Los Angeles Urban Funders: Philanthropic Initiatives in the Aftermath of the 1992 Civil Unrest

November 6, 2017 – Shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, a funder collaborative emerged to improve socioeconomic conditions in three of the city’s most neglected neighborhoods. In all, more than 29 foundations participated in Los Angeles Urban Funders (LAUF), giving away more than $25 million over the course of a decade. Along the way, LAUF modelled new and effective ways for foundations to work with each other and with low-income communities.

Twenty-five years after the unrest, The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy undertook an inquiry to document the initiative and lessons for philanthropic practice and the field of community development. “Despite LAUF’s pioneering contributions, we were struck that many in philanthropy did not know much about the funder collaborative,” notes James M. Ferris, director of The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy. “We hope this report sheds additional light on LAUF’s impact both in Los Angeles and nationally.”

After careful deliberation and a comprehensive vetting process, LAUF targeted its efforts on Pacoima, in the San Fernando Valley, and two communities in South Los Angeles – Vermont/Manchester and Hyde Park.

In the mid-1990s, even the idea of a place-based funder collaborative was novel, particularly one focused on multiple geographic areas simultaneously. But that was not all that made LAUF unique. “Decision-making in the collaborative was aggressively democratic,” says report author Elwood Hopkins, founder of Emerging Markets, Inc., who served as LAUF’s executive director. “Funders of LAUF ranged in size, scope and areas of expertise but we took significant steps to build consensus among all members.” In addition, all participating funders were required to not only contribute to a “community fund,” which helped jumpstart the initiatives, but also to at least one nonprofit in each of the target communities through their regular grantmaking.

LAUF also took an innovative approach to community engagement and revitalization. For example, it focused on what was already working in each of the neighborhoods, building the capacity of local nonprofits and associations and aligning with existing efforts underway. LAUF also worked with its community partners to energize local residents by organizing around gateway issues – student achievement in Pacoima and substance abuse in Vermont/Manchester – as a way to address a wider range of neighborhood concerns.

“One of the unique aspects of LAUF was the emphasis on creating economic opportunity for individuals and families,” said Dannielle Campos, Philanthropy Director for the Bank of America Charitable Foundation. The foundation was a steadfast supporter of LAUF from its beginning. “There was a focus on creating shared success among all stakeholders – community, business, and residents alike. Together we really looked for ways to support economic progress.”

More than fifteen years after LAUF concluded, philanthropic and community leaders underscored its lasting effects. In the neighborhoods, there was a strong sense that the community’s internal infrastructure had been strengthened, resulting in new leaders and stronger organizations. While there was an admission that much more was needed to improve the underlying socioeconomic conditions in the specific communities, LAUF did help to open up investments from foundations, corporations and government that weren’t there before.

According to many of the funders involved, the experience helped to shape how they think about grantmaking at their respective foundations today, highlighting the importance of neighborhood-driven ideas and building on existing community initiatives as opposed to creating something new. It put into greater focus the value of community organizing, activism, and civic engagement. And it forged relationships and created a framework for how funders in Los Angeles could work with each other to create a greater impact.

Click here to download the report. The inquiry was underwritten by the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.

The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy promotes more effective philanthropy and strengthens the nonprofit sector through research that informs philanthropic decision-making and public policy to advance community problem solving. The Center is a part of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, which works to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, here and abroad.

For more information: Please contact Nicholas Williams, Associate Director, The Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy at [email protected] or 213-740-8557.