Advocacy – not as naughty as you might think

Advocacy is a pretty divisive issue in philanthropy. For tax, legal or ideological reasons some people believe very strongly that philanthropy should not be in the game of supporting political campaigns. But there are some big name philanthropists who have plenty of skin in the advocacy game.  Gates, Soros, the Rockefellers and Feeney are all backers of major political advocacy in their areas of interest. But the cynics will tell you that individuals with big cheque books have always been good at influencing policy.

Many philanthropists here in Australia, who fund for charitable purposes, will argue that supporting advocacy is political and therefore fails the basic charity means test. But thanks to the brave souls at Aid/Watch that might all be about to change.

Changemakers Australia has recently released the results of their Charity Law Reform project that examines the barriers to advocacy under charity and tax laws. The report, which you can find here, is called Freedom to Speak – Capacity to Act. The low down is this –  while the Aid/Watch decision paves the way for more ‘political’ in our charity, we’ll have to wait for the ATO Tax Ruling for Charities before anything is set in stone.

For me, the really fascinating bits in the Freedom to Speak report come from the series of ‘hypotheticals’ put to the ATO.  The responses they provided to the hypotheticals appear to indicate that if philanthropy does its bit to make sure the organisations they are supporting have the appropriate tax status, then there’s not a lot to fear around the support of advocacy. Could it be that advocacy has been philanthropy’s bogey man, all fear without substance?

There’s a lot for funders to like about the opportunity to support advocacy. The return on investment is estimated in some circles to be over 100:1.  So to celebrate the potential, I thought I would highlight a few resources around funding advocacy. Here’s a list of four of my faves:

  1. Are we allowed to claim Atlantic Philanthropies as one of our own?  Probably not, but Chuck Feeney is a very generous honorary Australian, he’s also a big believer in the power of advocacy.  Here’s Atlantic Philanthropies report Investing in Change: Why Supporting Advocacy Makes Sense for Foundations
  2. The Harvard Graduate School of Education interviews four foundations around evaluating their advocacy funding.  The article called Pioneers in the Field: Four Foundations on Advocacy Evaluation examines why grantmakers choose advocacy and how they go about establishing whether their funding has had impact
  3. Ashley Allen a partner at the Endevor Group (who are definitely worth checking out) gives us a run down on some important philanthropic supported campaigns for change in her article Catalytic Philanthropy: Investing in Policy Advocacy 
  4. And finally (with thanks again to Atlantic Philanthropies for the link) the Chronicle for Philanthropy hosted an online discussion about advocacy campaigns, you can check out a reply of that chat with Tom Novak of the amazing M+R Strategic Services, Antha Williams, the Advocacy Exec at Atlantic Philanthropies and Dan Cramer of Grassroots Solutions

To make this list a nice round number at five, it would be great if you could share any additional resources you might know of via the comments section of the blog (go on, don’t be shy).

You can following Caitriona on Twitter via @cat_fay