Creating Momentum: The Atlantic Philanthropies' Investments to Repeal the Death Penalty in the United States

by Kay E. Sherwood; Michael Quinn Patton

May 1, 2016

The Atlantic Philanthropies invested about $60 million between 2004 and 2016 to support efforts to repeal the death penalty in the United States. To assess the effectiveness of this work and to generate lessons for human rights activists and other funders involved in the repeal movement, the foundation commissioned this evaluation. The findings contained in this report are the result of extensive documentation review as well as interviews with foundation and grantee board and staff.

  • Consensus-building and distributed funding can enable deepened relationships and coordinated responses to emergent opportunities
  • Using a consensus-based process for distributing funding can reduce competition and increase the coordination habits among the field of advocates
  • If advocacy is occurring in a complex dynamic environment, which is most often the case, the advocacy funding and strategies will need to be flexible, adaptable and agile.
  • If knowledgeable and engaged, foundation program officers can better understand and support adaptation to emergent conditions that affect successful advocacy
  • If foundation staffing is lean, re-granting and pooling funds are strategic options.
  • If failure is recognized, it is possible to learn from it, and move on quickly.
  • If the grantmaking and advocacy work are occurring in a complex dynamic system, ongoing situation and contextual analyses are critical.
  • If flexibility and adaptability are valued as essential to increasing impact, then funding, supporting, and employing a variety of tactics will be important.
  • If knowledge is to support action and adaptability, then support for research should be part of the funding mix.
  • If grantmaking and initiatives are grounded in complexity theory, program and policy evaluation must also be grounded in complexity theory to support strategic learning.
  • Integration, interdependence, and interconnectedness are the building blocks of success.
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