The Ford Foundation announced $180 million in new grant funding for U.S. racial justice and civil rights groups, the organizations large and small who are doing essential work to address systemic racism and support full democratic inclusion. This latest funding doubles the Foundation’s existing commitments in the civil justice arena to $330 million.
This latest allocation has been made possible by a deft use of capital markets—unprecedented in philanthropic history. In June, the Foundation announced its plan to borrow $1 billion in social bonds to increase its grant-giving capacity at a time when mission-critical organizations large and small are losing revenue due to the coronavirus.
“What was creative was figuring out a way to increase our giving while not diminishing the current value of our endowment,” Ford Foundation president Darren Walker tells Fortune.
He recalls the time in March and April when the Foundation was facing a confluence of issues, including a “very choppy” market: “I’m sitting in my apartment in New York watching the panic in the market and in what was happening in the nonprofit sector. So many nonprofits canceling their fundraisers, canceling their fees, and pulling back on their programs. Panic in the sector. So we knew we needed to step up.”
The IRS requires philanthropies to pay out five percent of their endowment, which may be acceptable in good times. “The problem is there is the inverse relationship between returns and need,” says Walker. “When the market’s going down, it’s usually when these needs are going up.”
Not to mention, the endowment itself. Ford’s endowment, currently $13.7 billion, lost $3 billion in the volatility of 2008. “We were paying out five percent of a much smaller denominator,” he says.
The breakthrough came from the Federal Reserve.
“Fortunately, [Federal Reserve] chairman