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4 Ideas to Help Your Foundation Discuss Advocacy

Foundations that fund and engage in advocacy know advocacy is often more of an art than a science. Given that, if you ask 10 foundation presidents for a definition of “advocacy,” you will likely receive 10 different answers. Without a clear and consistent understanding of what advocacy is and isn’t, foundations may avoid funding and supporting advocacy. As a result, foundations and their grantees may miss out on advocacy-related activities, opportunities, strategies, and partnerships that could advance their missions and work.

Let’s consider four ways to help your foundation discuss advocacy. If your foundation is already engaged in advocacy, an advocacy discussion may deepen and strengthen your existing work; and if your foundation is not engaged in advocacy, an advocacy discussion may lead you to consider it.

  1. Think about the definition of advocacy. How do you define it? Here is our definition:

“While all lobbying is advocacy, not all advocacy is lobbying. Advocacy is an action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. It includes public education, regulatory work, litigation, and work before administrative bodies, lobbying, voter registration, voter education, and more.”

  1. View advocacy as one of many strategies. Unlike education, health, housing, or the arts — which are common issue areas of foundations — advocacy is not a discrete issue area. Rather, it is a strategy or mode of giving that can help enhance work in any issue area. Direct services, scholarships, and in-kind gifts are other strategies or modes of giving. According to Bolder Advocacy’s publication, Investing in Change: A Funders Guide to Supporting Advocacy, advocacy strategies are uniquely helpful, because they are:
    • Investments that can lead to systemic change.
    • Ways to leverage the impact of available funds.
    • Means of strengthening the voice of the underrepresented and provides policymakers with information they need to know.
    • Opportunities that help foundations achieve their missions and help public charities reach their goals.
    • Approaches to bolster a foundation’s unique role in bringing together diverse members of the community around an issue.
  1. Consider how advocacy can further a foundation’s mission. Pause for a moment, and write down your foundation’s mission statement. Next, write down the mission statements of three of your grantees. Then, ask yourself these questions:
    • Do I believe in these mission statements?
    • Do I take action to help advance these mission statements?
    • Are these mission statements challenging to accomplish?

If you answered “yes” to the all the questions, you may already be an advocate for bold missions. So, the remaining question is: are you advocating boldly?

  1. Discuss advocacy with your staff and/or trustees, and consider the following:
    • Reach out to a foundation peer who already engages in and funds advocacy, and ask him/her to be a guest speaker at your next staff or trustee meeting.
    • Talk with your grantees about their advocacy activities, opportunities, and challenges, and how you can support them.
    • Ask your foundation staff and/or trustees what barriers may be stopping them from engaging in or funding advocacy, and see how those barriers can be addressed or demystified.
    • Go to Bolder Advocacy’s website to read resources (from the Focus on Foundations section of our website), request a workshop training, or call our free 5-day-per-week technical assistance hotline staffed by our attorney coaches.

We just shared four ideas that can help your foundation’s staff, trustees, and grantees discuss advocacy. If you or members of your foundation engage in and fund advocacy, please share your ideas with us. How does your foundation discuss advocacy? What has worked well?  What hasn’t worked well? What are you trying now?

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