Driving Change: Civic Engagement and the Role of Philanthropy

Civic engagement gives residents proximity to the systems of governance that affect their daily lives and is a powerful tool for advancing empowerment, belonging and representation.  

At Rose Community Foundation, we are dedicated to strengthening democracy and fostering inclusive civic engagement through investments in organizations that encourage community involvement and promote nonpartisan voter participation. 

The Foundation recently held a learning session focused on building a base for strong and inclusive civic engagement in the Greater Denver region and how individual philanthropy can support these efforts.  

The panelists included representatives from three Foundation grantee organizations; Katherine Archuleta, co-founder and co-executive director of Latina Initiative; Neha Mahajan, co-founder and executive director of Transformative Leadership for Change; and Susie Roman, project director of YouthScan. These organizations actively engage diverse communities leading up to and beyond elections, aiming to increase participation in policy and electoral processes.  

“Advancing civic engagement takes more than just aspiration; it requires active investment,” says Lindy Eichenbaum Lent, CEO of Rose Community Foundation. “This is where philanthropy can serve as a catalyst for change, recognizing the invaluable role of civic participation in cultivating inclusive, equitable, informed and engaged communities.”  

Solutions in Action 

Inflation, fair and just immigration policies, healthcare – particularly reproductive healthcare – and safety in communities are a few of the important issues that will be hot topics during the upcoming November election, says Katherine. However, middle and low-income families often lack the time and access to information necessary to feel informed when voting on these issues in elections.  

Latina Initiative works year-round, rather than solely around election cycles, to increase the impact and influence of Latina voters by promoting and implementing culturally responsive, relevant and inclusive communication, education and voter engagement strategies.  

“What we are trying to do through Latina Initiative is reach the people who want to vote,” says Katherine. “If we can reach 18- to 35-year-old voters and make them a part of this democratic fabric for the rest of their lives, then we deem that impact successful.” 

Susie recognizes that youth do not always feel as if they can impact policy. The YouthScan Project aims to change this by prioritizing youth voices in decisions impacting their lives by elevating their perspectives on community issues, identifying emerging needs in real time and highlighting youth driven solutions. Partnering with young people in high schools and youth-serving organizations across Colorado, YouthScan collects data that informs decision makers about their most pressing needs and youth insights on potential solutions.  

“The project was designed to proactively connect with youth who have historically been furthest from power,” says Susie. “They do have a voice and we can tap into that with this project.”  

Neha and the team at Transformative Leadership for Change (TLC) acknowledge the systemic barriers and unique challenges faced by BIPOC nonprofit leaders.  TLC works to nurture the sustainability, solidarity and visions of these leaders through a year-long fellowship. This work empowers participants to ground their leadership in racial and healing justice, build a supportive peer network and drive ecosystem level change together.   

“We needed a space to come together and work through racial trauma, do our own healing and understand what true solidarity could look like for us,” says Neha. “Working through these issues and building community only strengthens our leadership and how we run organizations.” 

How to Support Strong & Inclusive Civic Engagement 

The panelists emphasized the importance of funding beyond election cycles, support for innovative projects that foster active participation in communities furthest from power and thoughtful reflection when making financial contributions.    

“I would ask people to think about what their path to victory is and if it includes communities that have been historically ignored,” says Katherine. “When you write or talk to a campaign organizer, ask how they are including communities of color and what they are doing to build democracy.” 

Additionally, the panelists championed the importance of long-term commitments to support BIPOC leadership and racial justice work that extends beyond election cycles and moments when these issues are in the national spotlight. 

“Take time to genuinely reflect, and then take inspired action,” says Neha.  

By continuing to collaborate and innovate, nonprofit organizations and philanthropic partners can pave a way towards civic engagement and voter participation that is inclusive, dynamic, and capable of driving meaningful change.  Learn more about Foundation grantees that are addressing civic engagement and voter participation in the Greater Denver region.  

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