Democracy in Crisis: Preparing for the Road Ahead

July 29, 2021

In the past year, during a pandemic and national uprising for racial justice, our grantees rose to the challenge of authoritarianism, attacks on journalism, rampant misinformation, a crisis election, and increased political violence. We are truly grateful for and proud to support these efforts. As we look to the future, we will build upon the strengths of our grantee community and what we have learned together. 

While we have made great strides towards an open and just multi-racial democracy, that progress has triggered a profound and dangerous backlash that threatens the very core of our republic. It is imperative that across the sector, we reflect on how this reality challenges the foundational assumptions of our work and craft strategies commensurate to this moment.

Last year, ongoing political crises culminated in our choice to anchor Democracy Fund’s identity in our democratic principles instead of bipartisanship. But we have planned to review our strategy since our launch, when we committed to formally revisiting our strategy every five years. Currently our organization is engaging in some deep thinking — while continuing our current grantmaking — and plan to wrap up in 2022 as we know the need to take up this work now could not be more urgent. 

We are still early in the process of developing a new organizational strategy, but a few central ideas have emerged as anchors in our exploration:

  1. We cannot achieve a healthier democracy unless we deal with the longstanding structural barriers designed to prevent majority-rule. To address these barriers effectively, a focus on racial justice and equity must be embedded across our work.  
  2. The racist, illiberal, authoritarian faction that is ascendant in our political system represents an existential threat to our democracy. Failure to withstand the threat posed by this faction could lead to irreparable damage. Over the coming years, we must weaken this coalition and defend against its attacks on our democracy, while strengthening the pro-democracy movement. 
  3. An incremental approach to reform without a vision for transformational change will not succeed. We must disrupt the culture, institutions, and rules of the game to unrig our political system and transform the fight for a more open and just democracy.

We don’t expect to have clarity on all program areas until at least mid-2022, as the expertise of our grantees and other field leaders are crucial to our approach. We have already engaged some partners in our work thus far, and we anticipate many more opportunities to do so in the months to come. 

We feel energized by these powerful ideas. They align with our values and the communities we support. Integrating these concepts into our strategies and grantee portfolios will take time and our team is ready to dive in. It is clear that there are no silver bullets or easy answers for our democracy. But we are ready to join with our many partners to do what’s needed — listening to and building on the work of the leaders and organizations who came before us. We are grateful, as always, for those who have already engaged in our process and continue to be champions for our democracy.


Democracy Fund
1200 17th Street NW Suite 300,
Washington, DC 20036