Fund on the Funders Collaborative Hub

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