Advocacy and Policy Toolkit for Grantmakers

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 affect 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. This toolkit will help guide grantmakers in understanding, developing and implementing advocacy and policy efforts. 

What are advocacy & policy engagement? 

Advocacy means demonstrating support for an issue, whether it's the broader field of education or a more specific community challenge. 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 taking a public position for or against specific legislative proposals or ballot measures. The law permits lobbying activity only by public and community foundations. All foundations and nonprofits are prohibited from supporting or opposing candidates for public office.

Why engage in public policy? 

  • Philanthropic organizations wield considerable 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 or philanthropic organizations of your type to conduct policy advocacy. 

Where do we start?

What are ways we can engage in public policy advocacy? 
In addition to directly taking a stance on public policy or pending legislation, your organization can:

  • Encourage and support civic and election engagement
    This does not need to involve position-taking, such as this helpful Local Ballot Measure Tracker from The Colorado Health Foundation 

  • Educate target populations on your interest areas and how they are affected by public policies

  • 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.