About

OUR MISSION

Democratizing Philanthropy Project shifts power to chronically underfunded, historically excluded frontline organizations by helping them build long-term, reliable small donor revenue and a dynamic, engaged base. 

 
A cartoon woman of color with glasses holds a sign that says "Democratizing Philanthropy Project"

WHAT WE DO

Democratizing Philanthropy Project gives organizations addressing the systemic issues facing our nation the ability to build a powerful, lasting revenue stream and network of engaged activists and donors they can rely on.

Specifically, we work to:

  • help organizations test out and build new approaches to earning revenue;
     

  • ensure vulnerable organizations have more power, have more flexibility in how to spend those resources, and respond more nimbly and rapidly to critical needs as they emerge;
     

  • expand the small donor apparatus to grassroots, nonprofits, historically excluded frontline organizations; and

  • convert national interest in racial and social justice into long-term financial strength for chronically underfunded and historically neglected organizations.

WHY WE DO IT

We hope that by growing their lists and working to convert those lists into active members and small donors, organizations will build power by reaching more people and building sustainable revenue streams to support their work over time, making them less reliant on traditional philanthropy to respond to the urgent needs facing their communities.

Many nonprofits depend heavily on grant-based income, meaning most of their revenue is often restricted for set purposes. What we have seen from candidates and larger, white-led nonprofit organizations is the critical shift in power that comes from having a diversified, democratized revenue stream from small donors. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, for example, raked in $34.5 million in small-dollar donors during the last three months of 2019, and in 2017, the ACLU raised $24 million in online donations from 356,306 people in one weekend, superseding its annual online donations by six times. Most recently,  fueled by our national racial reckoning and support for Black Lives Matter, small-dollar donations to racial justice organizations have drastically increased, as seen with the over $90 million in small-dollar donations to bail funds following the killing of George Floyd.

When organizations can test out and build new approaches to earning revenue in ways that go beyond traditional philanthropy, they build more power, have more flexibility in how to spend those resources, and can respond more nimbly and rapidly to critical needs as they emerge. This type of small donor apparatus is being built by nonprofits around the country, but fewer Black and brown-led, grassroots, or frontline nonprofit organizations have access to this type of revenue generation. Groups need capacity to test ways to make them less vulnerable to the changing interests from foundations and pursue ways to diversify revenue, in particular, small donor revenue. Especially as many hearts, minds, and dollars are engaged in our nation’s many crises, this increased public resolve can be converted into long-term financial strength for organizations working on our nation’s most critical issues. The opportunities are tremendous for nonprofit organizations to inspire people with their mission and engage them as donors — if they have the knowledge, capacity, and opportunities to build their reach and work long-term to convert them as activists and small donors.

Three cartoon women of color hold a sign together that reads "Democratizing Philanthropy Project."

The Democratizing Philanthropy Project has been experimenting with various programming to help nonprofit, grassroots, and frontline organizations build their email and SMS lists and cultivate them into activists, mega activists, and small dollar donors through a variety of strategies including lead generation, digital ads, and organic fundraising. Through this program, organizations can grow their lists and help more people become informed about the issues they care about, sign petitions and participate in call-to-actions, volunteer, engage in get-out-the-vote efforts, and become donors.

 

Democratizing Philanthropy Project seeks to help hundreds of state power building and historically excluded frontline organizations to gain access and maximize this powerful capital.

 

Founder

A photo of a woman of color with dark hair, smiling and looking at the camera.

Iara Peng

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Founder, Democratizing Philanthropy Project

Iara Peng, founder of the Democratizing Philanthropy Project, is deeply committed to ensuring chronically underfunded organizations thrive through sustainable revenue. She has worked in nonprofits for over 25 years, building new programs and organizations within the sector and supporting emerging leaders. She recently also launched JustFund.us, an innovative online portal that connects grantmakers directly to organizations to help move resources more quickly while facilitating greater trust, transparency, and accountability across funder communities. She is also the founder of Prism, an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color that tells stories from the ground up to disrupt harmful narratives and to inform movements for justice.


Early in her career, Iara worked to build the progressive leadership pipeline and started Young People For, a national progressive leadership development program that has identified and trained thousands of leaders across the country. She holds a Masters Degree from Columbia University, where she studied public administration and nonprofit management. She has served as a strategic consultant and on the boards of dozens of nonprofits and is currently a board member of Donors of Color Network and on the advisory board of She the People and Girls Crushing It.

 

Partners

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Blue Engine Collaborative is a group of consultants and advisers with deep experience in driving digital audience growth and monetization. Their members — about a dozen strong — are experts in strategic planning and coaching for performance-driven change, leading programs such as the Media Transformation Challenge, the Knight-Lenfest Table Stakes Program (including the Knight-ASU program for broadcast organizations) and the Facebook Accelerator (running all aspects of programming on six continents, for more than 200 organizations).

The Blue Engine Collaborative team has worked around the globe at organizations ranging from digital startups (like the Texas Tribune, theSkimm, Scalawag Magazine, and EducationNC) to large media organizations (like The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio). Their team includes senior leaders in strategy, product development, marketing, consumer insights, testing/optimization and content creation; we have lawyers, accountants, and training directors among us, and all committed to mission-first work. Importantly for this project, we also have members with extensive experience with marketing and donor conversion/retention in the nonprofit as well as political and educational fundraising space.

Blue Engine Collaborative has led end-to-end programming and coaching for the Democratizing Philanthropy Project 2021 pilot cohort and the ongoing state-based power building cohort, with each cohort designed to help six organizations, respectively, grow small dollar donors and overall organizational sustainability. In the completed pilot cohort, among other results, six teams generated almost $815,000 over six months from small donors (defined as donors whose annual contribution is less than $5,000) — representing an average of 257 percent growth in year-over-year revenue.

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Daily Kos is the premier destination for reaching progressive grassroots activists with 8.4 million unique site visitors each month and a dynamic email list including 3.3 million subscribers. By offering progressive journalism on national political news alongside ways for readers to take immediate action on that news, Daily Kos generates grassroots activism at scale, and does this in partnership with hundreds of advocacy organizations, nonprofits, candidates and elected officials.


Daily Kos has one of the largest and most engaged email lists in the United States progressive advocacy space. Through their lead generation and joint action programs, Daily Kos has generated over 30 million signups to the email lists of more than one thousand partners in the Democratic and progressive ecosystem. Since 2016, the Daily Kos community has directly donated over $30 million for progressive candidates and committees, organizations, and frontline charities and Daily Kos has pumped over $190 million in value to the progressive movement. In an average month, their activism program generates four million petition signatures on mission-aligned issues, as well as one million letters and 30,000 phone calls to members of Congress from constituents.

 

Daily Kos lead generation specialists have helped hundreds of advocacy organizations and nonprofits, as well as mission-aligned for-profit companies and Democratic candidates, reach millions of Daily Kos readers and convert them into supporters. In 2020 alone, Daily Kos added more than three million activist signups to client lists through lead generation.

 

Participants

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