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Seattle Foundation’s conflicting community contributions

As an active movement to defund the police continues across the nation, Seattle now faces beginning reductions to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) after protestors successfully swayed Seattle’s City Council to rebalance the police budget.

But SPD doesn’t just receive its budget from the city, it also receives funds from the Seattle Police Foundation (SPF), whose purpose is to garner support for Seattle police. Through SPF, donors can help fund the police department’s operations, which many view as an obstacle to defunding the department by 50%, per demands of protestors.

SPD, which has deployed crowd control munitions on Seattle Central’s South Lawn to disperse protests, receives financial support through SPF from the Seattle Foundation.  The foundation also supports South Seattle’s, Seattle Central’s, and North Seattle’s College Foundation to provide support for these respective campuses.

In 2018, the foundation donated $26,600 to the Seattle Central College Foundation, but $182,000 to the Seattle Police Foundation, 6 times more than to Central.  

In 2019, the foundation had only donated $10,000 to the Seattle Central College Foundation, but $97,115 to the Seattle Police Foundation, 9 times more than to Central.

With funding directed towards the Seattle Police Department from both the city and the Seattle Police Foundation, Central’s security has struggled with SPD’s obligatory jurisdiction on campus to make arrests and provide assistance, when police take what officers allege is too much time to respond to emergencies, sometimes, up to an hour.

The Seattle Foundation is a community foundation, which means donors contribute to a community savings account that distributes support, while receiving tax advantages. But most grants come from donor advised funds, created by these donors to support their philanthropic interests.

DivestSPD, a group “building a coalition to pressure companies into cutting ties with the Seattle Police Department and its non-profit arm” began engaging with the Seattle Foundation, accompanied by other community leaders, last week.

A representative from DivestSPD, Justin, says they’re demanding a greater spend of their endowment and diverting more donor advised funds to Black and indigenous communities. According to his numbers, only 3% of the foundation’s annual grants go to BIPOC led/supporting groups.

He says that though the Seattle Foundation has had a positive impact on support communities, the contributions to the Seattle Police Foundation “undermines their commitment to social justice,” because of the police’s excessive use of force and prejudice against the Black community across the country.

“They gotta pick a side,” Justin said. “You don’t really get to have it both ways.”

Steve Hill, a trustee at the Seattle Foundation and at Seattle Colleges, says the donors with funds at the Seattle Foundation directed grants to the Seattle Police Foundation.

He says that for these grants directed by donors’ interests, the Board had established a policy that grants from the Seattle Foundation would not be directed to organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Policy Law Center Hate List, which is currently under review.

Hill also adds that as Seattle Foundation’s CEO, Tony Mestres, collaborates with stakeholders and community leaders, his team is working to develop a policy proposal to the Board of Trustees on updating anti-discrimination criteria for grant-making.

The Seattle Foundation has funded and developed numerous projects to support equity and opportunity, such as the Communities of Opportunity, Vibrant Democracy Initiative, and Neighbor to Neighbor initiatives.

 “At the end of the day, they’re still taking credit for the millions upon millions that they are distributing, whether the donors are doing it or the staff is or not,” said Justin, “but when it comes to the bad stuff, they say, oh, well, that’s just some of our donors.”

Amid a global pandemic that is drastically decreasing college enrollment, the Seattle Foundation only provides 14 scholarships for students, just a small slice from its endowment.

Currently, community leaders discussing with the Seattle Foundation want the Foundation to increase its share of endowment to spend annually to 20%, up from about 13%, according to DivestSPD. As of the foundation’s 2019 990 Form, their endowment is over $1 billion.

Michele Frix, the Seattle Foundation’s Chief Strategy Officer and Chief of Staff, who is leading the effort, did not respond to requests for comment.


Alexa Villatoro

Alexa is an avid journalist seeking an A.A. with an emphasis on Global Studies at Seattle Central College. She's interested in pursuing investigative journalism to report on social struggles like immigration, civil rights, and access to education in South and North America. She is currently working to cover budget cut reforms at Central and civil rights movements in Seattle. Alexa is also a Youth Council Member at OneAmerica, advocating for greater access to quality education for immigrants and refugees in WA. She is a first-generation American who has travelled to 13 countries to explore world cultures and politics.

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