Words to Give By

I’ve linked to a new report from the Council on Philanthropy and the Alliance for Justice–Words to Give By. It features interview selections with a sample of some of the most influential leaders in the philanthropic community, especially those whose foundations have experience contributing to advocacy. They talk about where they see nonprofit advocacy headed, what has been rewarding for their organizations about this work, and how they would advise other foundations to approach advocacy funding. I read it last night, and it was a lot of fun.

Highlights:

  • The former CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation takes his fellow funders to task, in a way, for the claim that they can’t/shouldn’t give to advocacy because it’s difficult to measure its outcomes. He points out that that’s the case for a lot of the work that foundations do support (he gives the example of mentoring)–advocacy is ‘messy’ (his word, but I really like it) to measure, and sometimes success is nebulous, but we know that it does work, and it should not be held to a different or higher standard than other interventions.
  • The former ED of the Surdna Foundation makes the essential point that, really, it’s impossible to separate advocacy from program. If people took this to heart, I believe it could lead to my ideal–every social service program integrating advocacy on the public policies that impact their work into their programming, in a seamless and synergistic way. It would be expected of organizations, and organizations would expect such support from their donors.
  • The President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation states, “advocacy on behalf of our constituents is essential to ensure that public funds, which will dwarf the amount of private resources in scope and amount, are used effectively and applied towards the needs of displaced residents and communities that historically have had access to the fewest resources.” (in quotes to prove that she really said it, even though it’s the same thing that I say in all of my policy classes!)
  • One of the most provocative and, I think, fascinating sections is from the former Executive Director of the Public Welfare Foundation (with a long history of funding advocacy). He points to the liberals’ ‘obsession for neutral, unbiased research and action’ as a barrier to foundations’ vigorous support for advocacy, where, almost by definition, you have to take a strong value stance and, inevitably, make some people on ‘the other side’ angry. There’s a lot of truth to this; I find that my students, even, are often somewhat hesitant to really call out their opponents on a given policy issue, because social workers often try to see things from multiple points of view and find common ground, when what we need sometimes is a line drawn in the sand.

    There is a lot more of value here, both for foundations that are considering contributing to advocacy and for nonprofit advocates who want some insights into donors’ minds or need some tools they can use to convince donors to step into advocacy. Check it out, and thanks, yet again, to the folks at Alliance for Justice. You guys rule.

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