In 1978, New York City was still reeling from the municipal fiscal crisis. The city responded by disproportionately shrinking services in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. The city closed hospitals, reduced social services, defunded schools and walled off parks.

The philanthrophic community was frozen by this implosion. It fell outside their grant categories.

Seeking a way to help local activists challenge the injustices of these cutbacks, Toby D’Oench, along with Martin Bunzl, and 26 other young people of inherited wealth, began forging a new philanthropic model. North Star Fund was born.

Influenced by the civil rights, women’s, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender, and anti-war movements, the founders pioneered the activist-led grantmaking model that remains a hallmark of North Star Fund’s approach.

The founders recognized that frontline activists from the most marginalized communities needed resources to develop strong institutions, acquire advocacy training, build their memberships, and sustain campaigns.

As it has from the beginning, North Star Fund continues to support activist groups pushing for justice around some of the most pressing issues of the day: immigrant rights, the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, reproductive rights, workers’ rights, police brutality, environmental justice, housing, and homelessness.

Even with its local vision, North Star Fund has supported groups that have become national models for community organizing:

  • Funding for the 1982 Nuclear Freeze march that is widely credited with resetting public dialog on anti-nuclear activism.
  • Grants to some of the earliest, most diverse AIDS activist groups in the country in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Supporting grassroots student and activist groups that led the disinvestment campaign against the Apartheid regime in South Africa
  • Decades of funding to challenge police violence and racial profiling that shaped the 2013 New York Mayoral race and led to the rollback of the NYPD’s ‘stop and frisk’ policies.

Activism looks different than it did three decades ago, but inequality persists, and the need for grassroots activism supported by a values-driven community foundation like North Star Fund is greater than ever.


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