Securing monetary support for intergroup relations work can be a challenge.  The long-term timeframe that is needed to methodically and thoughtfully construct intergroup bridges often is at odds with the funding community’s desire for attaining measurable benchmarks and results within a specified grant period.

Moreover, how intergroup relations work is perceived in terms of urgency also complicates the funding picture.  Compared to issues that have clear timelines (e.g., pending legislation) or incidents that require immediate responses, intergroup relations work risks being branded as a secondary concern.  One project participant mentioned how most funding opportunities are designed with concrete policy gains in mind; therefore, in order to ensure their cross-racial organizing work was supported, her organization opted to incorporate it into all pieces of their campaigns rather than regard it as a separate initiative.

While many organizations and institutions engage in bridge building efforts, only a few consider intergroup work to be the centerpiece of their organization’s mission and goals.  Therefore, as an often-peripheral initiative, when financial resources deplete, intergroup relations work is often cast aside in favor of acting on more pressing issues.

Resource limitations can also inhibit the reach of this work by limiting opportunities to document the work that is being done.  Several project participants lamented that their organizations have never had the resources to devote to systematizing or otherwise documenting their materials in written curriculum.  The inability to document intergroup dialogue and political education initiatives has negative consequences on several levels.  First, it makes the institutionalization of such efforts difficult.  With turnover among staff, volunteers, and members over time, when knowledge is housed solely in the memories of those who participated in the initiatives, the experiences and innovations often are lost and forgotten, making their replication virtually impossible.  Second, the lack of documentation makes it difficult for more experienced organizations to share what they have done with other groups that are beginning intergroup relations initiatives.  This often leaves the latter with no choice other than starting essentially “from scratch” and “reinventing the wheel” based on their own needs.  Finally, the inability to document efforts and create written materials also limits the ways in which participants can share what they have learned and experienced with their network of contacts and kin, thereby curbing the potential scope of an initiative’s impact.

Funding limitations also can have a major effect on an organization’s internal capacity for this work.  Project participants noted limitations in terms of organizational staff time for this work, including the need for financial support in order to staff intergroup initiatives.  One person related how the organization’s tight budget meant that upon the departure of an organizer, they were unable to fund that position; instead, that person’s intergroup relations responsibilities had to be spread out across the entire staff in addition to their normal workload.  Another respondent noted that with a limited internal capacity for facilitating dialogues, his organization’s intergroup relations program faced challenges because they lacked the funds to hire outside facilitators.  He stated, “If we were to bring in outside facilitators, we’d have to pay them, and as a small organization, we don’t have the resources to get high-caliber folks who are capable of dealing with these kinds of issues.”  Finally, another participant related how staff capacity concerns have limited his organization’s ability to pursue intergroup efforts as much as they desire: “We don’t want to haphazardly engage immigrant and migrant communities; that needs forethought and deliberation.  We’re still looking for the right opportunity to dialogue around these human rights issues, but right now we don’t have the capacity.”

Another common theme related to funding challenges was how funding limitations caused numerous intergroup initiatives to shorten or even prematurely conclude their efforts because they did not receive the money needed to continue.

Over the course of this project it became clear that, in addition to making materials and lessons learned more widely available to people seeking resources for intergroup dialogue and political education, Intergroup Resources could make another, equally important, contribution.  By compiling, analyzing, and lifting up this work by organizations across the country, we hope to raise awareness among funding partners of the urgent need and growing opportunity to support intergroup relationship-building at the grassroots.  Intergroup Resources encourages the increased engagement of foundation partners by a) highlighting the transformative potential of efforts taking place around the country and the potential impacts of “scaling up;” b) illuminating some of the biggest challenges faced in this work and suggesting how greater support could help surmount them; and c) serving to build, bound, and articulate the growth of the field of intergroup relations and its vital importance to all social justice efforts in an increasingly diverse society.

Helpful materials

Image: Angela Stuesse