For organizations pursuing policy and advocacy work, there are several important questions to consider: Are we creating significant connections with the people who are intended to benefit most from advocacy and policy change efforts? How are we including and elevating the voices of those most impacted by the policies we aim to change or improve? For example, how are we engaging with the communities experiencing the effects of climate change to ask what is important to them in the crafting and implementation of climate resilience projects?

To begin to answer these questions, Shared Insight asked the Aspen Planning and Evaluation Program at the Aspen Institute to conduct a landscape scan. Shared Insight aims to improve philanthropy by elevating the voices of those least heard, ensuring that foundations and nonprofits are meaningfully connected to each other and to the people and communities we seek to help — and more responsive to their input and feedback.

The Aspen Institute’s new report explores nonprofits’ and funders’ practices and perspectives on what these important connections are all about.

Through dozens of in-person interviews, survey responses from 224 nonprofits, and research in the field, the Aspen Institute found a range of nuanced interpretations of what it means for those working in philanthropy to meaningfully connect with the people impacted by their advocacy and policy-change efforts. All these interpretations depend on building mutually beneficial relationships that nurture a community’s willingness to trust the nonprofits, and, likewise, the organization’s willingness to trust the wisdom and expertise of the community.

The Aspen Institute’s report explains that organizations can create these connections through:

  • Informing the community about a policy debate or current issues and encouraging people to respond by taking action.
  • Listening to the priorities and perspectives of communities to inform advocacy strategies and activities. This also includes asking for feedback on strategic plans, policy proposals, or the impacts of a proposal that has already been implemented.
  • Co-creating with communities; sharing decision-making roles; and developing, managing, and implementing advocacy and policy work, often through participatory decision-making processes and governance structures.

Read the full article about policy and advocacy work by Linda Baker at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.