All Articles

Navigating Faith and Democracy: A New Guide for Funders

BY: Carly Straus ChanON: 10.06.2023

Faith communities are hugely influential in American civic life: There are over 350,000 religious congregations and an additional 228,00 faith-inspired nonprofits in the United States, making up 35% to 40% of the U.S. nonprofit field.

In communities rife with political and social tension, faith communities serve as invaluable assets for bridge-building and social connection. They play a vital role in cultivating an engaged, empowered public and shaping Americans’ virtues, character, and values. However, faith communities also at times bring out a darker side of civic engagement: for example, law enforcement, political leaders, and some religious organizations themselves have pointed to Christian Nationalist ideology as fueling the January 6th insurrection.

The intersection between faith-based work and democracy and civic life can be challenging and confusing for funders to navigate – leading many funders to disengage, and miss out on a critical potential partnership for strengthening our democracy.

To shed light on this intersection, a new publication, A Funding Guide for Faith and Democracy, has just been released by our friends at Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), in collaboration with our team at Democracy Funders Network and Third Plateau.

This guide aims to explore the role of faith communities in shaping and making American civic life, while providing a framework for funders to engage with faith communities as partners in advancing a stronger and more inclusive democracy. It goes deeper than the conventional good-or-bad narratives around religious engagement in public life, addressing head-on some of the reasons funders are hesitant to invest in faith-inspired work, while also exploring the unique opportunities in such investments.

Faith communities are one of the longest-standing and most influential pillars of American society and have the capacity to contribute to democracy and civic life by promoting civic behaviors, sustaining place-based infrastructure, providing resilience in times of crisis, and enabling bridge-building. The guide includes specific examples of what this work can look like in action and includes tools for funders to better understand their existing orientation to faith and democracy and think through the next steps for how they might take action at that intersection.

So, who can benefit from this new resource?

  1. Democracy Funders: Funders with a focus on democracy and civic life will discover valuable insights on how to enhance their impact by engaging with faith communities.

  2. Faith-Inspired Supporters: Those already investing in faith-inspired organizations will find a deeper understanding of the unique role these entities play in fostering a healthier democracy and civic life.

  3. Everyone with a Stake: For anyone concerned about the intersection of faith, democracy, civic engagement, and public life, this guide provides a roadmap to navigate this intricate landscape.

In essence, A Funding Guide for Faith and Democracy aims to unravel the complexities of faith's role in shaping American civic life. It offers a practical framework for philanthropy to collaborate with faith communities, fostering a stronger and more inclusive democracy for all.

Want to learn more? Join PACE and the Democracy Funders Network for a free webinar on October 16, 2023. This event is intended for funders, but may be relevant for other audiences. All are welcome to join. Click here for details and registration.

Carly Straus Chan is Program Director at the Democracy Funders Network, a cross-ideological learning and action community for donors concerned about the health of American democracy.

Receive Our Monthly Newsletter

Reach out to discuss how we can help you more effectively drive social impact.