How Philanthropy Can Help End Toxic Polarization in America – and Protect Democracy

The rise of political polarization and as a result, growing incivility and intolerance among Americans, has emerged as a significant threat to our democracy. 

At Philanthropy Roundtable, we believe philanthropy is uniquely positioned to address the challenge of polarization, bringing together people with diverse experiences, skills, knowledge and backgrounds to develop the most effective ideas and solutions to tackle today’s most pressing problems. We seek to amplify the voices of those who promote equality for all and pursue innovative efforts that uplift communities, embrace diversity and bring people together. 

One specific method to enable an ecosystem that uplifts and empowers diverse voices and encourages dialogue among people is through depolarization efforts. Though there are many organizations focused on these efforts, below are a few resources and key thought leaders doing significant work in this growing space:

  • The American Exchange Project:  The American Exchange Project, a nonprofit organization founded and led by David McCullough III, aims to expand American teenagers’ understanding of and experience with diverse communities across the country, including people of varying socioeconomic status and cultures. AEP brings together high school students in rural and urban areas, middle America and the coasts – and in doing so, the organization is exposing this next generation of voters to perspectives and ideas that challenge, encourage and foster the development of their value system before they embark upon college and career.
  • Braver Angels:  Braver Angels, the brainchild of co-founders David Blankenhorn, David Lapp and Bill Doherty, seeks to “help Americans understand each other beyond stereotypes, form community alliances and reduce the vitriol that poisons our civic culture” by bringing people with diverse viewpoints together at the grassroots level.
  • Heterodox Academy: Heterodox Academy is a nonpartisan collaborative of thousands of professors, administrators and students committed to enhancing the quality of research and education in our country by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning. 
  • One America Movement:  Founded and led by Andrew Hanauer, One America Movement’s mission is to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. To do this, organization leaders encourage interaction among people of differing religious, political and racial backgrounds, and partner with faith communities to foster dialogue through community forums and customized training.
  • OpenMind:  OpenMind’s mission is to equip the next generation of Americans with the habit of using “heart and mind to bridge divides.” The organization seeks to help people “recognize our shared humanity, embrace our differences as strengths and work together to solve our collective challenges.”
  • StoryCorps One Small Step:  Founded and led by StoryCorps’ Dave Isay, One Small Step brings “two people who are ‘political enemies’ face to face under very, very specific conditions, … fosters a conversation between them, [and] ushers in a visceral emotional experience, allowing hate to melt away and people to see each other in a new way.” Each interview begins as participants read each other’s biographies aloud, inspiring them to remember we all have a story, a family and experiences with worth and value. 

Last year, Philanthropy Roundtable hosted a discussion with the founders of three of these philanthropically supported groups with distinct approaches to reducing polarization: David Isay of StoryCorps, Jonathan Haidt of Heterodox Academy and David Blankenhorn of Braver Angels. In this conversation, they discussed their distinct approaches to reducing polarization – and how they are convincing donors to get involved.

As philanthropy seeks to evaluate and fund depolarization and diversity efforts, we look forward to seeing increased funding invested in impactful approaches – with the end goal of helping individuals, families and communities flourish.

If you’re interested in investing in these organizations or Philanthropy Roundtable’s True Diversity initiative, please visit Philanthropy Roundtable’s website for more information.

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