Progressive philanthropy answered the call in 2020

Amy Kurtz
3 min readNov 17, 2021

2021 is almost over, yet many of us still haven’t recovered from 2020. It was certainly a year like no other. Existential threats of historic proportion emerged last year, and we continue to face them head on: a global pandemic, a long-overdue reckoning with racial justice, and a climate crisis that we are now living month after month.

We also faced the most consequential election of our lives. And while we often say that every election is the most consequential, 2020’s truly was. Everything was at stake; from attacks on abortion rights, to voter suppression and rampant misinformation, to sharp increases in racially-motivated hate crimes and discrimination.

As progressives, we had a responsibility to mobilize in the face of these challenges and provide new investments and solutions to deal with our new reality. Working with our partners and projects, the Sixteen Thirty Fund answered that call. Providing opportunities for changemakers to quickly and efficiently launch new initiatives through our fiscal sponsorship model, we enabled strategic investments that had real impact. This week, we will file our 2020 990s, which will show that our organization mobilized $410 million in investments in progressive organizations, campaigns and causes last year alone. Alongside our partners and projects, we scaled up quickly (growing 175% from 2019), enabling progressive donors to step up like never before to help in the face of intersecting crises and imminent threats.

While the Sixteen Thirty Fund expanded in every area of our work, our largest increase was in voting mobilization. We helped progressives across the country pivot to provide new and safe opportunities for voting during a deadly pandemic. One of our most important initiatives was $128 million in grants to America Votes to support their national efforts to expand access to vote by mail and increase voter turnout in communities of color and among traditionally disenfranchised people.

Given the stakes in the election, many of our projects felt compelled to make historic electoral contributions as well. We gave over $61 million to political committees that share our progressive values and commitment to fighting for a fair, just America. Some of the largest of these contributions were to Future Forward USA, LCV Victory Fund, and Priorities USA Action.

Our projects also focused at the state level through advocacy around key progressive ballot measures. The Sixteen Thirty Fund supported measures to guarantee paid leave for all, increase the minimum wage, expand Medicaid, and defeat bans on abortion, to name a few. In addition to our ballot measure work, we are proud to have formally lobbied for legislation to reform our democracy, protect voting rights, address climate change, and promote public health for children and families.

Like other fiscal sponsor organizations, nearly all of the donations we receive are intended for specific projects or purposes; many donations cannot be used for electoral activities; and every contribution is used in compliance with all guidelines, regulations, and laws.

A core part of our mission as a fiscal sponsor is to incubate new campaigns and organizations that will one day become independent and continue their work. One of these projects — Demand Justice, an organization advocating for Supreme Court reform — completed this lifecycle and spun off into its own, independent organization this year.

Many of our donors already identify themselves and their contributions, often including details about the project and the work that they do on their websites, and we as an organization have put our full-throated support to reducing the influence of special interest money in politics and rebuilding the trust of all Americans. We were proud to be among the first 501(c)(4) organizations to support the For the People Act. This historic piece of legislation would strengthen our democracy by expanding voting rights, enhancing ethics rules, and reforming campaign finance regulations. We remain optimistic that it will pass this fall.

While we are dedicated to reducing the influence of special interest money in our politics, we are also committed to level the playing field for progressives. We believe those who support science, voting rights for every eligible voter, equity, and social justice need access to the same tools as those who oppose these core democratic ideals. The stakes are simply too high to do otherwise.

Our democracy depends on people making their voices heard, and for that reason we believe that advocacy is the backbone of our democracy. Our growth in 2020 reinforces the critical role fiscal sponsorship plays in enabling advocates and philanthropists to quickly and efficiently support progressive causes and new solutions to today’s dynamic challenges.

Amy Kurtz is the President of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization confronting the biggest social challenges in our country through fiscal sponsorship, advocacy, and electoral action.