The killing of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide wave of protests are generating a record-setting flood of donations to racial justice groups, bail funds and black-led advocacy organizations across America, remaking the financial landscape of black political activism in a matter of weeks.
Money has come in so fast and so unexpectedly that some groups even began to turn away and redirect donors elsewhere. Others said they still could not yet account for how much had arrived. A deluge of online donations has washed over organizations big and small — from legacy civil rights groups to self-declared abolitionists seeking to defund the police.
Black leaders and activists said it was a landmark moment in which a multiracial coalition protesting systemic racism and police brutality not only marched together, showed solidarity on social media and drove books about racism up the best-seller charts but also opened their wallets — especially during a pandemic that has driven 40 million people from their jobs and created one of the sharpest economic downturns in American history.
“To see millions of people give millions of dollars creates hope out of this moment,” said Glynda C. Carr, the president of Higher Heights, a group dedicated to building the political power of black women and which saw a spike of 15,000 donations in two weeks — about 10 times more than usual. “In the end, not everybody went out and protested,” she said. “This was a way to participate.”
ActBlue, the leading site to process online donations for Democratic causes and campaigns, has experienced its busiest period since its founding in 2004, far surpassing even the highest peaks of the 2020 presidential primary season. (ActBlue confirmed that racial justice causes and bail funds had led the way.) The site’s four biggest days ever came consecutively this month as it processed more than $250 million to various progressive causes and candidates in two-plus weeks, according to a New York Times analysis of the site’s donation ticker.
And on June 2, the collective action day that was known as Blackout Tuesday, ActBlue doubled what had been, before this month, its one-day record: raising $41 million in 24 hours.
“Is it a moment or is it a movement? I’m feeling like it’s a movement,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “It’s organic and spontaneous and global.”
At the forefront of the giving wave were bail funds, as millions of Americans spontaneously gave money to ensure that any protesters who were arrested in clashes with the police got out of jail quickly. Leaders of two national networks said bail funds had received a combined $90 million over two weeks — an astonishingly large sum for a cause that had operated at the periphery of politics only recently.
Some of the leading black and racial justice groups declined to comment on the scope of their windfalls, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Black Lives Matter Global Network, whose name became a national rallying cry.
“This is a watershed moment for all black-led organizing groups,” said Kailee Scales, managing director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, who did reveal that one of her group’s online petitions alone had raised $5 million. “It is the moment when our allies and individuals have joined our call for justice.” It is also, she added, a time of “mixed emotions,” after the killing of Mr. Floyd and other black Americans that had “brought people around the globe to their knees.”
Another person familiar with the group’s fund-raising said that it had raised $10 million just on Blackout Tuesday; Ms. Scales declined to comment on that figure.
Few expect the largess to last. As the protesters recede, so too will the donations, leaders predicted. But group after group now has a far larger base of supporters to draw upon for donations going forward. Several black leaders brushed aside concerns that the sudden influx of funds might be squandered, especially by undersized groups suddenly flush with cash, because the needs are so big.
“Black-led nonprofits and civil rights nonprofits — we’re all stretched against the world we’re supposed to fix and the issues we’ve been involved in and sometimes the people we’re up against,” Mr. Morial said.
Color of Change, which already promoted itself as the largest online racial justice group in the country, quadrupled its membership from 1.7 million to 7 million people in recent days.
Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s president, said the group had received “hundreds of thousands of individual donations” — far more than any previous period — and called it a “rallying cry for us to grow and continue the work.”
Despite a policy of not taking corporate donations, so much unsolicited corporate money poured into Color of Change’s accounts in recent days that the group’s board is still trying to tally up the totals. The board has created what it calls an Emergency Fund for Racial Justice to redistribute those corporate donations, in partnership with the Amalgamated Foundation, to other black-led groups.
Credit…Erik Branch for The New York Times
But as rubber bullets flew and images of tear gas-filled police clashes played out nightly on cable news, nothing became the progressive cause du jour quite like bails funds.
Pilar Weiss, the director of the National Bail Fund Network, an umbrella group that links together independent community bail funds, said millions of people had donated an estimated $75 million to her network’s funds in the past two weeks. Robin Steinberg, the chief executive of a different national group, The Bail Project, said the organization had received an additional $15 million.
Sharlyn Grace, executive director of the Chicago Community Bond Fund, said, “The support we’ve received is not really about us as a bail fund but support for the Black Lives Matter movement and support for protesters who are taking the streets forcing this national reckoning.”
The outpouring has been organic, viral and immense.
