Advocacy in family philanthropy is important for philanthropists seeking to address mounting issues of inequality or for those who recognize that funding direct services alone is not enough to create lasting change.

Advocacy, including grassroots organizing and policy advocacy, involves efforts to change the law or how the law is applied in order to address an injustice. Advocacy can support the democratic process by including the voices of those who are historically marginalized and facilitating their participation in the democratic process. In addition, successful advocacy efforts can change public opinion, defend existing rights or benefits, or make a compelling case to reverse or correct a situation.

Today, only a small number of family foundations fund advocacy work. Foremost among them is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded nearly $2 billion in support of advocacy, community organizing, and public policy work between 2004–2012. Their global policy and advocacy team builds partnerships with governments, media organizations, public policy experts and other philanthropists.

Funders may be hesitant to fund advocacy work because they feel that their impact may be difficult to measure. Unlike direct service organizations that report the number of people fed, educated or healed, advocacy organizations have a more challenging task when quantifying impact. However, foundations can use the following evaluation guidelines that allow for realistic, incremental, and long-term measures of advocacy progress:

  • Reward incremental progress. Achieving legislative victories may take years. Funders should plan for and reward the smaller goals achieved on the path to policy change.
  • Choose appropriate measures. Although grantees may not succeed in getting a new law passed during the grant period, the organization may have educated policymakers about the topic, created new partnerships with allied groups, and mobilized key segments of the public.
  • Measure preventive efforts. Preventing a negative outcome can be equally important as facilitating a positive outcome.

Read the full article about advocacy in family philanthropy by Ali Sirkus Brody and Jennifer Wegbreit at the National Center for Family Philanthropy.