Ideological funding

Conservative foundations more effective at advancing policy agenda, study says.

By Todd Cohen

[05.11.04] — Using more effective strategic funding strategies than those of mainstream and progressive foundations, conservative foundations have helped advance a policy agenda that now dominates the “cultural, social, economic and political wars” in the United States, a new study says.

Conservative foundations are more likely than their mainstream and progressive counterparts to give grantees the flexible operating funds and long-term support they need to focus on programs and respond quickly to current issues, according to the report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a liberal research and advocacy group in Washington, D.C.

The study, following the group’s 1997 report on 12 conservative foundation grantmakers, examines 79 conservative foundations that gave more than $252 million to nonprofit public policy organizations from 1999 through 2001.

Conservative foundations focus their funding on a small group of grantees working toward a common goal, the study says, and they all understand that investing in a “full spectrum” of policymaking activities is a priority, and are “naturally committed to the broader goals of the political right” and do not need “deliberate coordination.”

Many mainstream and progressive organizations, in comparison, “consider providing direct services to disadvantaged and disenfranchised populations and communities as their priority, not advocating policy change,” the study says.

Other funders, “fearing IRS retribution” in the form of an audit or loss or tax-exempt status, shy from funding advocacy, the study says, while still others “simply do not know what the law says about funding advocacy and, therefore, avoid it.”

While the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and its members would not necessarily “celebrate” conservative foundations’ success, the study says, “the manner in which foundations on the right support, fund and relate to their grantees is certainly to be admired.”

“With resources that pale in comparison to centrist and liberal foundations, conservative funders have supported public policies that now impact the entire nation.”

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