From Newtown to Uvalde: Growth in Gun-Violence Philanthropy and a New Mind-Set for a Movement
After Newtown, Atlanta philanthropist Diana Blank decided she had to do something. Remembers David Brotherton, an adviser to the Kendeda Fund, Blank’s foundation: “It was literally one of those moments — ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,’”
Blank had never funded gun-violence prevention, so Kendeda joined a small new donor collaborative,
We're sorry. Something went wrong.
We are unable to fully display the content of this page.
The most likely cause of this is a content blocker on your computer or network.
If you continue to experience issues, please contact us at 202-466-1032 or firstname.lastname@example.org
After Newtown, Atlanta philanthropist Diana Blank decided she had to do something. Remembers David Brotherton, an adviser to the Kendeda Fund, Blank’s foundation: “It was literally one of those moments — ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’”
Blank had never funded gun-violence prevention, so Kendeda joined a small new donor collaborative, Fund for a Safer Future. The fund, Brotherton says, “was the best and quickest and easiest training ground. I jokingly call it ‘training wheels for gun-violence prevention.’”
- Weingart Foundation Taps First Director of Black Justice and Healing
- A Message for Nonprofits: Black Churches Are Powerful Potential Allies
- ‘It’s Not Political. It’s Our Job.’ Girl Scout Troop Resolved to Support Migrants Despite Backlash
- Five Questions to Ensure Every Board Member’s Voice Is Heard
- Emerson Collective, Laurene Powell Jobs’s Organization, Looks to Local Leaders to Bridge Divides
- Canceling Student Debt Won’t Fix Higher Education. Donors Must Think Bigger.
- Fundraising Talent Is a Terrible Thing to Waste: UNCF Starts New Training Institute
- ‘Dodgy’ Data Dump From IRS Causes Headaches for Nonprofits
- Henry Luce Foundation Awards $12.3 Million to Improve Gender Diversity in STEM
- What Happened to George Soros’s $100 Million Bet? How Human Rights Watch Went Global.
Soon after, Kendeda created its own violence-prevention program. It eschewed advocacy in Congress and instead invested in community-based programs and media coverage of gun-related issues. Within a few years, it was handing out $5 million annually.
Blank’s story reflects a change in philanthropy over the decade between Sandy Hook and Robb Elementary — and a change in the gun-control movement itself, which now focuses broadly on violence prevention. A few grant makers, notably the Joyce and the California Wellness foundations, have been tilling the unforgiving soil of gun-violence prevention for a generation, if not more. But recent years have ushered in new players and opened up new funding sources of grant dollars.
Some donors were jolted to action by a mass shooting like the tragedies in recent days in Uvalde and Buffalo. Others were galvanized by the near-daily gun violence in many urban neighborhoods. The Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities — a coalition of what is now more than 50 philanthropists, grant makers, and businesses in Chicago — launched in 2016, when gun homicides reached levels not seen in 20 years. The group has invested $110 million, chiefly in community-based violence-prevention strategies, along with evaluations to measure their effectiveness.
Fund for a Safer Future, which had a half-dozen or so members when Blank joined, now has a roster of more than 30. The group is hosting a briefing Thursday, June 2, in response to a post-Buffalo and Uvalde flood of requests for advice and information. The fund itself distributes about $3 million a year. Additionally, grant makers on their own have collectively awarded $135 million since 2011.
Billionaire philanthropists investing in violence prevention for the first time or significantly expanding their work include John and Laura Arnold, Steve and Connie Ballmer, and Laurene Powell Jobs.
The Arnolds are making deep commitments to research. “We need data, not politics or emotion, to drive our decisions,” Laura Arnold said in 2018 when announcing $20 million in seed money to launch the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research, run by the Rand Corporation. The collaborative awards grants to study criminal gun markets, the impact of gun-free zones, and more. Additional donors to the collaborative include the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, the Missouri Foundation for Health, and Wells Fargo.
Powell Jobs is committing roughly $25 million a year to fund violence prevention in Chicago. The lion’s share goes to Chicago CRED, which she founded in 2016 with former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. It works through street outreach, coaching and mentoring, job and career training, and advocacy and prevention efforts.
