Giving Compass' Take:

• Mary K. Blanusa, Stacey Chen, and Nathan Huttner offer detailed insights into building successful movements around criminal justice reform so that philanthropists can identify their opportunities for impact. 

• How does their framework align with your values? What resources can you bring to advance criminal justice reform? 

• Learn how better data can improve the criminal justice system

In 2015, criminal justice reform advocates in Oklahoma brought together businesses, health advocates, faith communities, and community leaders to form a politically and racially diverse coalition. The advocates had varied perspectives, political persuasions, and life experiences. But they shared an ambition to fundamentally reform criminal justice in their state.

Together, they built vibrant online communities, held intense, in-person town halls, knocked on doors, and persuaded their neighbors. In November 2016, their grassroots campaign helped secure passage of two ballot measures to reduce incarceration and use the cost savings to fund rehabilitation. Since this victory, the coalition has continued to rally a nonpartisan, inclusive, and powerful criminal justice reform movement to advance broader change.

Technology now provides many more ways to engage an often wary and disaffected public by creating onramps to action and by providing greater access to decision makers.

Today, philanthropists and professional advocates can leverage these advances to achieve broader social change. In the past few decades, philanthropists and advocates have tended to focus on small organizing for individual campaigns. These campaigns are driven by a core set of organizers – often professional advocates – who seek to mobilize enough grassroots support to secure policy change on a particular issue. This approach is easier for funders looking to make grants to a few high-capacity organizations that seek to advance a specific policy goal. It is also natural for advocates who prefer control over tactics and have relationships with trained activists. Campaigns focused on achieving near-term policy outcomes also can seem more readily measurable and fit within foundations’ theories of change.

In contrast, big organizing aims to build more powerful grassroots movements by finding community leaders – who may not be outspoken activists – willing to take on leadership roles, giving them more autonomy to work toward shared goals, and supporting them to solve deeply rooted problems that may require multiple policy victories, not just one reform.

Read the full article about supporting criminal justice reform by Mary K. Blanusa, Stacey Chen, and Nathan Huttner at Redstone.