The Labor Innovations for the 21st Century Fund (LIFT) Fund is a first-of-its-kind fund dedicated to supporting collaboration around new forms of worker organizing. Established in 2011 as a partnership between the AFL-CIO and philanthropic institutions, the LIFT Fund supports projects that lead the field and push the edges of how worker centers and labor unions collaborate to support worker organizing.

The LIFT Fund offers donors the opportunity for collaborative cross-sector learning and the opportunity to expand their reach in the field. The fund is committed to increasing collaboration between philanthropy and the labor movement by pooling scarce resources to build a common agenda and investing those resources into new forms of organizing, innovative approaches that broaden alliances and energizing community-labor alliances to meet the foreseeable challenges of the future.

The LIFT Fund seeks to foster an environment of learning, experimentation, and innovation that provides value for the broader field of worker organizing and Fund members.  Here are some of our core strategies and activities:


We are at a moment when many segments of society are exploring questions around the “future of work”, and as a response the LIFT Fund has invested in collaborations and partnerships that are exploring ways to innovate and create new models for organizing workers. We are bringing together the best thinking from labor, worker centers, and other actors looking to build worker power and assure the discussion on the future of work includes the voices of the workforce.

A Learning Hub

Through our work since 2011, the LIFT Fund has become a hub of insight and learning about innovation in worker organization across the fields of philanthropy, labor unions and worker centers. Both funders and grantees are learning and experimenting with new strategies through their respective roles and documenting the investments and impact of these unique contributions to a greater labor movement. Key activities include:

Learning Agenda: The LIFT Fund funders collaborate to develop a learning agenda to inform their work both inside the fund and in their own grantmaking. Through our bird-eye view we develop learning questions that go alongside our grant making and aim to address broader questions about how workers build power, our changing economy and how to center race, gender, and immigration in our analysis of strategies to build worker power and our analysis of the economy? Recent learning topics include: A Deeper Dive into Models and Infrastructure of Worker Organizing, Intersection of Worker Organizing and Political Power, Labor Law Reform, Technology and Worker Organizing

LIFT Learning Days: A key feature of participating in the LIFT Fund, the Learning Days are opportunities for LIFT Funders and a few guests, to be on the ground with our grantees and other local leaders to engage in deep learning while explore key questions about their work and campaigns. Through a carefully thought out agenda and complementing activities these learning experiences include:

  • a look at the region’s political and economic context, and review of recent trends affecting workers, organizing, unions, companies, etc.
  • storytelling components which weave together the story of the organizations, the communities, and the issues faced. We explore the goals, objectives and strategies of the campaigns and how the collaboration(s) came to be.
  • In-depth discussions across organizations on the ground that incorporate discussions of the collaborative project, of the political and economic context, of networked and collaborative approaches of the groups in the ecosystems, barriers, and challenges.

A key feature of the learning days is collaborative reflection and analysis among funders to take their own learning and strategy development to the next level. In 2020, we held a learning day in Minneapolis, MN in February and virtually in Birmingham, AL in September some of the locations where we currently have grantees. Our 2021 learning days will depend on our new cohort of grantees.

Documenting and Supporting Experimentation

The LIFT fund is currently experimenting with ways to document the progress of campaigns in real time, to capture learning related to fostering, managing and successfully navigating these partnerships, and document successes and failures of experimental strategies. The goal is to share key learnings with the broader field  as part of the feedback loop for partnerships trying out new practices or hoping to scale initiatives to further amplify experimentation and collaboration within the labor movement.

Based on feedback from our grantees we now understand that there needs to be a  towards strategy and targets (some things cannot be shared at particular times), buy in, and a creative process by which to document and share.


The LIFT Fund regularly supports research that documents the leading edges for worker organizing. For all of the recent projects, see the research tab on the upper left-hand corners.

In December 2020, we released research by Beth Gutelius, Ph.D., and Sanjay Pinto, Ph.D., on Digital Platforms and Worker Empowerment. This research will map key platforms, propose a framework for understanding their impact, and begin to develop a community of practice through which developers, users, and other stakeholders can share challenges and best practices. The lessons from this project will be of interest across the labor movement. This research is part of our efforts to learn and share how digital organizing builds worker power in the labor movement. See our LIFT Publications On Digital Organizing page.

Supporting our grantees and the Field

The LIFT fund has consistently provided timely and necessary technical assistance and resources to our grantees to meet challenges of their evolving campaigns. We also regularly hold national and regional convenings and training to support the broader field, and to strengthen relationships and strategy development among diverse worker organizations.  These are some of our recent programs and strategies:

  • Mini-grants program provides technical assistance and tactical support to the partnerships by helping with key needs from strategy development to organizational issues, to supporting and nurturing partnerships.
  • The Peer Exchange Program in 2019 which involved 30 organizations, facilitated (3) three regional trainings for worker centers focused on digital strategies for worker organizing. These hands-on training were led by the O2O Strategy Group, where participants learned about online to offline organizing models to help them advance sustainable and scalable campaigns that organize to win change.
  • Safeguarding Against Opposition Attacks: the LIFT Fund has partnered with NELP, and most recently with JW,J to support worker centers to innovate in their organizational form(s) to enable ambitious worker organizing while minimizing their legal risks and reducing their risk of attacks. Our webinars have reached over 100 organizations and more detailed supports are being developed to be implemented over the next year.
  • Convening Spaces: We hold critical convenings to build community and advance strategies by supporting and creating space to address the most imperative needs of the labor movement. Our 2018 national convening focused on Digital Strategies for Worker Organizing and our 2020 national convening, while still developing, will likely focus on building worker power in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

COVID-19 Response

Throughout the current COVID-19 pandemic, LIFT recognizes our grantees need more support. Upon surveying our grantees we realized that the needed support in using and building up their digital platforms and strategies so they could organize in this new environment and strategies to support their membership base and build worker power. Organizations faced difficulties working remotely, needs for updated infrastructure of either websites or databases online and new strategies for building based online and taking leadership development needs online as well. To address these needs, the LIFT fund is doing the following:

  • Partnering with CIWO and PowerLabs to create a peer learning space between grantee partners and other labor organizations to think strategically on how to enhance their worker organizing strategies in a time of remote work and online organizing to keep organizing and building worker power while developing new relationships.
  • Sharing out key resources and opportunities to our previous grantee network via monthly emails, offered by philanthropic institutions, labor organizations, academic institutions, and other organizations.
  • Creating a digital capacity needs pooled fund: This pooled fund provides access to funding to our grantees to adopt technologies or implement digital tactics that serve their overall organizing strategy.

The LIFT Fund collaborative fund includes the following donors who set the direction of the Fund: the AFL-CIO, the Ford Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, the Omidyar Network, the Open Society Foundations, the Tara Health Foundation, the Solidago Foundation, and the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock.