What the Philanthropic and Business Sectors Can Do to Help Reduce Violence and Gun Crime

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This post is part of a series, ‘Galvanizing the Civic Sector to Reduce Gun Violence.’  The series focuses on what several sectors – including parents, teens, schools, hospitals, the faith community and city leaders – can do, independent of state and federal legislative activity, to reduce violence and the number of gun-related deaths.

Most private or business-related foundations do not list violence prevention among their top funding priorities.  However, if one views violence prevention work through a wide lens, then many if not most foundations play some role in helping to reduce violence.  In point of fact, if one sees violence prevention as stopping crime and helping to build vital communities that do not generate crime, then initiatives such as mentoring, afterschool programs, family support, job training and neighborhood improvement all can and do fit under the rubric of violence prevention.  The potency of such initiatives is maximized if they are part of a comprehensive citywide plan blending prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry.

Because of its ability to move fast, take risks and tailor the work to community realities, the private sector’s participation in violence prevention is essential.  America, with five percent of the world’s population, locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  At a cost of $80 billion, one in every 107 Americans was behind bars and one in every 34 was under correctional supervision at the end of 2011.  On the basis of these staggering prison costs, and realizing the status quo is neither effective nor efficient, those on both sides of the political spectrum now argue together for fundamental changes.  Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent critique of “draconian mandatory minimums,” which result in the warehousing of low-level offenders, signals a growing consensus that the U.S. must reduce its excessive dependence on incarceration.  This shift will mean, in part, an increased demand for proven, evidence-based community programs that affix responsibility and provide help for such offenders.

Activists and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels will almost certainly turn to the private sector for help, and local officials should balance their needs with an assessment of what particular foundations stand for and what they have funded in the past.  City leaders who are spearheading violence prevention efforts must think pragmatically, too.  Low crime and little fear mean citizens are unafraid to shop; a violence-free environment is good for business.  Local businesses should be among a city’s active partners.

Finally, city leaders can show potential supporters how their investment connects to others.  Single interventions are okay, but limited unless part of a larger context.  Showing funders how their support fits into a comprehensive plan, how it will be leveraged, increases the chances of securing funding.

What Factors have Brought Foundations in to Work on Violence Prevention Efforts?

Interviews with leaders of national and state-based foundations suggest a multitude of factors that are motivating the philanthropic sector to engage in violence prevention work:

  • Moral: “Too many kids were dying.” (Julio Marcial, The California Wellness Foundation)
  • Racial Disparities: “The fate of the black male, their homicide rates.  They cannot get out of Vietnam – the trauma never ends.” (Shawn Dove, the Open Society Foundations)
  • Public Health: “It touches everything we do: our hospitals, the communities in which they’re located and our employees.” (Jodi Ravel, Kaiser Permanente, Northern California)
  • Children and Youth: “We support vulnerable children and families, but no matter our route in, we kept running into the youth violence issue.” (Sharnita Johnson, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation)
  • Civil Rights/Social Justice: “We just couldn’t ignore that our number one civil right, safety, is an elusive right for too many of our youth…We cannot ignore the injustice of living in a persistently violent neighborhood.” (Cathy Weiss, the Stoneleigh Foundation)
  • Policy: “All of our work is viewed through a public policy lens.  Our goal is to change contexts.” (Nina Vinik, the Joyce Foundation)
  • Economic: “[We] know we could not be seen as a global city until we dealt with Chicago’s violence problem.” (Victoria Dinges, the Allstate Corporation)
  • De-siloing/Doing Business in a Different Way: “Our goal is to change how the foundation community – business, philanthropic and individual – does business by shared leadership, learning together first, tracking how business is done, and outcomes.” (Sheila Peterson, State Street Foundation, Boston)
  • Top Community Concern: “We’re funding heavily in 14 communities.  We asked each to determine their top health concern.  In every community, the top concern was violence and its prevention.” (Barbara Raymond, the California Endowment)
  • Safety as a Prerequisite for Revitalization: “We’ve been a longtime funder…and the core reason had to do with pervasive fear in the community.  Fear meant that we couldn’t fully realize our investments in other areas such as education and employment.” (Paul Grogan, the Boston Foundation)
  • Violence as a Community Killer: “Kids couldn’t play in the streets.  People were afraid to shop.  Kids were scared on the way to school.  We couldn’t get volunteers to come out.” (Kent Paxton, Violence Prevention Coordinator, City of San Bernardino, Calif.).

The Philanthropic Sector Might Not Fund Local Programs, but Consider What Else They Can Do

The private sector has played a wide variety of roles to support violence prevention initiatives.  While not all foundations are comfortable funding local programs, most can and will do something, including:

  • Convening,  paying for meetings, even underwriting staffing costs;
  • Governance, such as participation in the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace in Salinas, Calif., and Philadelphia’s Violence Prevention Collaborative;
  • Research, including pinpointing the problem, combining data sources, and assessing gaps as well as assets;
  • Alignment/coordination of efforts,  including pulling together public and private funders to better coordinate and focus collective efforts;
  • Partnership building, since most local foundations are well-connected to city government, civic and business leaders; and
  • Policy advocacy, in that some, but not many, foundations will support administrative and legislative changes.

If Foundations and Businesses Wish to Fund Programs, the Options are Many

Note that what follows are only examples of what a funder might support.  It is not an exclusive list. The chances for receiving funding will be enhanced if one of the program interventions listed below is placed in and seen as an integral part of a comprehensive plan blending prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies.

Examples in the prevention area can include: family support, early childhood education, neighborhood improvement, school-based programming (e.g., bullying prevention, availability of mental health services, etc.), recreation and teen involvement.

Support in the intervention area might include: school-to-work transitions, alternative schools, restorative justice, mentoring, peacekeeper patrols, Ceasefire-style approaches, neighborhood mobilization (following a shooting), drug abuse counseling and trauma-based care.

Examples in the enforcement area can include the Police Athletic League, communication equipment for citizen volunteers, citizen academies, support for community-based officers including those assigned to schools and Law Enforcement Explorers programs (for youth eager to know more about a career in law enforcement).

Examples in the reentry area can include “Welcome Home” programs (usually through the faith community), mentoring, “ban the box” ordinances and other city policies that expand access to non-sensitive city jobs for returning offenders, in-prison counseling/treatment services, housing assistance, mental health, trauma and drug counseling, job training and support groups.

Violence prevention takes all of us. When families fray, schools fail to educate and the economy cannot produce jobs, society typically turns to law enforcement to stop the fraying.  Nothing could be more short-sighted, as it places an unfair and impossible burden on law enforcement.  In addition, it lets the rest of us off the hook.

The foundation community does not want to be left off the hook.  City leaders can find creative ways to work with them, emerging with support that works best for them within the context of a comprehensive local violence prevention strategy.