Policy Influence: What Foundations are Doing and Why

Foundations’ engagement in public policy has contributed to advances in society in areas from civil rights to consumer protections to public health. At the same time, and with greater intensity in recent years, the role of philanthropy in influencing policy has been the subject of scrutiny.

And yet little data is available about how many foundations engage in efforts to influence public policy, why they undertake this work, and how they approach it. So CEP studied the perspective of foundation leaders across the country on this topic. Based on survey responses from 214 foundation leaders and in-depth interviews with CEOs and staff at 43 foundations, as well as survey responses from 419 nonprofit leaders on CEP’s Grantee Voice panel, Policy Influence: What Foundations Are Doing and Why shares what we learned.

Among its key findings, Policy Influence shows that foundation leaders clearly believe in influencing policy as an important lever for change. This report seeks to provide foundation staff, leaders, and boards with data and insights that will spur them to candidly discuss philanthropic involvement in public policy — and help guide their own practices to engage in policy efforts more thoughtfully as they work to achieve their goals.

Leaders from more than a dozen policy-oriented foundations responded to five key questions that arose from this report in a series of posts on the CEP blog in summer 2020. Read the series, packaged in its entirety, here.

The survey instruments used to gather information for this report are available here.

May 2020

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