In an era when government has become less capable of solving problems due to increasing political polarization, dysfunction, and fiscal austerity, philanthropists are recognizing the need to support effective policy reform efforts that can break through the gridlock and make meaningful progress in addressing the issues they care about — whether it’s climate change, education, poverty, racial justice, health, or something else. Historically, many foundations had been reluctant to embrace advocacy, and some would argue that philanthropy — despite some discrete victories, such as the Atlantic Philanthropies’ support for healthcare reform — has had a limited impact on the policy arena.

However, funders are increasingly turning to policy advocacy as a lever for change and, in some cases, experimenting with institutional and staffing structures, or seeking to use their convening power and influence in addition to grants, to advance policy change.

Arabella Advisors recently interviewed a diverse group of 11 philanthropies to learn how they are approaching advocacy. We identified four common threads across these interviews that represent promising funder practices for advancing advocacy.

  1. Philanthropists are increasingly willing to spend on lobbying and elections and are creating institutional structures that allow them to do so.
  2. Foundations are creating advocacy teams with specialized experience to support their program officers and grantees — and that sometimes play a lead role in driving advocacy campaigns.
  3. Foundations are investing significant resources into convening and network building to encourage strategic alignment among their advocacy grantees.
  4. Funders are investing in long-term field building through multiyear grants, general operating support, and new capacity-building programs for their advocacy grantees.

Not all these practices are new. There is, however, significant experimentation among advocacy funders as they become more creative about their approaches to advancing policy change. We expect innovation to continue as philanthropists increasingly recognize that advocacy is an indispensable lever for impact on the issues they care about most.

Read the full article about promising practices for philanthropies by Loren McArthur at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.