In Brooklyn, N.Y., a bail fund received $1.8 million from 50,000 contributors — in only 24 hours — before asking donors to give elsewhere. In Philadelphia, the bail fund hauled in $2.4 million. And in Los Angeles, one GoFundMe page for the local chapter of Black Lives Matter zoomed past $2 million raised, and another for a previously undersized group, the People’s City Council, leapt from $1,500 raised to $2.3 million.
Crowdsourced memorial funds for the families of Mr. Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down this year in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor, who was killed by the police inside her home in Louisville, Ky., have amassed more than $23 million. The Floyd memorial broke GoFundMe’s record for most contributions, with nearly 500,000.
Some of the most intense giving has been to groups in Minnesota, where Mr. Floyd was killed and where the protests began. One neighborhood rebuilding project quickly raised $6.2 million from 62,000 contributors. Another group, Women for Political Change, that supports younger women and transgender individuals, netted $219,000 from a GoFundMe page.
Reclaim the Block, which wants to defund the police, did not previously have an office or paid staff, according to Tony Williams, a member of the group. He said the group raised at least $1 million in recent days, though he did not know the exact sum.
“I’m reasonably sure it’s in the single-digit millions because if it passed $10 million I think someone would have said, ‘Holy heck!’” he said. “It’s a sign of the complete transformation that’s happening in the national dialogue right now.”
The Minnesota Freedom Fund, a cash bail fund, raised a stunning $20 million in four days at the end of May before redirecting donors elsewhere (including to Reclaim the Block). Another $10 million came in anyway — from nearly one million individuals, according to the group’s volunteer treasurer, Steve Boland.
The $30 million total haul is nearly 300 times what it raised in its previous full year’s tax filing.
For some perspective on just how many donors that is, it took Senator Elizabeth Warren’s grassroots-funded presidential campaign more than 13 months to reach the million-donor milestone. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., has a total of 1.6 million unique contributors almost 14 months into his candidacy, according to his campaign.
Mr. Biden, too, has seen a significant spike in fund-raising of late as he invested $5 million into Facebook ads in the first week of June — spending more in a few days than he did in the first 10 months of his campaign, a sign of how much donors were responding. More than 1.2 million people joined his email list in a week.
There is some precedent for massive giving at cultural inflection points. In mid-2018, as the Trump administration was separating families at the border, a single Facebook fund-raiser for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in Texas went viral, raising $20 million in a few days.
But that was one fund-raiser and one group, not the vast array of organizations that have experienced recent windfalls, including the activists and advocates as well as some of the journalism outlets that cover them.
One tiny group in Chicago, Equity and Transformation, which serves black people left behind in the economy, saw a dormant GoFundMe page go freshly viral, raising $44,000. “We’ve never had that kind of resources,” Richard Wallace, the founder, said.
Unicorn Riot, an alternative media company that closely covered the early Minneapolis protests, blew past an initial $5,000 online fund-raising goal by a factor of 100, raising $570,000, according to the site’s online tracker. And The Marshall Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news organization that reports on the criminal justice system, saw its membership double, from 4,000 to 9,500, according to Carroll Bogert, the group’s president.
“We’re just sitting here doing our jobs and donations started skyrocketing,” she said.
The energy to contribute is so vast that even those without money have sought ways to contribute, including watching videos on YouTube that promise to direct every dollar of revenue to racial justice causes.
“I wish I could give money — I can’t, I’m broke,” said Zoe Amira, a 20-year-old who lives outside Chicago and posted an ad-laden video that was viewed more than nine million times, generating $42,000 — before it was yanked for violating ad policies. She later said on Twitter that YouTube told her it would make a donation of an equal size because it “so believed in the essence of the project.”
Celebrities — Chrissy Teigen, Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio, among others — have joined and amplified the giving, too. One pop singer, Abel Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, posted receipts for $500,000 in donations. And the K-pop boy band BTS announced giving $1 million to Black Lives Matter; its fan group matched that by donating $1.3 million to a dozen advocacy groups.
Big corporations are making major pledges: $100 million each from Warner Music Group, Comcast and the Sony Music Group for various social justice causes, among many companies.
Small donors are powering the moment. Aidan King, an unemployed Democratic digital strategist, created a portal on ActBlue to allow people to simultaneously donate to dozens of bail funds and other racial justice groups. That single page has processed $16.5 million from more than 215,000 individuals in two weeks.
“It’s this horribly tragic and heartbreaking but also, in a way, beautifully perfect storm for activism and solidarity,” Mr. King said.
Ms. Carr, the leader of Higher Heights, said she saw many white friends and colleagues in her own network giving to black-led groups for the very first time.
“People,” she said, “are being inspired by the moment.”