Tempering the Immigration Debate: An Assessment of the American Dream Fund

by Tony Mecia

Mar 10, 2008
In 2003, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation joined with Ford, Carnegie and others in a national effort to encourage immigrant civic participation, and a year later, Knight adopted a variation of that strategy: funding a wide array of local, grassroots nonprofits in Knight communities. Its name: the American Dream Fund. A review of reports and interviews with nearly 20 people involved in all facets of the American Dream Fund shows that:
  • It does appear to be meeting its broad goals of helping integrate immigrants into the civic fabric of some of the Knight communities. Because of the loosely defined nature of engaging immigrants in civic life, the overall effect might be less than the transformational change the foundation seeks.
  • The 47 funded organizations represent a wide cross-section of nonprofits, in terms of immigrant communities served and program interests. Some are interested in advocacy, some in providing services, some in both. Most grants in the first phase starting in December 2005 were for $50,000 over two years. Public Interest Projects, which administers the fund, has determined that 18 of the 47 grantees do not work in areas related to naturalization. Funding of those groups will cease.
  • Previous Knight Foundation staff was aware and supportive of the advocacy component of the program.
  • American Dream Fund grant recipients report that they have become very active in networking and collaborating with national and local groups, according to the Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry, the hired evaluator of the program. Creating such links was described as a "key component" of the program at its inception. Grant recipients say their greatest need is for assistance in fund raising and other sustaining technical help.
  • American Dream Fund grants went to 22 of the 26 Knight communities, not all 26 as envisioned. Public Interest Projects says identifying viable organizations that work with immigrants in some of the small communities was a challenge.
  • Knight Foundation and Public Interest Projects underestimated the amount of staffing needed to oversee so many grants and to help grantees
  • The American Dream Fund does appear to be meeting its broad goals of helping integrate immigrants into the civic fabric of some of the Knight communities. Because of the loosely defined nature of engaging immigrants in civic life, the overall effect might be less than the transformational change the foundation seeks.
  • The 47 organizations funded through the American Dream Fund represent a wide cross-section of nonprofits, in terms of immigrant communities served and program interests. Some are interested in advocacy, some in providing services, some in both. Most grants in the first phase starting in December 2005 were for $50,000 over two years. Public Interest Projects, which administers the fund, has determined that 18 of the 47 grantees do not work in areas related to naturalization. Funding of those groups will cease.
  • Previous Knight Foundation staff was aware and supportive of the advocacy component of the program. American Dream Fund grant recipients report that they have become very active in networking and collaborating with national and local groups, according to the Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry, the hired evaluator of the program. Creating such links was described as a "key component" of the program at its inception. Grant recipients say their greatest need is for assistance in fund raising and other sustaining technical help.
  • American Dream Fund grants went to 22 of the 26 Knight communities, not all 26 as envisioned. Public Interest Projects says identifying viable organizations that work with immigrants in some of the small communities was a challenge.
  • Knight Foundation and Public Interest Projects underestimated the amount of staffing needed to oversee so many grants and to help grantees.
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