Big Change Requires Advocacy

Big Change Requires Advocacy

Publication date: 
November, 2014

There are a lot of reasons foundations give for not engaging in advocacy, from limited resources, to fear of the law, and wanting to stay away from controversy. I see these all as symptoms of the same issue – a lack of knowledge,” said Andrew Schulz, general counsel, Arabella Advisors. ““If you want to see far-reaching, systemic change you need to open up your mind to what you could be doing within the broad realm of advocacy.”

Schulz delivered a persuasive keynote address during Philanthropy Southwest’s 2014 Annual Conference, held in Phoenix, Arizona. His comments served as bookends to a video featuring staff in foundations that have overcome uneasiness about advocacy and are using it as an effective tool to leverage broad scale change. Together, they offered their views on why it is so important for funders to support advocacy efforts and to be advocates themselves, along with advice on how to get started with advocacy and reassurances that advocacy is not only the right path but a relatively easily achievable course for many foundations.

What is Advocacy?

“At its core, advocacy is public support of a particular cause or policy. It takes many forms, from media campaigns to public speaking, commissioning and publishing research, writing op-eds, blogging, tweeting, testifying, training others, convening stakeholders, coalition building, filing an amicus brief, and more. It can be offensive or defensive, big or small,” said Schulz.

Foundation Staff Insights

Why is Advocacy Important?

“Unless we treat the cause,” said Schulz, “we will never gain ground, depleting resources just to keep up. Advocacy allows us to leverage well beyond our money, it is a way to harness all of our resources.” This is a particularly important tool for foundations, he said, because “our independence gives us power and credibility, but also an obligation to get involved where others can’t or won’t.”

Foundation Staff Insights

How Can Funders Get Started With Advocacy?

All you need to get started Schulz said, is “a belief that an issue is important and that you have something to contribute.” He offered a list of simple steps philanthropists could take to begin, including:

  • Identify a policy related to your work that you like. Seek out the people responsible for the law and let them know you like it and how important it is your efforts.
  • Find a group that is advocating in your funding area and give them a grant – even a small grant – to do good policy work. Make the grant for ongoing support, not new work. The emotional and courageous feeling the nonprofit advocacy group will receive transcends the money.
  • Offer up some of your office space for free to convene advocacy groups.
  • Write op-eds advocating for your issue.
  • Start building relationships with law makers and policy leaders at any level; you don’t even need to start advocating for something, just make the connections.
  • Find time to tell people what you’re doing. A lot of bad policy is borne out of ignorance about work that is already being done.
  • Make sure you have a line item in your budget for advocacy work; it will only be a priority if it is budgeted.
  • Be a mentor to other funders; getting into advocacy can seem scary and intimidating.
Foundation Staff Insights 

Advocacy work will go better and be more productive, said Schulz, if you can respect others’ points of view without intentionally agreeing with it. Sharing a quote from Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Schulz encouraged funders to use their unique place and power and to feel confident engaging in and supporting advocacy.

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
~Elie Wiesel


(View the full video)

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