A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

When Advocacy Looks More Like Partnership: Inside the Work of a Successful Funders Coalition

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

When we strip away the messaging and maneuvering in politics, it’s clear that governments and foundations across the country often seek common goals. Among these are:

  • Strengthening education and vocational training
  • Increasing access to childcare and healthcare
  • Creating jobs and new businesses
  • Safeguarding the environment

Unfortunately, government and foundations tend to operate in silos. They seldom collaborate or even communicate. Thus, great potential is lost.

The power of funder coalitions

A coalition of foundations in New Mexico is bridging that gap. These funders show what might be accomplished when philanthropy and government combine their complementary skills and powers for common purpose.

Spurred by the Thornburg Foundation, eight foundations in New Mexico that work to expand early childhood programs started meeting informally to coordinate efforts and amplify their voices.

To prove the effectiveness of specific approaches, something the state did not have resources to do, the coalition funded demonstrations and evaluations together. They also invited legislators and their staffs to meetings and site visits.

Philanthropy and government in partnership

Independent funders have a unique position and power. Members of the coalition realized they could help the state solve problems and accomplish things that it could not do alone.

As they worked, the foundations learned skills, gained experience with advocacy, and developed the confidence to do larger projects. Their differences became strengths. Some funded direct advocacy, while others preferred the quieter but essential work of funding research and data.

Over time, the coalition became a structure for making systems change, as well as a training ground for civic engagement.

In a series of three Catalytic Podcasts, founding member Michael Weinberg chronicles how the coalition worked and evolved, and the landmark policy win that emerged. Michael shares tips for how foundations of any size can lay the groundwork to catalyze major policy-level change for the issues they care about.

Here is a preview:

  • Seek knowledge and experience of nonprofits throughout the state to understand real needs
  • Fund demonstration projects and discover what really works
  • Build relationships, trust and credibility with state legislators and their staffs over time by engaging them in conversations and site visits, funding demonstration projects, and offering to fund strategy and planning
  • Create small advocacy wins that demonstrate the effectiveness of advocacy to foundation boards, and build momentum for deeper engagement

You can hear the story of the advocacy coalition here:

Podcast Library

Andy Carroll advises staff, trustees, and donors of leanly staffed foundations in leadership, advocacy, and catalytic philanthropy. He works to empower more small foundations to leverage their unique position and assets to catalyze change on important issues. Andy has an MBA from the University of Michigan Business School and 30 years of experience in management, training, and program development for nonprofit organizations. Follow Andy on Twitter @andycarrollexpo.

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