Question: How — and when and why — does your foundation use its own voice, separate from grantmaking, to influence public policy?

Blue Shield of California Foundation
By Debbie Chang, President and CEO

As a corporate foundation, we speak up when we feel our voice would help to bring more weight to issues aligned with our bold goal of making California the healthiest state with the lowest rate of domestic violence, and when our values — equity, possibility, partnership, and integrity — compel us to act.

No matter how we decide to weigh in, our policy and program work go hand in hand. Our policy approach is strongest when we build on what we have learned from our program investments, and from our grantees and the communities they serve.   Our voice allows us to bring our full knowledge of health and well-being, gleaned from strong partnerships and from listening to grantees, to statewide and national policy conversations.

Community Foundation Boulder County
Chris Barge, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives

It is generally not our style to stand at a lectern and speak to a specific policy issue. We prefer to stand with our neighbors who know a particular struggle the best, and find ways to lift up their voices.

The primary way we do this is through our TRENDS reporting initiative, which shares more than 150 indicators of our community’s social, economic, and environmental health to inform and engage local residents and civic leaders. In addition to a biennial magazine on these issues, we now have a TRENDS podcast in partnership with local KGNU Community Radio, as well as a TRENDS Diary that provides first-person accounts of connecting and solving problems during social isolation. Upcoming projects include a “COVID TRENDS Special Report” that will document the local impact of the pandemic, a reporting fellowship for local reporters interested in deepening their coverage of pressing community needs, reporting stipends, and a new solutions fund designed to catalyze community response to issues raised by this reporting.

The Healing Trust
Meredith Sullivan Benton, Vice-President, Programs and Advocacy

We survey our grantee partners annually to create our advocacy agenda, and our Board then approves three to five focus areas. Our current advocacy agenda focuses on the 2020 Census, healthcare access, trauma-informed schools, health equity, and voter participation during COVID-19.

Once we have listened to our grantees and identified focus areas, we use our voice to advance this agenda by sending letters, making calls, hosting meetings, submitting public comments, and promoting opportunities for grantee partner engagement. We also use our active social media platforms to raise awareness and issue calls to action. Our grantee partners appreciate our voice because we can take risks that they cannot due to the potential loss of funding or relationships.

Read the full article about foundations using their voices by Naomi Orensten and Ethan McCoy at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.