Democracy Fund 2014 Report

2014 Report Exploring new paths to a healthier democracy

Portfolio Highlights

Grantees

Over the past four years, we have approved more than $25 million in grants in four areas to create a more effective democracy. In 2014, our grantmaking totaled more than $10 million.

  • $8.4 million Governance
  • $9.1 million Informed Participation
  • $8.7 million Responsive Politics
  • $0.7 million General/Field Building

Governance

2014

  • Aspen Institute Congressional Program
  • Bipartisan Policy Center
  • College of William and Mary
  • Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
  • Faith Angle Forum
  • Faith and Politics Institute
  • National Institute for Civil Discourse
  • No Labels Foundation
  • Taxpayers for Common Sense

2011—2013

  • Bipartisan Policy Center
  • Bloggingheads.tv
  • Faith and Politics Institute
  • FairVote
  • National Institute for Civil Discourse
  • No Labels Foundation
  • The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation
  • Voice of the People

Informed Participation

2014

  • Cato Institute-Deep Bills Project
  • CIRCLE
  • Columbia Journalism Review
  • Free Press
  • Healthy Democracy
  • Internet Archive
  • Participatory Budgeting Project
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Public Agenda
  • Rutgers University

2011—2013

  • American Press Institute
  • AmericaSpeaks
  • Center for Public Integrity
  • Columbia Journalism Review
  • Engaging News Project
  • Flackcheck.org
  • Healthy Democracy
  • Institute for Nonprofit News
  • New America Foundation
  • ONA-Challenge Fund
  • Poynter Institute for Media Studies

Responsive Political Systems

2014

  • Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project
  • Center for Technology and Civic Life
  • Committee for Economic Development
  • Common Cause Education Fund
  • Demos
  • Issue One
  • Marshall-Wythe School of Law Foundation
  • Public Citizen Foundation
  • Rock the Vote
  • The Campaign Finance Institute
  • The Campaign Legal Center

2011—2013

  • Committee for Economic Development
  • Demos
  • Fordham University
  • Issue One
  • Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project
  • Meridian Institute
  • Overseas Vote Foundation
  • Pew’s Election Initiatives
  • Piper Fund
  • Reinvent Albany
  • The Campaign Finance Institute
  • TurboVote

General/Field Building

2012—2014

  • CIRCLE
  • Foundation Center
  • George Washington University-The Monkey Cage

Our Story

Our political system is indeed at a crossroads – and it is incumbent upon all of us to work toward making it more responsive, effective, and fair. With this mission in mind, the Democracy Fund became an independent, private foundation last year, after three years of incubation within Omidyar Network. Our new independence comes with a weighty charge: make a real contribution to the revitalization of our public life and the strengthening of our political institutions. We take this charge seriously, and we aim to approach the inherent challenges with deliberation, humility, and optimism.

Our mission is to restore trust in our political institutions and move our democracy closer to the ideals on which our nation was founded. We, at the Democracy Fund, believe that Americans deserve bipartisan solutions that fix our elections processes and reduce the outsized influence of money in politics. We believe Americans need access to diverse sources of information and media institutions that hold those in power accountable for what they say and do. And, we believe our public-minded leaders are as frustrated by the hyper-partisan gridlock that stifles progress on issues of common concern as the American public is.

This is why we at the Democracy Fund work to strengthen our political system and why we believe that change is necessary and possible, even when faced with the worrisome state of our political life.

The work of Democracy Fund grantees over our first few years provides beacons of hope for the future. For example, the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration created a roadmap to help election officials across the nation significantly improve the voting experience, thanks in part to research led by the Caltech - MIT Voting Technology Project. Another commission, organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center, achieved consensus on how to make government work better in the face of increased polarization. Both of these initiatives demonstrate that Republicans and Democrats can find common ground on important issues.

At the same time, bold experiments in delivering local news have been launched in cities and regions across the country with the support of organizations like the Institute for Nonprofit News and the Online News Association. And innovative practices for informing and engaging the public, like participatory budgeting and the citizen initiative review, are also beginning to take root as pilot programs take off in new states and localities.

This report – the Democracy Fund’s first in the tradition of annual foundation publications – is an introduction to the organization we have become so far. It highlights both the work we’ve supported and the people who make up our team. As we plan for the future growth of our young foundation, five core assumptions about the state of the field – and the assets we can bring to it – are shaping our thinking.

