Investing in Change: Why Supporting Advocacy Makes Sense for Foundations

by Ted Deutsch

May 16, 2008

Given the growing interest in funding advocacy, this brief report, which focuses in large part but not exclusively on U.S. grantmaking, provides:

  • An overview of why funders should consider investing in advocacy
  • Examples of successful, foundation-funded advocacy efforts
  • Key questions for individual philanthropists and foundation staff to consider before committing to funding advocacy.
  • Get informed from a variety of perspectives. To define clear long-term goals for change and take advantage of shortterm opportunities, seek perspective from current or former political players and advocates who can help you understand the dynamics of the issue and potential strategies. Ask grantees for their opinions, but don't rely solely on the analysis of current or prospective grantees.
  • Think broadly about how to support effective coalitions. Support building the right kind of capacity, including powerful and effective advocacy organisations and coalitions. Some coalitions reflect and grow from the grassroots level, while others might consist of established groups. Some might be homogeneous, and others might feature unusual partners or "strange bedfellows" (e.g., business and labour, conservative and liberal think tanks).
  • Consider all of the options in the advocacy tool kit. A variety of tools can be wielded to bring about change, including direct legislative lobbying, litigation, and pressuring public and private-sector organisations to change policies and practices.
  • Consider the various models available to manage campaigns. Once a grantmaker decides to support an advocacy campaign, there are several options for how to manage advocacy-oriented funding. Determine early on whether there is 1) a grantee, or coalition of grantees, that is already actively involved in a campaign or can easily take leadership; 2) a third party group that should be contracted to act as the manager for a new campaign initiated by the funder(s); or 3) the campaign would best be managed directly by foundation staff. Each approach has its own benefits and risks depending upon the issue and the funder(s).
  • Establish clearly identified, central co-ordination of campaigns. Clear co-ordination is essential to the success of campaigns. Local, grassroots, state and national efforts must be united toward a common goal, while respecting the autonomy of local, state, provincial and regional groups.
  • Be prepared to empower nonprofit leaders. Facilitate, guide and collaborate, but do not dictate to the leaders who are championing the cause.
  • Whenever possible, provide general operating support. Though it is tempting to focus exclusively on specific initiatives or campaigns,it is just as important to help grantees build their organisations' strength, and specifically, build their advocacy strength.
  • Incorporate long-term funding into advocacygrantmaking. Advocacy campaigns rarely fit into the one- or two-year funding periods of most foundations. Long-term funding gives organisations the ability to plan more realistic strategies that do not require yearly fundraising breaks.
  • Communicate effectively. When explaining the cause to elected officials, the media, and other influential individuals and organisations, deploy tested messages and well-prepared and carefully selected spokespersons. Funders of advocacy must be transparent about their objectives and stand behind them, so long as these objectives are relevant to the policy debate.
  • Where applicable, share information across local, state, provincial, regional and national boundaries. Though campaigns may e subject to separate jurisdictions, tactics from one country or region may be instructive for campaigns in another.
  • Identify and utilise credible research. Arm yourself with solid research that validates, supports and advances campaign positions. If such research does not already exist, find the resources to develop it. Also, using research data to re-assess advocacy efforts along the way will ensure the greatest chance of success.
  • Identify your adversaries and plan for their response. By choosing to advocate one position, you inevitably are arguing against other, sometimes powerful, interests.
  • Co-ordinate funding partnerships to strengthen a campaign. Multiple funders advancing the same position will maximise effectiveness when working as part of an effectively co-ordinated effort. Grantmakers who do not co-ordinate their funding for a common effort risk working at cross purposes.
  • Incorporate pragmatic and helpful evaluation requirements that do not unnecessarily overburden organisations.Evaluation of advocacy work need not be overly complex or unnecessarily distract busy organisations from their day-to-day efforts to bring about change. A significant amount of work has been done in recent years on how to evaluate advocacy, incorporating varying degrees of complexity. Foundations should take advantage of what already exists.
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