In recent years, there has been an outpouring of generosity for systems change initiatives. Read this article to learn about what this means and how your nonprofit can fundraise for long-term impact.

Over the past two years, COVID-19 has highlighted the magnitude of social and economic disparities while racially-motivated violence has sparked a national conversation about justice and structural racism.

In 2020, nonprofits and philanthropists propelled the important effort to address these disparities by investing in long-term systemic solutions to advance equity and wellbeing for all Americans. According to Candid, donations have surged to $8.8 billion for racial equity and $13.6 billion to COVID-19 relief efforts in the US to date. 

Two years later, change-makers continue to examine and question the large-scale and long-term systems that impact our daily lives and disproportionately disadvantage some communities in the US.


The term “systems” can be nebulous or even ominous. The systems that surround us are intentional or unintentional, formal or informal practices that dictate how something is done. Systems include health, legal, education, and many more seen and unseen. Interconnected, they tether us together in a web that forces us to interact with their structures.

Today, the systems we inhabit help some people to thrive, while leaving many others behind to struggle and suffer based on race, ethnicity, economic status, gender, location, and other human and societal differences. Systems change has therefore become a term that is widely used by the nonprofit and philanthropic community to refer to social impact initiatives for societal equity and improvement.

To change a system first you must find its shape, scope and reach, and you must name it.


In the systems that dictate health and wellbeing, a gulf exists between individuals and communities that have access to the essential conditions needed to live healthy lives and those who do not. These essential conditions include security, access to education, meaningful work, housing, a clean environment, and reliable transportation. Absence of these humane circumstances increases the demand for emergency services like acute care for illness or injury, addiction and recovery services, criminal justice, violence, and emergency services, environmental clean-up, unemployment support, food services, and shelter for the un-housed.

Changing systems that are inequitable and exclusionary will have positive long-term societal, and financial rewards. It will also require investment in time, talent, and money. Now more than ever, we need to build a future where nonprofits and funders work together to address the conditions required for equitable health and well-being.


1. Focus on foundations. 

Charitable gifts made by individuals are essential for nonprofits, however nonprofits seeking financial support for programs that initiate systems change should consider approaching foundations first. There are an estimated 85,000 grantmaking foundation in the US, and in 2021 their giving totaled over $88.5 Billion. Public, private, and family foundations are pursuing nonprofit partners using terms such as civic participation, democracy, human rights, human services, and community and economic development to identify the types of programing they wish to fund.

2. Name interconnected problems.

Social problems rarely exist in a vacuum. Addressing systematic inequity requires untangling layers of complex contributing factors. Factors that lead to social problems include gender, race, education, geographic location, ability, occupation, immigration status, religion and more. Because the struggles faced by many communities intersect, nonprofits seeking systems change foundation funding need a well-written case statement that streamlines the problems and provides clear strategies for the positive impact they will wish to have in solving them.

3. Investment equals invention.

Foundations and funders everywhere have a chance to be cutting edge investors in co-creating a new and more equitable future. Crafting thoughtful proposals and grant applications that outline opportunities for invention is critical for nonprofit fundraising success.

Partner with CCS to gain innovative fundraising strategies.

CCS Fundraising is committed to working with nonprofits to:

Philanthropy will play a critical role in ensuring systems evolve into something more equitable and beneficial for all of us.

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