Help Your Foundation Board Conquer Fear and Anxiety About Engaging in Advocacy - Exponent Philanthropy
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Help Your Foundation Board Conquer Fear and Anxiety About Engaging in Advocacy

Photo by Werner Pfennig

Advocacy is a long game, and it can be messy at times. However, when combined with grantmaking, advocacy is a powerful tool to advance system change, strengthen relationships with your grantee partners, and enhance learning and understanding around the issues your foundation supports.

Helping your board understand the broader concept of advocacy will help shift the conversation toward what you can do. While our foundation advocacy journey is still relatively new, here are some of its building blocks.

Getting Your Board Over Its Fear and Anxiety About Advocacy

  • Advocacy can include many different elements, large and small. Provide board members with examples of how other foundations activate advocacy and the results of those efforts. Exponent is one source of advocacy stories and examples, via its blog, podcasts, and Advocacy Field Guide.
  • Engage board members in conversations with other foundations that support advocacy.
  • Invite a legal expert whose practice area includes foundations and advocacy to speak with your board about what you can support as a foundation. I think board members will be surprised about the many ways you can engage in advocacy.
  • Identify incremental steps: technical assistance, op-eds, letters of support, and other ways to amplify the voice of the communities you’re serving.
  • Fund research! This can be an important aspect of advocacy that helps to inform, educate, and engage. Yet, it’s very low-risk.
  • Act as a convener and support knowledge-sharing among your nonprofit partners.
  • Choose a nonprofit with whom to partner on your first effort. Identify first incremental steps, and invite that partner to share the progress of that work with your board.

Oftentimes, we hear from our partners that as a foundation we can open doors, amplify credibility, and expand awareness in a way that a nonprofit might not have the resources or bandwidth to achieve. We had to shift our own thinking and understanding that incremental steps—funding a study, providing data, supporting the development of a messaging platform—are important building blocks that support larger, long-term system change. These incremental steps grow more impactful over time.

Resources to Start Your Advocacy Journey

Foundation Advocacy Intensive: Develop Your Policy Acumen
Sept 25 – Nov 20, 2024  /  2:00 – 4:00 pm ET  /  4-part Virtual Workshop 
This program helps lean funders leverage their strengths in advocacy. Explore how your foundation can drive systemic changes that benefit grantees, partners, and the community. Gain practical skills and apply strategies from the Advocacy Field Guide through hands-on practice. Learn more »

Advocacy Field Guide for Lean Funders
This guide helps lean foundations and donors fund and engage in policy directly. It offers seven practical steps, a basic primer on essentials, ways to fund and engage, and tips for convincing your board. We include strategies and real examples from lean funders to inspire and guide you. Download »

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About the Author

Angela Hult’s career spans philanthropy, global media, strategic communications, and social impact investing. As President of the Kuni Foundation she applies an entrepreneurial approach to the development of grant programs, advocacy, communications, and mission investing in service to advancing innovations in cancer research and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities.

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