Democracy Lens

Democracy Lens

The Democracy Lens

Philanthropy Northwest’s Democracy Lens is a tool to help grantmakers recognize their capacities to create a more vibrant democracy in their states and communities. Using the project's case studies and data, democracy-focused funders can refine their strategy goals, and other funders can identify aspects of their work that involve the strengthening of democracy. With a wider understanding of the issues, grantmakers can address dissatisfaction in public institutions by reinvigorating communities' self-determination and engagement in policy. The Democracy Lens highlights how philanthropy can enhance public discourse, civic participation and effective citizenship, as well as revealing places for improvement by exploring examples of democracy-building initiatives.


Bright Spots

The Democracy Lens’ Bright Spots examine successful democracy-improving initiatives in the Northwest. Alongside the broader context of democracy efforts across each state in our region, each case study illustrates a change made to address a governing problem, the impact of that change and philanthropy’s role in the implementation. These solutions to civic participation issues have inspired other communities to replicate their success and experiment with their own democracy retooling efforts. 

The Bright Spots will be an ongoing collection of examples from across our region. 


Democracy Lens Data Indicators

Data provide a window into the health of democracy in the Northwest. Statistics include the political representation of women and people of color, foundation funding toward direct and indirect outcomes that build democracy, the number of nonprofit local media sources, and voter turnout and registration rates. Combined with the Bright Spots, the data paint a clearer picture of where funders can address shortcomings in the democratic processes of the region.


Regional Data
Number of democracy-building grants* in the Northwest region in 2012, 2013 and 2014: 550
Number of funders: 66
Total grant amount: $73,176,594
Median grant amount: $29,042

*All grants are at least $5,000 from foundations making at least $15,000 in aggregate contributions.


Intentionality by Grant Focus
Philanthropy Northwest evaluated the democracy-building grants in the Northwest in 2012, 2013 and 2014, scored them along a spectrum of intentionality to strengthen democracy, and assessed how the funding was distributed across the categories on the spectrum.


Examples of specific grants in the Northwest that align with categories on the spectrum:

Intentionality Score


1: Mission-driven practices indirectly strengthening democratic citizenship

The Rasmuson Foundation granted $25,000 to Anchorage Botanical Garden to support broadband internet infrastructure in Anchorage, AK.

2: Community-building and collaborative activities

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation granted $62,000 to Wyoming Community Foundation to add staff and expand coverage in the statewide independent news service, WyoFile.

3: Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion

Meyer Memorial Trust granted $175,000 to McKenzie River Gathering Foundation to build the organization's capacity to support community-based organizations in Oregon working to achieve social justice.

4: Public policy development & advocacy

Northwest Area Foundation granted $100,000 to Jannus, Inc., for the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

5: Civic engagement & deliberative democracy

The Bullitt Foundation granted $45,000 for coordination of Montana's Conservation Working Group and non-partisan voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote activities.

6: Democratic reform

The Oregon Community Foundation granted $5,000 to Healthy Democracy for general support of a multi-phase effort to evaluate the viability of a campaign to reform campaign finance laws in the state of Oregon, convene stakeholders and strategize a campaign for reform.


Philanthropy's Role in Improving Democracy

Utilizing data from the Democracy Lens, funders can identify the strengths and areas for improvement in advancing democracy their own communities. From 2012 to 2014, about one percent of foundation grants to the Northwest focused on a democracy-related cause. In that same timespan, only around three percent of democracy-focused grants in the Northwest aimed to directly improve democratic processes, leaving a significant opportunity for expansion. With the Bright Spots as a starting place for identifying creative avenues for philanthropic involvement, funders can glean insights into political process issues faced by Northwest communities, plus potential solutions that require their leadership.