Defining Your Role as an Advocacy Funder Finding Your Tolerance Level

Advocacy grantmaking typically entails risks of both frustration and controversy, which worries some funders. One grantmaker recalled that the founder of the family foundation where she works “originally didn’t want to do anything with system change and public policy. He basically hates the world of government; his eyes glaze over and he gets frustrated.” But later, this same founder met some beneficiaries of the foundation’s grants in person and learned how longstanding practices of state government were inadvertently undermining some of the very work the foundation was trying to support: “He was outraged. He’s a problem-solver by nature, and he couldn’t stand the idea of problems being created by default, with no one paying attention to them and no one doing anything about them. Suddenly, he was the biggest force for us in policy change.”

Another grantmaker conceded that coping with the anxiety of colleagues and others is a constant part of advocacy funding: “When I mention advocacy — even sometimes in this foundation — people tend to panic as if I’m talking about going to [the state capital] and twisting arms, or endorsing politicians, or funding political ads on TV. I’m nowhere near doing that.” Rather, he argued, “I’ve got a huge advocacy job to do that isn’t controversial, or at least shouldn’t be. It consists of defining and describing a problem so people understand it, and so they really digest what’s known about it and what they can do about it, if they choose. It consists of putting the research and the analysis and the scholarship out there in a way that people can grasp, and making sure it’s translated into things we can actually do.”

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Advocacy Funding.