Over the past several days, an estimated 1,500 people have been arrested by the New York Police Department amid the protests that have followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. While the NYPD has doubled its presence on the streets, the president has threatened to mobilize the military while encouraging governors to “dominate” protesters. Log onto social media at any given time, and the outpouring of frustration and pain is overwhelming. Equally overwhelming is the call for donations from a number of nonprofits. Bail funds, nonprofits that collect money toward the release of those who have been jailed before trials, have been particularly prominent.
“The anger, pain, and suffering being expressed in the streets here in New York and across the country are deeply felt by everyone here, just as they are being felt all around the world,” said Zoë Adel, spokesperson for Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, earlier this week.
Bail can cost thousands of dollars, if not more. Between 2015 and 2019, the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund alone has posted bail for 5,000 people and paid bond to free more than 460 immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Adel. None of this is possible without community donations, she added. “When the need for freedom is so great…and you’re in a position to help, then that’s certainly a reason to give,” Adel said. The bail fund, and many like it across the country, have seen a spike in donations as protests have gone on. The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has received donations from 90,000 individuals between Friday and Tuesday, Adel noted. The Minnesota Freedom Fund raised $20 million in four days, and has since started offering assistance to other nonprofits in the Twin Cities. The outpouring of donations has underscored that for many citizens, deciding on a cause to support is the first step in making a difference. For those who might feel overwhelmed by the array of organizations to donate to, experts said now is the time to do your research and keep it local.
“What’s most important is keeping the focus on the organization’s work and the people…that they help,” said Tim Delaney, president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits. “We encourage people to give local to an organization they know, not to some random organization that called or has a fancy webpage.”
According to Delaney, nonprofits see the greatest success rates when their cause is spread by word-of-mouth. Experts have repeatedly seen an increase in donations when an organization is mentioned to someone by a person they trust, giving the donation a personal touch. (One of the most poignant examples of this effectiveness is the Ice Bucket Challenge, which made waves on social media by friends encouraging their networks to participate.)
Delaney says the best contribution to a nonprofit is one that is unrestricted or for general support. When the donation has that flexibility, it will enable the organization to deploy donations where they are needed most. The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund also encourages donors to take a “both and” approach, instead of an “either or” one.
“It’s necessary to support immediate interventions like paying bail in addition to supporting organizations that work to address issues at the root of society’s problems,” Adel said, noting that COVID-19 has made bail a life-and-death issue. According to Adel, thousands of black and brown people have died over the past few years in prisons, jails, or ICE detention centers. While bail funds hope to refocus on the larger issues like safety, justice, and equity, the message for America during this time is, yes, your donation matters now more than ever. But even within the world of bail funds, there are some that are even more focused and need just as much support. Take the Freedom Fund, for example, which focuses on posting bail for the LGBTQ community. According to Freedom Fund’s website, queer individuals are three times more likely to be incarcerated than a heterosexual person. Executive director Scott Greenberg said, “Unless people have lived it, they often haven’t considered how being LGBTQ impacts one’s likelihood of incarceration.… There’s only a few organizations whose primary purpose is to address LGBTQ criminalization—we need all the help we can get.”
The Freedom Fund has successfully posted bail for people in 15 states across the nation over the past two years, according to Greenberg, and all donations go directly toward bail for individuals in jail or immigration detention. When asked what the Freedom Fund’s greatest challenge was these days, Greenberg’s answer was stark and simple.
“Money and hate.”
Although the protests have taken center stage, COVID-19 still poses a large threat to at-risk communities. According to Delaney, nonprofits have been lifelines for those who rely on school lunches, as well as helped mental health services mobilize their efforts online. Now, many are turning their attention to helping peaceful protesters with bail and legal services.
“Every dollar, every penny matters,” Delaney said.
When looking to contribute, it’s also helpful to look for local, grassroots organizations. The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, in just one week, has already reaped the benefits of collective action.
“Hopefully that act of giving is only the first step toward continued collective action,” Adel said. “We need a whole lot more than money to change the fact that we live in a deeply racist society.”
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