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Posts Tagged ‘Grassroots’

Will the Supreme Court ruling giving greater political voice to corporations have the effect of focusing the minds of those funders who support policy advocacy?

Many foundations now appreciate that the impact of policy advocacy is not as hard to measure as once thought. Less clear, according to papers in the most recent issue of the Foundation Review, is how fully foundations appreciate the importance of their support for advocacy as part of a larger social change strategy, and how much investment they are willing to make in its evaluation. The recent Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend more money on political campaigns may change their perspective.

The latest issue of the Foundation Review offers a number of research papers with insights for foundations working in the public policy realm. In particular, one paper from Innovation Network’s Johanna Morariu and Kathleen Brennan notes that three-quarters of advocacy organizations have not evaluated their work, and more than 80 percent of them have never worked with an outside evaluator. What advocacy strategies are appropriate in what contexts? What combinations of organizational capacities are most important? What are the most meaningful interim indicators in the journey from grassroots organizing to sweeping social change? The authors say these and other critical questions can’t truly be answered without greater support from foundations for advocacy evaluation. Morariu and Brennan go on to identify the key qualities of an effective advocacy funder, which include the usual suspects of offering extended grant cycles, support for program evaluation, and general operating support to enable grantees to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.

Another paper in this issue of the Foundation Review offers specific insights for foundations working to influence policy across the U.S. Ann Whitney Breihan of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland focuses on a multi-state program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that has impacted national policies on care for developmentally disabled adults. Among her suggestions: To build momentum for a particular policy, resist a temptation to fund states scattered across the country and instead focus funding in a region. Her study bears out that states are more likely to “follow the pack” in their own region. She also says funders should focus funding in those states that have already demonstrated interest – by spending their own funds – in a particular policy area. They’re more likely to consider further innovation in the area.

In general, philanthropists may be less hesitant about helping to define the voice of the social sector. Noting the success of highly strategic politically conservative foundations, other funders across the political spectrum have come to believe that nonprofits and foundations need to gain a greater voice when it comes to public policy. Many have taken concrete steps to do so by hiring more communications and policy specialists and more frequently collaborating and engaging with politicians and government agencies. As borne out in the Foundation Review, evaluation of these efforts is necessary in order to gauge how effective the current strategies and programs are and what can be done to improve them. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the need for these steps has become ever more apparent.

For further reading, the book Seen But Not Heard: Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy (published by the Aspen Institute) presents the findings of a multi-year research project called the Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy Project (SNAP), conducted by OMB Watch, Tufts University, and the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest and offers specific suggestions that nonprofit leaders can take to strengthen their organization’s advocacy work.

-Jane Wales

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Speaking to a capacity crowd at the Fairmont Hotel, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof said, “We’ve all won the lottery of birth, and with that comes some real responsibility.” Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, are the authors of a new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide.  He joined the Council and the International Museum of Women last Wednesday for a discussion with Council CEO Jane Wales. The book project began as a way for the authors to look through the “prism of gender” at issues that are rarely reported by the international media. As they traveled and met with women in many countries, they learned that there are 60-100 million “missing girls” across the globe, girls who have died as a result of gender discrimination. Kristof spoke on numerous topics, including methods of ending coerced prostitution, the need for more foreign aid to be directed at local grassroots efforts, and the economic advantages associated with educating and employing women and girls. He noted the Western tendency to condemn low wage labor, but remarked that “the only thing worse than being exploited in a sweatshop is not being exploited in a sweatshop,” as girls whose jobs are taken away often end up in prostitution to replace their lost income. Kristof ended the program by discussing the decision to take his three teenage children to Southeast Asia and show them the brothels he had visited while writing the book. He said that he and his wife feel strongly that “the way you come to think about the world is when you…see these things and they make an impact on you” and that it is important, as parents, to try to teach their children “empathy, compassion, a notion of involvement, a sense that they can make a difference, [and] the joys of social entrepreneurship.”

To listen to the entire program with Nicholas Kristof, visit our audio archive here.

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