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Effective Matters: Philanthropy’s Role in Policy Advocacy

Date: September 30, 2022

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As the 2022 midterms approach, election season campaigning and policy advocacy are in full swing. For funders, this can represent a moment of tension over whether to engage in advocacy work — and how to do so. Historically, philanthropy has had a significant influence on public policy, from civil rights to public health and many other issues. Yet, many foundations fear backlash from policy engagement, and the work can feel significantly more fraught than other grantmaking activities. In this month’s special edition of the Effective Matters newsletter, we present resources and perspectives on policy advocacy for and from the philanthropic sector, including examples of funder advocacy in action and tools for funders interested in engaging in advocacy.

Resources for Grantmakers

Bolder Advocacy: Philanthropy Advocacy Playbook

For nonprofits and grantmakers, advocacy comes with clear rules and limitations depending on your organization’s tax code classification. The Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program provides information for (and works with) grantmakers interested in advocacy and lobbying to answer questions about legal rules and provide examples, resources, and tips for getting involved in advocacy work.

Giving Compass: Collection of Resources on Philanthropy and Advocacy
In this article, Giving Compass collects resources, coursework, and collaboratives for funders interested in policy work to learn from.

CEP Report: Policy Influence: What Foundations are Doing and Why
How many foundations actually engage in efforts to influence public policy? How and why do they undertake this work? This CEP report delves into these questions and shares funder perspectives on policy advocacy based on surveys with more than 200 foundation leaders and in-depth interviews with 43 foundation staff and leaders.

Perspectives on Advocacy from Sector Leaders

Think Your Foundation Can’t Engage in Election Season Advocacy? Think Again.
Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, interim program director of Bolder Advocacy at the Alliance for Justice, shares 10 actions that foundations and foundation staff can take this election season to boost voter participation.

Foundations and Policy Engagement: Insights in Their Own Words
CEP asked leaders at more than a dozen policy-focused foundations five questions about their work and their motivations. Read their answers and learn more about what foundations are doing when it comes to policy engagement — and why — in this blog series.

When Philanthropy Meets Advocacy
In this article from Stanford Social Innovation Review, authors Patrick Guerriero and Susan Wolf Ditkoff paint a picture of the landscape facing funders interested in advocacy that is as true now as it was in 2018: while there is plenty of impetus to pursue mission-aligned work through policy advocacy, funders face a vitriolic atmosphere and uncertainty about what is allowed. The authors break down these issues and provide a guide to engaging in policy influence.

Shifting Capital and Funder Behavior: What Philanthropic Advocacy Means to Us
In an interview with philanthropic advisor Jennifer Near, the Kataly Foundation delves into the ‘why’ of funder advocacy and organizing. Near makes the case that philanthropy must do more than listening, using philanthropic advocacy to “shift harmful practices and ultimately transform our sector.”

Philanthropic Advocacy in Action

Giving Done Right: Rooted in Community with Gladys Vega

In the season premiere of CEP’s Giving Done Right podcast, we hear from activist and community organizer Gladys Vega, executive director of La Colaborativa as she discusses, among other things, the vital importance of both direct service and policy work to tackle immediate community needs as well as address root causes. Vega illustrates clearly why both kinds of work are necessary to create sustainable change within a community.

Philanthropy and Policy: Undue Influence or Crucial Strategic Lever?
Revisit this session from CEP’s 2019 conference to hear Ellie Buteau present data from a CEP research study on foundations’ influence on policy, followed by a panel discussion including Wilburforce Executive Director Paul Beaudet, Marguerite Casey Foundation Board Member Carmen Rojas, and The New York Community Trust President Lorie A. Slutsky, moderated by CEP’s Kevin Bolduc. The panelists share examples of advocacy work they have engaged in and address why this work is crucial.

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