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5 Tips for Funding Advocacy

By

Georgia Mathews

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4 minutes read

Philanthropy’s appetite for supporting advocacy has grown significantly in recent years.

Many funders who seek to achieve lasting impact on the issues that are important to them are turning to advocacy as a way of nurturing or creating the conditions for systemic change.

Rather than funding the ‘downstream’ consequences of an issue, advocacy is an ‘upstream’ activity that tries to address the issue at its root cause by promoting ideas that help define, reframe or raise awareness. It can help engineer new service delivery models or generate or improve policy at government level, ensuring community interests and voices are centred.

For example, instead of (or as well as) funding a charity that provides support services to people experiencing homelessness, a funder might choose to support organisations that are advocating for housing policy reform which, if enacted, might reduce the need for many of these support services.

In this sense, advocacy is less about traditional notions of charity that focus on easing the effects of a problem, and more about intentionally investing in systems change to eliminate the problem.

In practical terms, advocacy activities might include research, movement building, direct action, lobbying, litigation and more. Advocacy can be both proactive and reactive – advocating for new legislation or defending a law that is under threat and would halt or undo progress on an issue.

Here are five tips for funders who are thinking about supporting advocacy:

1. Be clear about what you want to achieve

Spend some time learning as much as you can about the issue you want to have a positive impact on. Start by talking to those working on the issue, and identifying what stage of the movement life cycle the issue is at. 

Is it an emergent issue with low public awareness? Where does it intersect with other issues? Is the issue growing and reaching a point of coalescence? What is the level of political appetite for action on the issue? Is the movement in decline after a ‘peak’ period?

Think deeply about where you sit on the spectrum of involvement as a philanthropic funder. What is your risk appetite? How agile is your funding? The answers to these and the questions above might help you focus  on the types of interventions you’re willing to get behind.

When you’ve gained a clearer picture, it becomes much easier to find and connect with the best approaches for funding this issue. 

2. Understand that advocacy is a long-term commitment

Successful advocacy takes time. If you’re choosing to fund advocacy, understand that you need to be in it for the long haul and that progress on an issue usually isn’t linear, it’s lumpy.

Funding the capacity of organisations that are on the front lines of advocacy initiatives can help build a movement’s ability to be strategic. Similarly, funding research that helps establish an evidence base can provide a solid foundation for the issue to progress further. 

Equally important is a willingness to provide rapid response funding when it’s required. Many advocacy organisations can seize critical developments or moments in time to drive progress forward, but only if they’ve built their capacity to do so in advance of the opportunity or the threat arising.

For all these reasons, it’s often important that funders are prepared to support the lifecycle of the issue, rather than making a one-off 12-month grant. 

3. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t measure advocacy

If you’re looking for a tidy evaluation report six months after you distributed your funding, then it’s true that advocacy may not be for you because of its long-term nature and the many factors that contribute to structural change. 

Measuring advocacy usually requires funders to think about their contribution to broader change rather than a single output. The SIPSI Framework (Significant Instances of Policy and Systems Improvement) can be a helpful tool for this purpose.

In a similar way, as your understanding of the issue and your relationships with the groups you’re supporting deepens over time, you’ll see from the inside how your support is enabling change. 

When we’re working for systemic change, we also need to be aware that no single funder and no single organisation can achieve it  on their own. 

Successful advocacy is usually the result of many coordinated efforts. 

4. Prioritise the voices of lived experience

The people who know best what’s needed to change an issue are the people who are most impacted by the issue. 

People and communities with lived experience of the issue you’re supporting have valuable insights and perspectives that need to be invited, respected and centred. 

Make the social change mantra “Nothing about us without us” your touchstone. 

5. You don’t have to go it alone

This is perhaps the most important piece of advice. It takes courage to fund advocacy because the outcomes are uncertain, and pushing for change can generate backlash (as we’ve seen in the movement for transgender rights here in Australia and abroad), but you don’t have to go it alone. 

As you dig into an issue, you’ll often find formal or informal networks of philanthropic funders you can join, fund alongside, and learn from. Take inspiration from those you’re supporting on the front line and be brave.

Finally, don’t be afraid to fail. Issues and the environment in which you’re tackling them change over time – sometimes very suddenly. Advocacy is a learning journey for everyone involved, but when you see a structural change happen, you’ll know it’s been worth the journey.

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Georgia Mathews

Director of Philanthropic Services at Australian Communities Foundation

Georgia Mathews is Director of Philanthropic Services at Australian Communities Foundation (ACF). She is a respected leader in the Australian philanthropic sector with over a decade of experience at a range of philanthropic intermediaries and funding organisations. She leads the work of ACF’s Impact Fund, a movement of funders and changemakers creating a fairer Australia. She is also the Founder of LGBTIQ+ funding and advocacy organisation GiveOUT.

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