How we are holding ourselves accountable to equity in democracy and in journalism

March 1, 2021

Independent journalism is an essential instrument of accountability and critical to the health of our republic. Without it, the public’s ability to check the power and influence of those who represent them is severely limited. While our elected officials may not always appreciate or agree with the criticism they receive, it is their responsibility to support a vigorous free press. 

The world of philanthropy is no different. As funders, we must hold ourselves accountable to — and be willing to be held accountable by — the communities and grantees we support. As institutions with substantial power that is derived from private wealth — and not from a democratically accountable body — we have a special responsibility to embrace transparency. We should welcome dialogue and public critique if we are committed to the best interests of the communities we serve. 

At Democracy Fund, we acknowledge that — through our systems, structures, and choices — we have been complicit in upholding white supremacy. We are therefore examining our external grantmaking and internal culture to ensure that we live up to the values we want to see in our democracy. Last year, we formally moved away from our previous commitment to bipartisanship because we were unwilling to compromise on the fundamental principles of a healthy democracy. Instead, we decided that we must ground ourselves in our values, including a belief that “a just and equitable political system must eliminate structural barriers to ensure historically excluded communities have meaningful influence in our democracy.” Key to this work has been listening and being accountable to our own staff, especially women of color, who have raised these issues  and helped move us forward. 

Specifically, our Public Square program has interrogated what it means to support racial equity in journalism (and encouraged other funders to join us). We expanded our investment in newsrooms led by and serving historically marginalized groups (and will continue to do so). We funded Black, Indigenous and people of color led organizations holding tech platforms accountable for combatting discrimination, harassment and hate. We supported new leaders working to shift industry culture. We recognize that we have much more to do to achieve justice and a democracy that works for all. 

Last year we announced a number of commitments regarding how Democracy Fund will be part of the solution. Expanding on those ideas in the field of journalism, our Public Square program is working this year to: 

  • Expand the proportion of grantees led by or serving BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other historically marginalized communities across our strategies. 
  • Invest in trailblazers and leadership within diverse communities who are building power and organizing for equity.
  • Confront systemic racism, white supremacy, and white dominant culture when it shows up in our own processes and community. 

We applaud those who have come forward with feedback for foundations in the past, often at risk to themselves and their livelihoods. We saw that last week when a public critique was published about the Knight Foundation, one of our philanthropic peers and partners in the journalism field. As the journalism community comes together this week at the Knight Media Forum (KMF), we hope it is an opportunity to talk more openly about how systems of power, wealth, and white supremacy shape philanthropy, and how we all can work towards a holistic system rooted in equity and inclusion. 

Make no mistake, Democracy Fund has its own work to do. We will continue to take steps to live our values more closely and to address systemic racism within our organization and within democracy. We encourage our partners and grantees to examine how their own systems may be complicit in maintaining a culture of white supremacy and be open to the uncomfortable discussions and decisions that could follow. You can expect to hear more from us on these topics throughout this year and beyond. We welcome accountability as we do the work.

We are eager to continue the conversation. If you have feedback you can email us at, and we also encourage people to provide anonymous feedback about Democracy Fund on Grant Advisor.

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