Using private funding to catalyze sustainable public investment: A proven model for success

Because safeguarding people’s rights is a public duty that should ultimately be funded by government, public-private partnerships can be developed strategically to advance the ultimate goal of a publicly funded and sustainable program. For example, Vera’s SAFE Initiative began with public-private partnerships: each jurisdiction received $100,000 in “catalyst funds” during its first year to incentivize the government’s initial commitment of public dollars and work toward sustainability. To date, all jurisdictions that received the catalyst funding have renewed their funding in subsequent years, and more than two-thirds of those jurisdictions have increased their public commitments since the program’s first year.Vera Institute of Justice, Rising to the Moment: Advancing the National Movement for Universal Representation over Three Years of the SAFE Initiative. (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2020), 10,

Similarly, the Samuel S. Fels Fund used $300,000 in private funding to incentivize the city of Philadelphia to maintain and expand its commitment to the Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project during its first three years, helping ensure growth and sustainability after the pilot year. According to Sarah Martinez-Helfman, president of the Fels Fund, “No one should stand alone when facing deportation. So the Fels Fund decided to take a stand in the most collaborative way we could—with matching dollars to encourage the City to increase its funding. Then COVID-19 hit, and the City erased its commitment. We relied on champions in City Council and the [city’s] Immigrant Affairs Office who advocated internally, while immigrant leaders, organizers, nonprofit attorneys, and Vera mounted a brilliant advocacy and media campaign. At Fels, we joined their strategy sessions and followed their lead; we wrote letters, made calls, and held firm on the matching conditions. The win only came through a united strategy and a lot of trust.”Sarah Martinez-Helfman, president, Samuel S. Fels Fund, October 26, 2020, via e-mail.

Other jurisdictions have used private funds to expand the scope of services a program provides. For example, the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MIMA) worked closely with Open Society Institute – Baltimore to launch a comprehensive public-private partnership that funds multiple organizations to provide community education and engagement as well as representation services for immigrants who are not detained.Open Society Institute Baltimore (OSI), MIMA, and Vera Institute of Justice, SAFE City Baltimore: An Immigrant Education & Defense Fund (Baltimore: OSI and MIMA, 2018), MIMA helps coordinate the program, and the foundation encouraged the mayor to set aside public dollars for detained legal services, which began in 2018.