NEW YORK — The foundation started by organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement is still worth tens of millions of dollars, after spending more than $37 million on grants, real estate, consultants, and other expenses, according to tax documents filed with the IRS.
In a new, 63-page Form 990 shared exclusively with The Associated Press, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation Inc. reports that it invested $32 million in stocks from the $90 million it received as donations amid racial justice protests in 2020. That investment is expected to become an endowment to ensure the foundation’s work continues in the future, organizers say.
It ended its last fiscal year – from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021 – with nearly $42 million in net assets. The foundation had an operating budget of about $4 million, according to a board member.
This is the BLM foundation’s first public accounting of its finances since incorporating in 2017. As a fledgling nonprofit, it had been under the fiscal sponsorship of a well-established charity, and wasn’t required to publicly disclose its financials until it became an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit in December 2020.
The tax filing suggests the organization is still finding its footing: It currently has no executive director or in-house staff. “It comes across as an early startup nonprofit, without substantial governance structure in place, that got a huge windfall,” said Brian Mittendorf, a professor of accounting at Ohio State University who focuses on nonprofit organizations.
The BLM movement emerged in 2013, after the acquittal of the neighborhood watch volunteer who killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida. But it was the 2014 death of Michael Brown at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, that made the slogan “Black lives matter” a rallying cry for progressives and a favorite target of derision for conservatives.
Twelve chapters, including those in Boulder, Colorado, Boston, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Los Angeles, Gary, Indiana, and Philadelphia, received pledges for grants of up to $500,000 each. The family foundations created in honor of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant and George Floyd each received contributions of $200,000.
“This 990 reveals that (the BLM foundation) is the largest Black abolitionist nonprofit organization that has ever existed in the nation’s history. What we’re doing has never been done before,” said Shalomyah Bowers, who serves as the foundation’s board secretary.
Earlier this month, the foundation announced Bowers as one of three members of its board of directors. He serves with board chair Cicley Gay, a communications professional with more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, and D’Zhane Parker, a member of BLM’s Los Angeles chapter whose work focuses on the impact of mass incarceration on families.
The foundation’s reliance on consultants is not unusual for newer nonprofits, Mittendorf said. But having clear policies around business transactions could reduce any appearance of impropriety, he said.
The tax filing indicates the foundation has a conflict-of-interest policy. And Bowers said the last BLM board approved the contract with his firm when he was not a board member.