How Can You Make Sure You’re Donating Effectively? A Guide to Bail Funds, Community Organizations and Direct Aid
Along with widespread, daily protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, there has been a surge in fundraising efforts to support the Black Lives Matter movement and those taking initiative to combat racism and police brutality on levels both local and national. Over the past week, social media feeds have been flooded with links for bail funds, community organizations, legal defense funds and mutual aid networks. And although Instagram and Twitter can be powerful tools for raising awareness, it can be hard to parse out the details or get a full understanding of where your donation is going with just a few words, a handle, and a link to a form. On top of that, bail funds in Minnesota and New York have been overwhelmed with support and asked that those who are looking to donate do so elsewhere. If you’re trying to figure out where your money can be most effective and don’t know where to start, here’s a guide to some of the ways you can support the movement right now (and in perpetuity!), with some context for how donations are being used:
A number of grassroots organizations, particularly in Minnesota, where Floyd was killed, and New York City, where confrontations with police have escalated and been shared particularly widely, have gotten a signal boost from activists and bail funds who have received more donations than they can distribute right now. Here’s some of the work they do:
Founded in 2017, Black Visions Collective is a Minnesota organization focused on positive social change for black communities in the state. They put their resources behind strategic campaigns that give black people a voice in local politics, and are dedicated to raising up and developing emerging leaders that speak to the issues facing immigrants, the homeless, and LGBTQ populations as well. They have also been using their Instagram platform to educate many of their new followers about the deep-rooted systemic issues that contribute to police violence and have called to defund the Minneapolis police department.
Communities United for Police Reform
This is a campaign focused on ending discriminatory policing in New York City, with a focus on educating people about the issues of stop-and-frisk abuses, discriminatory broken windows policing, and police brutality. They are committed to investing in local infrastructure and community safety, and pushing for transparency and accountability from the NYPD as long-term, sustainable solutions to the out-of-control policies that have been in place for decades. They also provide useful educational resources on their website.
Founded in 2018, the grassroots organization Reclaim the Block has a simple central mission: Move money from the police department into other areas of the city budget that actually promote community health and safety, like violence prevention, housing, and resources for youth, mental health, and the opioid crisis. Donations support this important, ongoing work at a local level.
Bail has become a flashpoint issue in recent years, because of how disproportionately the practice affects poor people. It can cost thousands of dollars, meaning that many by default are forced to await trial in jail because they’re not able to buy their way to freedom. During the coronavirus pandemic especially, it’s a justice issue as much as it is a public health one. In an effort to level the playing field and free peaceful protestors who have been arrested, charitable bail funds have become a popular fundraising option. And although many of them have been maxed out temporarily, they are a worthy cause no matter the situation—no one should have to be jailed simply because they can’t afford not to be.
The National Bail Fund Network
To find your local bail fund, you can refer to the website for the Community Justice Exchange. The site also allows you to differentiate between pretrial and immigration funds, protest-specific bail funds, and an emergency rapid response fund. You can also split a single donation across multiple funds.
This national network grew out of the Bronx Freedom Fund and is responsible for paying the bail for more than 10,000 people around the country. It’s a revolving fund, meaning that bail is returned to the fund at the end of each case, so one donation could potentially free two or three people in a year.
What first started as a network of “sister circles” who met to discuss black women’s role in politics in advance of the democratic primaries in 2008 has grown into an organization whose mission is to empower women and girls of African descent, placing their struggles in the context of racial justice concerns. Donations to this organization go towards supporting progressive research, historical documentation, advocacy and organizing efforts, as well as targeted initiatives like counseling for survivors of sexual assault.
Donating to Campaign Zero, a platform dedicated to ending police violence across the country, supports a raft of research efforts into police practices in every state and funds organizers who are working to implement data-driven policy solutions and push for accountability. They have identified ten core policy solutions, including increased community oversight, community representation, demilitarization and the end of for-profit policing.
Color of Change uses the power of the internet to bring people together to take action against specific issues relating to racial injustice. The work they’ve done ranges from successfully petitioning the State Attorney for Prince George’s County in Maryland to stop requesting bail money for those awaiting trial to pressuring websites like Pinterest, Zola and The Knot to stop featuring vendors who offer plantations as wedding and party venues. In addition to donating, you can also sign up to be a part of their network and receive instructions for online actions and in-person events.
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
The Legal Defense Fund is used to fight for racial justice through litigation, advocacy and public education. Donations support their continuing legal work, as well as scholarships for college and law school students who enroll through their program.
The American Civil Liberties Union is dedicated to fighting for a wide range of civil rights issues, from healthcare for those with HIV to criminal justice reform to reproductive rights. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have focused particularly on voting rights, releasing vulnerable people from jails, prisons and detention centers, and making comprehensive healthcare for all. Donations support the ACLU’s court cases, federal advocacy and dissemination of educational resources to their vast membership.
Direct aid sidesteps the bureaucracy of large nonprofits in an effort to divert money directly to those in poverty. The donations are often unconditional and delivered in cash. You can go through a network, or you can choose to use the payment platforms you might already use everyday to share wealth with people in your own community.
Originally founded as a platform to fund the poor in seven East African countries, GiveDirectly has also started delivering disaster response funds in the U.S. and launched a focused coronavirus relief fund with the goal of funding 100 thousand families who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, chosen at random from those who participate in the SNAP food stamps program. Donations go directly into those families’ bank accounts.
Venmo, Cash App and Paypal
With the same amount of effort it takes for you to split cab fare with a friend, you can send money directly to anyone in need, whether it’s someone you know who lost their job or an artist or musician whose work you want to support. The Instagram meme account Patias Fantasy World compiled a comprehensive Google Doc of resources on how to dismantle systemic racism, one section of which lists the social media handles and online payment accounts for black LGBTQ people to support. You can also do your own research on Twitter, where some users list their venmo handles in their profiles.
Mutual aid covers a myriad of community-focused efforts to reduce reliance on the government system that often causes harm and leaning on neighbors instead. It’s all about pooling resources, listening, and leaning on each other to survive and build up resilience. Bail funds are a form of mutual aid, and so are child care collectives, jail support programs, and groups that get together to accompany at-risk members of their community to court, even gathering people to protest discriminatory or irresponsible landlords. This YouTube video is a good primer on the theory behind mutual aid. You can also donate to support those doing mutual aid work in your community. Mutual Aid NYC is a good resource, and you can easily search for local groups in your area.