Advocacy and Policy for Philanthropic Organizations 

There is increasing recognition of the valuable role philanthropic organizations can play in advocacy and public policy. Philanthropy Colorado and our members have long taken an active role advocating on policy issues that might impact the philanthropic sector. As we center racial equity in our work and understand that we can’t grant our way out of systemic problems and inequities, more funders are considering how they can influence public policies that offer long-term community solutions.

What are advocacy and policy engagement?
Advocacy means demonstrating public support of a particular cause or policy. Funders may support advocacy both through grants to nonprofits engaging in this work and through direct action. Advocacy activities range from conducting policy research, convening stakeholders and offering community organizing skills training, to educating the public and legislators about policy issues and participating in legal action.

Lobbying is a subset of advocacy that involves position-taking in support of specific legislation, such as a ballot measure. The law permits lobbying activity only by public and community foundations. All foundations are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office.

Why engage in public policy? 
  • Philanthropic organizations wield significant influence with their extensive networks and grantmaking. Leveraging policy change and related government investments are an essential part of addressing systemic inequities and challenges.
    For a good overview, read
    Influencing Public Policy & Systems, Community Foundations Leading Change.
    Why Racial Equity and Racial Justice Are Vital to Philanthropy, United Philanthropy Forum
  • Advocacy and policy work is a great return on investment.
    Leveraging Limited Dollars research shows “every dollar grantmakers invested in policy and civic engagement provided a return of $115 in community benefit,”
    National Committee on Responsive Philanthropy
  • The philanthropic sector is embracing public policy advocacy. According to 2020 research by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, 90% of foundations provide advocacy support in some form.

How Do We Stay Within the Law?
These resources can provide clarity and confidence regarding the opportunities and restrictions for philanthropic organizations of your type to conduct policy advocacy.

Where do we start? 

  • Learn about public policies and policymakers that impact your grantees and interest areas.
  • Start internal board and staff discussions about policy advocacy, including how it relates to your vision and mission. Building board confidence and support has been identified as the greatest challenge for organizations embarking on policy work.
    The Power of Board Advocacy: A Discussion Guide for Foundation Boards, Stand for Your Mission
    4 Ideas to Help Your Foundation Discuss Advocacy, Bolder Advocacy, Alliance for Justice
  • Discuss public policy impacts and perspectives with grantees and communities in which you work. Get their perspective on what public policies are most impactful and how you could best support and advocate for policy change.
  • Ensure you have a clear understanding of the legal parameters of allowed policy advocacy and legislative engagement based on your grantmaker type.
  • Assess your capacity for engaging with public policy
    The ACT! Quick tool is one assessment example from Bolder Advocacy, Alliance for Justice
  • Establish or hire a staff lead and allocate resources for public policy advocacy.
  • Develop processes to determine when and how your organization engages with public policy.
  • Take advantage of free Philanthropy Colorado advocacy workshops and peer conversations to identify promising advocacy practices and models.
    Coming sessions:

    Connecting Racial Equity and Public Policy | September 29 | 2:00 – 3:30 p.m.
What Are Ways We Can Engage in Public Policy Advocacy?
In addition to directly taking a stance on a public policy or pending legislation, your organization can:
  • Educate target populations on your interest areas and how they are impacted by public policy;
  • Build relationships with policymakers and understand their priorities and perspectives;
  • Conduct and release nonpartisan analysis, research and data on an issue or public policy;
  • Amplify the voices and stories of grantees and communities to put a personal face on public policy impacts;
  • Provide training to nonprofits and grantees on how they can engage in public policy advocacy and community organizing;
  • Conduct a nonpartisan convening, conversation or debate to explore public policy;
  • Participate in litigation, such as filing a lawsuit or amicus brief and funding litigation.

Through your grantmaking you can:

  • Make general operating or project grants to nonprofit advocacy organizations.
    Consider multi-year general operating support for greatest impact.
  • Build the public policy advocacy capacity of grantees, including investing in their community organizing, constituent civic engagement and staffing.
  • Invest in the development of diverse leaders that can effectively represent their communities.
  • Collaborate with peer Philanthropy Colorado members to fund collective action on policy issues.
  • Fund nonprofit work operationalizing and implementing public policies.