top of page
Image by Raul Varzar

Democracy's Promise

The Hill-Snowdon Foundation is a social justice foundation that at its core believes in the leadership of low income communities of color as primary actors to reinvigorate our democracy and create a fairer and more just society overall.

Photo Credit: Raul Varzar

Given the state of our country in 2019, we felt that we could not be in more dire need of reinvigorating our democratic principles and practices and creating a fairer and more just nation. It may not be hyperbolic to assert that the 2020 election cycle would be one of the most important elections in our lifetime.

There are at least three major events facing our democracy in 2020 and 2021 – the 2020 Census; the 2020 election cycle (federal, state, local); and the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle (whatever the outcome) and redistricting.

2020 Census

The 2020 Census could be an opportunity to accurately reflect how the American populace is evolving in diverse and exciting ways, or it could be a moment where fear and coordinated government actions suppress participation and codify a warped picture of our nation, leading to an inequitable future for low wealth communities of color. It will be critically important to support grassroots groups with strong ties to historically undercounted communities so that they can encourage their communities to participate in Census 2020.


2020 Election Cycle

The 2020 election cycle, from the local level to the federal level, is really a moment that will reveal the true nature of who we are as a country, what we hold most dear and, what we are willing to fight for. The situation and the stakes could not be clearer or more desperate. It will be a time to fight against efforts to curtail the right and opportunity to vote and to stand up to the divisive forces of fear, racism, nativism and greed. A time to mobilize the citizenry toward an energized hope for tomorrow and move forward a host of critical issues to help secure a more just and equitable future for the nation as a whole. While most of the attention is correctly on the Presidential race, issue based organizing focused on local issues is a very important means by which to increase voter turnout in the November election. Many of HSF’s grassroots partners do not focus on the federal or national level, but their work to turnout their constituents on local issues at the local and state level can reverberate up to spark greater civic engagement overall.

Aftermath of 2020 Election

No one knows what the results of the 2020 election cycle will be. Nevertheless, the progressive community has to be ready for both a positive or negative outcome. Thus, groups need support that extends beyond the 2020 cycle so that they can be best prepared for any eventuality. Additionally, 2021 begins the process for states to begin redrawing the election districts, based in part on the results of the Census (which makes an accurate Census count all the more important).

Given this unique and dire moment in our country’s history, how could the Hill-Snowdon Foundation respond? What could we do that both aligns with our institutional and personal values and offers concrete support to the communities we care about? After seeing what some colleagues are doing and reflecting on what might be a meaningful response for us, we have developed the following proposed plan of action for the Foundation that we hope will help our grassroots partners and Hill-Snowdon as an institution best engage in this critical time in our nation’s history.

HSF staff proposed a multi-faceted two-year plan (Fall 2019 – Fall 2021), that would enhance the opportunity for HSF grassroots partners to engage their constituents in critical civic engagement focused work (e.g., 2020 Census, 2020 election cycle, post-election organizing), to improve the prospects of their communities to thrive. HSF’s Board approved the Draft 2020 plan presented below, and the next step is to share it with our grassroots partners so that we can refine it based on their feedback. The two-year plan focuses on activities during 2020 and includes:


  1. Democracy’s Promise 20/21 Initiative – a new grantmaking initiative that will infuse additional grant dollars to a select group of 10 current grassroots partners for their civic engagement related work;

  2. Expediting and streamlining funding for all HSF partners in 2020 to give them the time and resources to focus on mobilizing and organizing their constituents;

  3. Facilitating opportunities for HSF grassroots partners to make strategic connections with one another; and

  4. Offering direct support to a sub-section of HSF grassroots partners from HSF staff and board.


Launched in 2020, the Democracy’s Promise 20/21 project will award $520,000 in grants over two years to eleven grassroots organizations working to strengthen the promise of our country’s democracy.  The idea of American democracy is based on noble principles of justice, equality, liberty  and  tolerance and these principles are meant to be a compact between the residents of this country and our government. 2018-2019 under the Trump era has reminded us how ugly, destructive and terrifying America can be when it chooses to turn its back on its founding principles. However, it has also reminded us that the true promise of America’s democracy is and always will be everyday people – often those pushed to margins – coming together in power to demand that the country live up to its’ most noble ideas.

The Foundation decided to launch Democracy’s Promise 20/21 to help contend with the rare and critical confluence of three key events for American democracy: the 2020 Presidential Election, the decennial Census and the beginning of the redistricting process across the country.  These events represent a critical crossroads for our democracy that will define either a more hopeful or more desperate future for many of us. The eleven Democracy’s Promise 20/21 grants, will support strategic organizing and non-partisan coalition work around the 2020 Census, the 2020 election cycle (e.g., local, state and/or federal), and/or redistricting; in addition to developing contingency plans for the aftermath of the 2020 election cycle.  In addition to these multi-year grants, an additional $40,000 is available for capacity building and convening purposes as requested by our Democracy's Promise partners. 


The following is a quick synopsis of the Census, Civic Engagement and/or Redistricting work of the eleven groups that Hill-Snowdon Foundation is supporting through its Democracy’s Promise initiative. This synopsis mainly focuses on their work in 2020 and does not reflect the shift in focus/work related to the COVID-19 health crisis.

In making these grants, HSF was guided by a simple philanthropic best practice: to get the resources to the groups when they need it, with as few restrictions as possible, and over an extended period of time. This is even more important for civic engagement related grants.  Consequently, we released the full two year grant in November 2019 to be used for 2020 and 2021. We wanted to make sure that the groups had their resources in advance and that they weren’t spending their precious time during the height of the election cycle applying to us for funding.  HSF extended this principle to our regular grant making as well, and we streamlined our grant application and collapsed our two grant cycles into one so that we can get all our grant funds to all of our groups by June 2020.  We would encourage our philanthropic partners to consider similar strategies in the future.


HSF also used the Just Fund portal ( to make the Democracy’s Promise grant, to share the good work being done by these grassroots groups and to encourage other funders to support these important efforts. For more information on the Democracy’s Promise 20/21 project visit the JustFund Portal.

bottom of page