Duncan, who had been CEO of Chicago’s school system before joining the Obama administration, had attended funerals of students killed by guns. He returned to Chicago during the 2016 spike in gun homicides and decided he wanted to act. Powell Jobs, whom he had come to know through education efforts, pledged to support the work, says Peter Cunningham, a spokesperson for CRED. “She’s been 150 percent committed to it; she’s made it very clear that she wants to see it succeed.”
In some cases, philanthropists have concluded that violence connects with their work on priorities such as education and community revitalization. While the Ballmers generally focus on economic mobility, they concluded that violence was undercutting their goals.
“We focus on the concept that everybody should have an opportunity to achieve what they want to achieve economically,” Steve Ballmer said when the couple pledged $18 million to community-based violence-prevention efforts in 12 cities over five years. “That is certainly not the case today.”
The Jacob and Valeria Langeloth Foundation didn’t fund violence prevention until about six years ago, when it recognized its connection with the health and racial-equity issues in its core work in communities. Today, roughly half of its $7 million in grant making each year goes to violence prevention, with much of it focused on communities of color.
“There was no pivotal moment” that led to this change, says President Scott Moyer. “It was just that a lot of what was driving unsafe conditions in communities was the ever-present gun issue.”
Still Too Few Dollars
The shootings in Ulvade and Buffalo, along with continued high rates of gun violence in many major cities, prove that solutions remain elusive. Also, activists say grants are still hard to come by. While more dollars are flowing, the funding still represents a small share of grant making for most of these donors, the Langeloth Foundation notwithstanding.
Philanthropy hasn’t committed the resources it takes to build a true movement, like what’s behind, say, criminal-justice reform or climate change, they argue. Too often, grant makers see gun violence as a political matter or as something unconnected to their portfolio.
Fatimah Loren Dreier, executive director of the Health Alliance for Violence Intervention, is particularly disappointed that philanthropy hasn’t connected violence prevention to its growing work on racial justice.
“Violence is the leading cause of death for Black boys and men; it’s the second leading cause of deaths for Latinos,” Dreier said in an interview earlier this year. “If you care about communities of color, then you care about this issue. Whether you come at it from the perspective of economic development or education or something else, you have to contend with it because violence is concentrated in our community.”
Still, new philanthropy support has strengthened the infrastructure of the violence-prevention movement. New organizations have emerged as advocacy champions alongside the venerable Brady gun-control group, which dates to the 1970s. Everytown for Gun Safety has emerged as the largest, with revenue of nearly $130 million over the past four years (excluding giving to its political action committees). Mike Bloomberg — a gun-control advocate and donor even while New York mayor from 2002 to 2013 — helped stand it up in 2014 with a $50 million commitment. Everytown is the home for the influential Moms Demand Action, started in the aftermath of Sandy Hook.
Beyond the Holy Grail of New Laws
At the same time, the movement’s focus has broadened well beyond the holy grail of federal gun laws, such as the 1994 assault-weapons ban. Research, education, and advocacy are now devoted to exploring the use of guns in domestic disputes and suicides. Experts study the roots of violence, and media campaigns aim to change the culture of guns. Nina Vinik, the longtime head of the violence-prevention program at Joyce, recently left to launch Project Unloaded, a media campaign to persuade young Americans that gun ownership doesn’t equate to protection.
Much of Kendeda’s grant making has gone to community-based violence-prevention groups. “We believe that locally centered solutions, often led by people of color, are way more likely to produce results than spending lots and lots of money to fight politics in Washington,” Brotherton says.
Kendeda directed the largest share of its dollars to efforts to change the country’s narrative about guns and bridge the chasm of America’s disagreement over how to interpret the Second Amendment. Guns and America, perhaps its highest profile project, gave $5.3 million to 10 public radio stations to cover the costs of reporters covering how firearms are woven into the fabric of American life and culture. It also examined the role that guns play in suicide, homicides, mass shootings, and more. Two of those reporters won a 2021 Pulitzer Prize for No Compromise, a podcast series about divisions within the gun-rights movement.
This is very different work than Brotherton did in his 20s, when he volunteered with a gun-control group in Washington state. Over time, he watched as the movement shifted its messaging from “gun control” to “gun safety” to now “violence prevention.”
That’s more than an exercise in branding, he says. “It’s symbolic of a strategic shift. Funders and the frontline groups recognize that we need a different mind-set if we’re going to make progress.”