First, efforts to strengthen American democracy must begin with an acknowledgment that our political system is both complex and dynamic. We believe making a positive impact requires a deep understanding of the interplay between people, institutions, and policy. The paths to the most promising solutions are rarely obvious or direct, and we recognize the potential for ripple effects – advantageous and otherwise. As we undertake our work, the Democracy Fund will conduct research and tap the expertise of experienced political actors to improve our understanding of what drives behavior inside and outside government. We will take an experimental approach so that we continue to learn from our successes as well as our mistakes.

Second, while the Democracy Fund has set ambitious goals to strengthen the nation’s political institutions and processes, we recognize that we cannot make a difference on our own. The problems compromising American democracy are vast compared to the resources of those working for reform, and making progress will require collaboration and strategic alignment among policymakers, advocates, and other funders. Whenever possible, the Democracy Fund will choose working with others rather than going it alone.

Third, meaningful, long-term change will require support from leaders across the political spectrum. We believe partisan approaches to strengthening our political system are not likely to succeed – and even if they do, contentious wins will be extremely difficult to sustain. So we will work with a broad range of leaders from both sides of the aisle to help re-energize long-stymied debates. This starts with a commitment to achieving political diversity in our own organization. The Democracy Fund’s staff, board, and portfolio of grantees include Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, and we will continue to cultivate ideological diversity as we grow.

Fourth, while we feel a great urgency to respond to immediate threats facing our politics, long-term commitments are needed to strengthen democratic institutions. The Democracy Fund will seek short-term wins where we can, but we know many of the problems we are dedicated to working on may take decades to resolve. So we will avoid searching for alluring silver bullets and instead will concentrate on building innovative institutions that are sustainable and can work at the scale needed to make a difference.

Finally, we believe that the combination of philanthropy and a more hands-on role in policy will allow us to have greater influence. While grant making will be a significant way we contribute to change, the Democracy Fund will also develop the expertise and capacity to make a direct contribution to the issues on which we work. We believe that being a grant maker will make us a more effective advocate and, by the same token, having deeper experience directly working on these issues will enable us to be a more knowledgeable and strategic grant maker.

In the spirit of a government that is truly “of, by, and for the people,” we are committed to doing all we can to contribute to meaningful, long-term change. Over the past three years, we have made more than $25 million in commitments to support the work of more than four dozen organizations. We have grown from three people working within Omidyar Network to a 15-person team with a wide breadth of experience and capacities.

The Democracy Fund is experiencing an exciting period of growth. In the months and years ahead, we will strive to be a real resource for the field, helping to build a stronger, healthier democracy for all. We welcome your feedback on the approaches we are taking as well as the work described in this report – and we look forward to working with you to support and further advance the democracy we all deserve.

Sincerely,

Joe Goldman, President

Our Team

What is the one area of the Democracy Fund's work that gives you hope about the future of our democracy?

The innovative leaders who we have the privilege to support at the Democracy Fund are an inspiration and source of hope.

Joe Goldman President

The incredible growth of fact checking around the world as a practice is challenging political leaders to be accountable for their words.

Tom Glaisyer Program Director

The Fund’s prioritization of elevating and empowering true bipartisan solutions can be a beacon of hope for future generations.

Betsy Wright Hawkings Program Director

I like to think we're tackling old problems in new ways. If something's broken, we don't just attempt one fix — we attempt to come at the problem from a number of different angles.

Adam Ambrogi Program Director

I am excited by the potential of diverse, smart, committed people to take a data-driven, systemic approach to strengthen our democracy.

Margaret Yao Senior Advisor, Operations

Our work to ensure Americans from across the political spectrum can fully participate in our elections gives me hope for the future our democracy.

Tony Bowen Manager, Operations and Grants Management

We’re testing new ideas and partnerships to build trust in our democracy and meaningfully engage the public in the nation’s future.

Lauren Strayer Manager, Communications and Network

Taking a holistic, human-centric approach that recognizes the importance of empowering the public to drive the democratic process.

Tiffany M. Griffin Manager, Impact and Learning

We believe democracy is a structure, not a battleground and we can help make repairs — like modernizing voter registration or absentee voting.

Stacey Van Zuiden Program Associate

Our dedication in building a network of local journalism and investigative reporting gives me hope for the future.

Paul Waters Program Associate

Our partners are strengthening election administration and minimizing technical barriers to voting.

Natalie Adona Legal Fellow

Building a sustainable ecosystem of local news outlets could underpin a democratic renaissance across the country.

Jessica Mahone Graduate Fellow

The Fund’s collaborative spirit channels the best of democratic practice: We pursue impact through inclusive partnerships.

Donata Secondo Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Associate

The Democracy Fund is building relationships to create a more open democratic process for all.

Sarah Grant Operations Assistant

We’re working to create an environment where bipartisanship and government responsiveness can thrive.

Lliam Morrison Program Associate