The Voice of Philanthropy in Our Community


Our Vibrant Democracy Initiative Fosters Progress and Partnerships

Three interconnected efforts aim to increase equity through systems change

July 21, 2017

By Aaron Robertson

In the fall of 2016 Seattle Foundation launched the Vibrant Democracy Initiative (VDI) to strengthen the voice and participation of underrepresented communities toward more equitable systems change. After years of investing in policy and systems change, it became clear to us that not all communities have a voice in shaping the decisions that affect our region. Without these voices around the table, we cannot truly understand the needs of each community or the most effective solutions to address those needs.

Historically, funders have underinvested in communities of color and other groups, limiting the nonprofit infrastructure that works on behalf of these groups. As part of our commitment to equity and opportunity, Seattle Foundation is working to confront that legacy and strengthen community capacity to influence the future of our region through the Vibrant Democracy Initiative.

In partnership with community experts, the Vibrant Democracy Initiative was designed to lift up interconnected strategies to build community power. Through its three funding programs, VDI is bringing together efforts to strengthen the pipeline of leaders representing these communities, and activate people and build movements within and across these communities.

Nearly one year in to this approach we are thrilled by the progress we have seen through these three approaches.

• Through the first round of our Engagement Pipeline program, Seattle Foundation has committed $2.5 million to eight efforts over the next three years to support and develop new leaders within communities of color. Each grantee is tailoring its approach to a specific cultural community’s unique history and needs. Additionally, each grantee is engaging its members in impactful community change activities that create a forum to identify emerging leaders. The interest and enthusiasm for this approach has reinforced the great need for this type of support. Our initial intent was to fund a cohort of four or five projects, but we increased our budget to support more grantees due to the quality of proposals and the depth of need on the ground. 

• After a successful 2016 pilot, we have formalized a multi-year partnership with King County Elections to support voter education activities in the region’s most underrepresented communities. Through the Voter Education Fund, this partnership enables us provide training and support to reach organizations with deep relationships in their communities. Thirty grantees are currently implementing targeted voter engagement programs to increase civic participation. Several were able to join a televised mayoral debate and ask community-based questions of the candidates.

• Our Partnership Mobilization program provides flexible dollars to spark new and inclusive collaborations between community groups. This rolling funding program to build power across communities has been in place since January and has already brought new voices to voting justice efforts and connected stakeholders across the African American community in developing a collective policy agenda.  

While each of these programs is creating positive change on its own, it is the interconnection of these efforts that we believe will be transformational in our region.

To learn more about our Vibrant Democracy Initiative, contact Aaron Robertson at



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