What assets do small-staffed funders bring to policy work? - Exponent Philanthropy

What assets do small-staffed funders bring to policy work?

Small-staffed funders draw on many assets besides money to advance issues in the policy arena:

  • Human assets. Consider the creativity, passion and resourcefulness of founders, trustees, family and staff.
  • Freedom to focus on an issue and persevere over the long term. Philanthropists have the freedom to “go deep” on an issue and commit. Most problems are complex and can’t be solved with short-term, scattered investments.
  • Freedom to take risks. The U.S. government gives foundations the freedom to experiment and take risks to a degree not available to institutions beholden to customers, shareholders and voters. The power to support new and promising programs, grantees and ideas can change the status quo.
  • Stature and reputation. Small-staffed funders’ identity as donors and long-term community investors gives them prestige and cachet — a gravitas that can lend credibility to less-known and ignored issues, projects and organizations.
  • Relationships. Small funders operating locally hold a wealth of connections with diverse people in their communities. They can leverage these relationships to gain knowledge, develop partnerships and exert influence.
  • Access. Philanthropists’ stature, cachet and reputation can open doors and get calls answered — empowering them to meet with community leaders, legislators, business people, researchers and others who have knowledge and influence.
  • Ability to develop deep insight into issues. Small funders can take the time to listen to community leaders; learn about gaps, needs and leverage points for change; and become experts. Insight helps them identify solutions and address key issues in the smartest ways.
  • Capacity to develop trust. Listening and keeping confidences allows small funders to develop credibility and trust over time with grantees and community members. Trust opens the way for honest conversations where needs, obstacles and failures can be shared. Some local funders earn the credibility to be called upon to broker and mediate sensitive public-private partnerships.
  • Agility and responsiveness. Governed and staffed by just a few individuals, and closely connected to grantees and communities, small funders can move fast when needs and opportunities emerge. Agility can make a huge difference in a fast-changing advocacy and policy landscape.
  • Convening power. Small-staffed foundations have the reputation, independence and time to convene diverse stakeholders to make sense of important issues, develop ideas and solutions and build collective will for action.
  • Freedom to commission research. Small-staffed philanthropists are uniquely positioned to support the right research and data, at the right time, to build a case for community or public support

Ready to learn more about engaging in advocacy?

Advocacy Field Guide for Lean Funders
The core of the guide is a set of seven practical, field-tested steps for funding and engaging in advocacy, such as discovering the salient arguments that will move decisionmakers, finding and using effective data, and recruiting unexpected messengers. Download the guide >>

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