AP Exclusive: Black Lives Matter opens up about its finances

NEW YORK (AP) - Widely regarded as the steward of the Black Lives Matter movement, the foundation said it raised just over $ 90 million last year. This emerges from a financial report shared exclusively with The Associated Press.
Black Lives Matter's Global Network Foundation is currently building an infrastructure to keep up with the pace of its funding and plans to use its foundations to do more than just get out for protest after black Americans die by police or vigilante groups are.
“We want to uplift black joy and liberation, not just black death. We want black communities to thrive and not just survive, ”says an impact report that the foundation shared with the AP prior to publication.
This is the first time in the movement's nearly eight-year history that BLM leaders have taken a detailed look at their finances. The foundation's coffers and influence increased immensely after the death in May 2020 of George Floyd, a black man whose last breath under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer sparked protests in the U.S. and around the world.
This growth also led to longstanding tensions between some grassroots organizers of the movement and national leaders - the former went public last fall with complaints about financial transparency, decision-making and accountability.
The foundation announced it had provided $ 21.7 million in grants to official and unofficial BLM chapters, as well as 30 black-led local organizations. It ended 2020 on balance more than $ 60 million after nearly a quarter of its fortune was spent on grant funds and other charities.
In their report, the BLM Foundation said that individual donations through their main donation platform averaged $ 30.76. More than 10% of the donations were recurring. The report does not specify who gave the money in 2020, and leaders declined to name prominent donors.
Last year, the Foundation spent approximately $ 8.4 million - including staff, operating and administrative costs, and activities such as community engagement, rapid response and crisis intervention.
One of its priorities for 2021 will be economic justice, particularly in the context of the ongoing socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on black communities.
The Racial Justice Movement has had a broad impact on philanthropic donation over the past year. According to an upcoming report from Candid and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, 35% of the $ 20.2 billion raised by corporations, foundations, nonprofits, and high net worth individuals to address COVID-19 was specifically earmarked for color communities.
Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood guard volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, the founders of BLM vowed to build a decentralized movement ruled by the consensus of a membership collective. A network of chapters was formed in 2015 as support and donations poured in. However, critics say that the BLM Global Network Foundation has increasingly turned away from a radical organizing center for black radicals and into a mainstream philanthropic and political organization run without any democratic influence by its earliest grassroots supporters.
BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors told the AP that the foundation is focused on the "need to reinvest in black communities".
"One of our biggest goals this year is to use the dollars we raised in 2020 and expand the institution we have built over the past seven and a half years," she said in an interview.
Cullors, who already worked in her hometown of Los Angeles, where she started her own social justice organization, Power and Dignity Now, became the full-time executive director of the global foundation last year.
Co-founders Alicia Garza, the director of the Black Futures Lab, and Opal Tometi, who started a black new media and advocacy hub called Diaspora Rising, are not involved in the foundation. Garza and Tometi continue to appear as co-founders of the movement.
In 2020 the foundation spun off its chapter network as a sister collective called BLM Grassroots. The chapters, along with other Schwarz-led local organizations, were challenged in July by a $ 12 million grant fund. Although there are many groups using “Black Lives Matter” or “BLM” in their names, fewer than a dozen are currently considered members of the Chapter Network.
According to the foundation, which was shared with the AP, several chapters, including those in the cities of Washington, Philadelphia, and Chicago, were notified of their eligibility to receive $ 500,000 in funding each under a multi-year contract. Only one BLM group in Denver signed the agreement and received its funding in September.
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A group of 10 chapters called # BLM10 rejected the foundation's funding offer last year and publicly complained about the lack of transparency on the part of donors. Foundation leaders say that only some of the 10 chapters are recognized as network partners.
In a letter published Nov. 30, # BLM10 claimed that most chapters had received little or no funding from the BLM movement since their launch in 2013. Local chapter leaders told the AP that this had negative consequences for the scope of their organizational work.
The chapters are simply calling for an equal say in "this thing that our names are bound to, that they do on our behalf," said April Goggans, organizer of Black Lives Matter DC, who is part of # BLM10 with groups in Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, San Diego, Hudson Valley, New York, and elsewhere.
“We are BLM. We built this, each of us, ”she said.
Records show that some chapters have received multiple rounds of funding ranging from $ 800 to $ 69,000, dating back to 2016. According to # BLM10, the amounts shown have been far from fair when compared to the BLM's revenue over the years. But Cullors disagreed.
"Because the BLM movement was bigger than life - and it's bigger than life - people made very big assumptions about what our real finances were," said Cullors. "We looked for money a lot, and this year was the first year we were endowed the way we deserved it."
Still, # BLM10 members said the reality did not match the images the founders projected around the world. In the early years, BLM announced it had received donations from A-list celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Prince before his death in 2016.
BLM Foundation leaders admit that over the years they have been ignorant of the movement's finances and governance. But now the Foundation is more open on such matters. The financial sponsor, who is currently managing its money, requires the spending to be approved by a collective action fund made up of representatives from the official BLM chapters.
After Floyd's murder in Minneapolis, the foundation went from a small, scratchy move to a mature institution due to the flood of donations. Last summer, those in charge sought charitable status with the IRS, which was granted in December so that the organization could receive direct tax-deductible donations. In the near future, the foundation will also have to submit 990 public forms detailing organizational structure, employee compensation, programming and costs.
Brad Smith, president of Candid, an organization that provides information about philanthropic groups, said there are other ways for nonprofits to be transparent to the public in addition to federal disclosure forms. He said a philanthropic organization's website is the best tool to show how ready it is to be held accountable.
"In return for tax-exempt status, you as an organization have committed to ensuring a higher level of transparency to confirm that you are accomplishing your mission," he said.
Because of the vision of Cullors, Garza and Tometi and the work of so many black organizers in the ecosystem, the BLM movement is in a new phase of development, said Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM's first chapter in Los Angeles.
"We turn a corner and realize that we have to build institutions that last beyond us," Abdullah told the AP.
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Morrison is a member of AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.
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