Rockefeller Brothers Fund Increases Spending to Seize ‘Hinge Moment in History’

The Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced today that it will increase its annual spending to allocate an additional $48 million over the next five years to address critical system failures that underlie both the COVID-19 pandemic and the enduring racial justice crisis. The funds, approved with unanimous support of the board, will work to advance racial justice, strengthen U.S. democracy, and generate new economic thinking to address global climate change and inequity, as well as to maintain current grants budgets during a period of expected market volatility.

“This is a moment of global pandemic and civic tension that also contains extraordinary activism, authenticity, learning, and hope,” said Valerie Rockefeller, chair of the RBF Board of Trustees. “It’s a time for deeper commitment to the ideas, leaders, organizations, and networks that can disrupt racial and economic inequity for meaningful progress on our long-term efforts for social change. There has never been a better time to invest in our mission to make the world more just, sustainable, and peaceful. Despite the uncertainty of the markets, we are certain about the decision to increase our spending.”

The increased spending plan includes a new racial justice initiative with an initial budget of $10 million over the next three years. The initiative will draw on the Fund’s previous experience with institutions of justice, governance, and civic culture to identify systemic advances, fundamental changes in policy, and other pathways to dismantle structural racism in America. Further details of the racial justice initiative will be announced later this summer.

An additional $18 million will supplement the RBF’s grantmaking for Democratic Practice. These funds will support U.S. election protection, voter participation, and other existing grantmaking priorities, as well as advance action over the next four years on the recommendations presented in Our Common Purpose, a new report of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship, which RBF President Stephen Heintz co-chairs.

“The combination of the pandemic and the racial justice crisis has made the flaws in our democracy more vivid and the need for structural change more urgent,” said Heintz. “As protests around the country have demonstrated, this is a hinge moment in history that we must seize to ensure our democracy swings forward, and not back. It is time for reforms in the institutions and processes of our democracy, as well as major investments in civil society and civic culture. We must reinvent our democracy to serve our common purpose in the 21st century.”

The planned spending increase also includes $10 million to accelerate solutions to climate change, a strategic priority of the RBF for the last 15 years. The additional funds will support new economic thinking, experimentation, and advocacy toward a reimagined theory and practice of capitalism that reduces both reliance on fossil fuels and inequality.

The final $10 million of new spending will help the Rockefeller Brothers Fund maintain current levels of grant funding to provide dependable support for partners and grantees in an uncertain market environment. Like most American foundations, the RBF typically pays out approximately five percent of its endowment each year to grants and operating costs, excluding investment expenses. The RBF has determined that recent events and current conditions merit an increase in the annual spending rate over the next five years to address entrenched, pervasive inequities.

The spending plan approved this month will add a total of $7 million to the RBF 2020 grantmaking budget, which will swell from a projected $39.3 million to over $46 million.