Now more than ever, funders with few or no staff should engage in or double down on advocacy.

For far too long, foundations and other philanthropists have sat on the sidelines of policy debates. As a result, many nonprofits that receive foundation support have opted out of the political process for fear of angering their benefactors. There is a cost to this silence.

Why lean funders make perfect advocates

Funders with few or no staff are perfectly positioned to fund and engage in advocacy. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s not. Smaller funders have deep ties to their communities, can be nimble and respond to emerging opportunities, and can focus in a laser-like way. Small funders have more flexibility to act quickly to changing conditions than their bigger and better funded counterparts. They are perfect for the times in which we live.

What makes foundations perfect advocates? Some of the reasons include:

  • The freedom to focus on an issue over the long term. Philanthropists have the freedom to “go deep” on an issue and commit. This is even more true for smaller funders that can take the time to listen to community leaders; learn about gaps, needs, and leverage points for change; and become experts.
  • The ability to take risks. The U.S. government gives foundations the freedom to experiment and take risks to a degree not available to institutions beholden to customers, shareholders, and voters. The power to support new and promising programs, grantees, and ideas can change the status quo.
  • The deep relationships they can forge. Small funders open doors. They operate locally and hold a wealth of connections with diverse people in their communities. Their relationships and reputations allow them to get calls answered and meetings granted, empowering them to directly engage community leaders, legislators, the business community, researchers, and others who have knowledge and influence. Small-staffed foundations have the reputation, independence, and time to convene diverse stakeholders to make sense of important issues, develop ideas and solutions, and build collective will for action.
  • The ability to be nimble and responsive. Governed and staffed by just a few individuals, small funders can move fast when needs and opportunities emerge. Agility can make a huge difference in a fast-changing advocacy and policy landscape.

Read the full article about engaging in advocacy by Andy Carroll and Jason Sabo at Exponent Philanthropy.