Democracy in Action Fund



This grant is no longer offered. 

Grassroots organizations across Minnesota work every day to advance equity and justice. It is work that tries to restore the best of our democratic systems and institutions, and it is work we want to invest in.

The Democracy in Action Fund supports organizations that use grassroots approaches to strengthen democratic systems and institutions. The goal is to see systems and institutions that are inclusive, promote self-determination, and become more accountable to the communities they serve.  

Our 2018 Democracy in Action Fund Giving Project participants raised funds to make one-year, $10,000 general operating grants to 13 organizations. For background information on the 2018 Democracy in Action Fund, click here to read a PDF version of program guidelines.

Please contact Allison Johnson Heist if you have questions about the Fund or the Giving Project.



Areas of Interest

We believe that communities need access and power to build an inclusive, just democracy. Headwaters has identified the following areas of interest for the Democracy in Action Fund; however, we are not limited only to these topics:

  • Advancing more equitable and just public policies
  • Preparing and engaging community members to participate in public life
  • Increasing accountability of elected officials and decision makers
  • Protecting voting rights and expanding access to the ballot
  • Ensuring that every vote counts, and everyone is represented
  • Limiting outsized, undisclosed, corporate spending to influence elections
  • Protecting and expanding strong, independent, public-interest media

Note: A group does not need to be working on all these issue areas to apply for funding.

Funding Criteria 

  • The group identifies the area(s) of democracy they are working to change, influence, or strengthen; and how those changes will advance equity and justice in their community.
  • The group is led by and for people most directly impacted by the issues that the organization is working on. Group has an organized constituency base of people who are directly affected, and the organization’s leadership is reflective of and accountable to its constituency base.  
  • The group addresses the root causes or conditions of injustice through community organizing.
  • The group has a clear analysis of the structural causes behind the challenges their community faces, as well as concrete goals and strategies to build power and change systems, or generate new ones.  
  • The group sees itself as part of a larger movement for racial and economic justice, and works towards strengthening that movement in collaboration with others. Group has an intersectional, cross-issue approach that makes connections between race, class, and gender.

Prioritizing Community Organizing

We believe that the communities most affected by inequity already hold the knowledge of what needs to be done to upend those inequities. The Democracy in Action fund will support groups that use community organizing and engagement as their core strategy to bring about a more just, inclusive democracy. We recognize that there are many different approaches to community organizing and value diversity of approaches in our funding.

All Democracy in Action fund grantee organizations will share the following characteristics:  

  • Led by the people most directly affected by the issues the organization is working on.
  • Continually builds leadership from within its own membership, base, or community. Works to understand and address the root causes of the issues, not just the symptoms.
  • Brings people together to build power they wouldn’t have individually. We define power as “the capacity of a group of people to decide what they want and to act in an organized way to get it.” (Class Action, Building Bridges Across the Class Divide.)
  • Uses that power to create institutional, cultural, and structural change, which includes altering unjust power relations.  
  • Sees itself as part of a larger movement for social change, and works towards strengthening that movement.

Basic Eligibility Criteria

  • Headwaters’ support cannot be used for partisan efforts.
  • Headwaters encourages emerging and established organizations at all stages of work to apply for funding.
  • To be selected for funding, organizations must be a legally incorporated entity with 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) status or have a fiscal agent.
  • Headwaters does not fund individuals.
  • Organizations must carry out their work in Minnesota.
  • Organizations must satisfy reporting requirements for all previous grants from Headwaters.
  • The organization has limited access to mainstream funding sources.
  • The organization and work is based in Minnesota.

Ineligible Organizations & Activities

  • Requests from organizations that primarily provide direct services to individuals and families.
  • Publications, reports, workshops, classes, conferences, media events, arts, theater productions, research, or litigation efforts unless they are part of an ongoing community organizing effort.
  • Projects sponsored by a government agency. For example, Headwaters would not fund a project led by a public school district. However, we could fund a community group led by parents of color who are partnering with the public schools for example. The project must be community driven and led by those most directly affected by the problem.
  • Individuals, endowment funds, or capital campaigns.
  • Headwaters will not consider late or incomplete applications.

Proposal Must Include

  • Answers to all application questions and financial information.
  • Board and staff list, including demographics, using the template we provide
  • If 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organization:
    • 1 copy of IRS Letter of Determination
    • 1 copy of your most recently completed 990 (if your organization does not file a 990, please attach their most recent 990-EZ or 990-N)
  • If you have a fiscal agent:
    • A letter from the fiscal agent’s Executive Director verifying your fiscal relationship, dated within the last six months
    • 1 copy of the fiscal agent’s IRS Letter of Determination
    • The fiscal agent’s most recent audited financials (if your fiscal agent does not have audited financials, please attach their most recent 990, 990-EZ, or 990-N)
    • Your organization’s year-end income and expense report
    • Your organization’s year-end balance sheet

Headwaters will notify applicants approximately four months after the application deadline.

Headwaters encourages emerging organizations of all sizes and at all stages of work to apply for funding. However, if you are selected for funding, your organization must be a legally incorporated entity before we will release your grant funds. Organizations with a fiscal agent are also eligible to apply.

Incorporating as an organization is an option for groups with annual revenues under $25,000 with no employees. Please note, donations are not tax-deductible and many other foundations require IRS tax status for funding. For more information about incorporation in Minnesota visit the Secretary of State or Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Headwaters Foundation for Justice supports organizations that have a 501(c)(3) status and 501(c)(4) status; our support cannot be used for partisan efforts.

The Giving Project cohort will use the criteria for the Democracy in Action Fund grant to make decisions. A new cohort makes the grantmaking decisions each cycle, following our longstanding practices of democratic and community-led decision making.

If you would like to be involved with the next Giving Project as a cohort member responsible for fundraising and grantee selection, please contact Allison Johnson Heist.

Organizations who were awarded a New Majority Fund Grant in the summer of 2017 are eligible to apply for the Democracy in Action Fund.          

You must satisfy all reporting requirements to be eligible for future funding opportunities at Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

Yes. Current and past Community Innovation Grant or Fund of the Sacred Circle grantees are eligible to apply for a grant from the Democracy in Action Fund.

You must satisfy all reporting requirements to be eligible for future funding opportunities at Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

We will award one-year $10,000 general operating grants. The number of grants will depend on the amount the cohort raises. Based on prior experience, we estimate we’ll be able to fund between 6-12 organizations through the Democracy in Action Fund.