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Three Common Questions about Funding Advocacy

Since the 2016 election, my colleagues and I have noticed one of two things: more funders considering a first-time investment in advocacy, or funders strengthening their existing commitment to fund advocacy work. In response to this surge of activity, we’ve had the opportunity to share our findings – regarding effective strategies to support advocacy campaigns – with different groups of funders. These engaging and deliberate conversations generated additional questions – from which we’ll highlight three:

  1. How can we support advocacy if my board shudders when they hear that word?

    One of the major barriers we have heard from funders is that their board members are uncomfortable with “political” work. Additionally, support of advocacy may conflict with political views of board members. In our experience, two strategies have been helpful in moving board members along. First, board members may have legal concerns about supporting advocacy. Providing education on what is permissible for your foundation in supporting advocacy (as well as what peer funders do) will be helpful in this regard. Secondly, as we learned from our findings, using your foundation’s theory of change is a helpful tool in showcasing where support for advocacy can fit in your goals. Of course, this assumes that your foundation has a theory of change and that your board is bought in! Third, sharing nonprofit grantee perspectives can be helpful to persuade board members. Grantees can share positive experiences on how their input has better informed bureaucrats and how policy issues can get in the way of mission achievement for nonprofits (as well as foundations).

  2. How do we support advocacy in our community, if we heard that advocacy doesn’t work in a red state and/or rural communities?

    The notion that supporting advocacy does not work in a red state or rural communities, is inaccurate. We have worked with funders in rural communities and conservative states who openly support advocacy work. Additionally, we’ve worked with funders that support the work of grantees enacting advocacy strategies in red states or rural environments.

  3. We only fund a small portion of what a campaign would need, so what’s the point?

    One funder is rarely flexible enough on their own to support the complex needs of an advocacy campaign. There have been some very successful funder collaborations that have been able to fill multiple gaps by leveraging different types of funders (read their operational success stories). In one situation, one funder serves as the technical assistance support, one provides unrestricted dollars, one provides rapid response funding, and one provides programmatic campaign funding. This allows the advocates to have access to numerous needed resources and allows funders to focus on what they are best poised to support. We’ve also seen similar success in Rockefeller Foundation’s transportation initiative.

We are excited to see advocacy efforts grow and evolve in response to community needs – engaging foundations of all sizes, structures, and missions. We hope you find these questions and answers useful when considering advocacy work and support – and we look forward to continuing this conversation.

Our hope is to be a continued resource as we continue analyzing results and findings from our advocacy work. The following content are the fruition of our current client work in advocacy and we invite you to use these resources to start a conversation with your board and funders:

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