2012 Trends in Philanthropy – Political Advocacy

As promised this post is going to continue to examine some of the trends for 2012 highlighted in Philanthropy and Social Investment Blueprint 2012 – the annual industry forecast produced by Lucy Bernholz.  In my last post I looked at the first of three major shifts identified in the Blueprint, today I’ll be moving on to trend number two: the implications of the US Supreme Court‘s Citizens United ruling on philanthropy and social investing.

There is no doubt that grantmakers here in Australia have a lot to learn from philanthropy overseas. I am often reminded however that much of how and why we practice philanthropy is unique.  By constantly casting an eye towards North  America and Europe we risk failing to recognise and value the innovation taking place in our own backyard. So what can we here in Australia possibly learn from examining the potential implications of the Citizens United US Supreme Court decision?

Before I address that question in detail, it probably serves to give a quick rundown on what that Supreme Court decision actually amounts to. In short Citizen United removed prior restrictions on spending by corporations on election campaigns; in essence allowing these bodies the similar first amendment rights to free speech as everyday American citizens. These newly available dollars will certainly come into play in 2012, the first presidential election year since the ruling was handed down. Rather than promoting and opposing political candidates or parties directly, much of the funding from corporations is likely to flow via non profit organisations advocating on issues that serve their purpose. It is the implication of that funding process has some interesting cross over with Australia.

Around the same time that Citizens United was taking it’s case to the US Supreme Court, here in Australia an international aid watch dog called Aid/WATCH was taking its fight to hold on to its charitable tax exemptions to the High Court. In Australia, like in the US, the judges ruled in their favour. The decision asserted that Aid/WATCH, as an independent watch-dog examining how aid is distributed, may well be involved in political advocacy.  Because the generation of public debate created by Aid/WATCH through their advocacy focused on the relief of poverty through foreign aid, the Judges ruled that it should not be excluded as a charitable activity. This ruling opened up direct funding of political advocacy by charitable trusts and foundations, ensuring that neither the donor, or the non-profit they were supporting, put their charitable status at risk. The Eggs have posted previously on the new place for advocacy in the Australian non-profit sector, but perhaps we have not explored the potential implications for donors in full.

In an environment more open to political advocacy from our non-profits, what are the potential implications on donors and ultimately donations? In the US, it’s likely that the Citizens United decision will lead to not only more political advocacy from non-profits but also more non-profits being created with a focus on raising money for or against their preferred candidates and issues.  Here in Australia, the likelihood is that we’re gong to see a greater intensity of out and out advocacy.  For some funders, the thought of seeing their long supported charities engaged in the political might be too much to bear.  For other funders it will open up spheres of influence like never before.

I’ve spoken with people on both sides of the advocacy fence, those that find philanthropic support of political advocacy unseemly and those that see it as critical vehicle in mission based philanthropy. Not all philanthropic organisations in Australia believe or want to be mission driven, the warm heart of benevolence for many is still the greatest motivator. There will always be a place for both. I do sense however, that the new wave of youth and online philanthropy in this country will drive a new era of donor funded advocacy.

Should you wish to learn more about the trends in philanthropy and social investment for 2012, I’d encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Blueprint 2012:

  • Hard copies from Lulu
  • PDFs at Scribd
  • Kindle version from Amazon
  • eBook from Smashwords. Also available for Amazon Kindle, B & N Nook and others.

You can follow the musings of Caitriona Fay on Twitter via @cat_fay or the blog via @3eggphil

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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