• Description

Over the past five years, advocacy and public policy grantmaking has moved away from supporting individual grantees to achieve their particular policy goals toward a more targeted, proactive approach designed to achieve the funder's policy goals. More recently, some funders have begun to explore new ways of designing advocacy and public policy grantmaking to achieve longer-term and more substantial changes in the policy landscape at large. As foundations consider how to approach their advocacy and public policy grantmaking in the future, a better understanding of this variety of approaches, and pros and cons of each among foundations with a long history of policy work, may provide options for framing and focusing such efforts. Building on research conducted in 2007 by Coffman and Campbell, this brief summarizes advocacy and public policy grantmaking approaches and their implications for grant portfolio composition and management, auxiliary supports and evaluation. "Advocacy and public policy grantmaking" refers to grantmaking in support of a wide range of advocacy activities that are intend to trigger, block, maintain, support and/or monitor changes in public policy at any level of government. The findings below emerged from an extensive literature review, as well as interviews with staff at 14 foundations and three independent consultants with in-depth policy experience. Interviewees were selected to represent an array of foundation sizes, content areas and structures, all with mature policy portfolios. Foundation staff were asked to describe their foundation's approach to advocacy and public policy grantmaking, including:

  • The foundation's goals for its advocacy and policy grants
  • What the foundation has learned about how best to structure grantmaking and construct a portfolio to achieve its goals
  • What auxiliary supports (e.g., convenings, technical assistance, etc.) the foundation provides that have proven indispensable to its work
  • How the foundation defines the role of its policy staff, and how these staff interact with other staff
  • How the foundation designs reporting and conducts (or would like to conduct) evaluation
  • How the foundation thinks about its role in the larger field of "actors" in the advocacy field and in relation to other funders.
The assessment revealed two approaches to advocacy and public policy grantmaking for which foundation practices and processes are fairly well established: a policy target approach to achieve the passage, successful implementation and maintenance of a funder's specific policy goal; and an advocacy niche approach to strengthen the presence or influence of a particular strategic function (i.e., policy analysis and research or grassroots mobilization) within the policymaking process. In addition, the assessment identified an emerging approach to advocacy and public policy grantmaking that has yet to be well defined: a field-building approach to develop the stability and long-term adaptive capacity of a group -- or field -- of advocacy organizations. Many funders choose a combination of these approaches, and some prefer to be more strongly positioned within a single approach. Approaches are not mutually exclusive, and may even be mutually supportive; but each approach has unique implications for grantee selection, organizational processes, program officer roles and evaluation. This report frames a series of options for advocacy and public policy grantmaking and explores implications for foundation practices by drawing on the best experiences from the field. It presents a particular focus on what it means for foundations to design their grantmaking to build the capacity and influence of a field of advocates to tackle a wide range of policy challenges over time. As such, this brief can help foundation staff and leadership establish a common language and understand trade-offs among the different advocacy strategy paths.