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Initiative aims to spur more advocacy funding

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David Heinen

David Heinen

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — Foundations and other groups invested more than $2.6 million over five years to help 14 New Mexico nonprofits in their work involving advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement, an investment that generated $16.6 million in benefits for state residents, a new study says.

That return of $157 for every $1 invested underscores the big impact advocacy grantmaking can have, says the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, the watchdog group in Washington, D.C., that sponsored the New Mexico study and now plans to study and promote advocacy grantmaking in North Carolina.

Advocacy grantmaking “is the best way for grantmakers and foundations to achieve social change at the core, to achieve the biggest bang for the buck,” says Melissa Johnson, field director for the watchdog group and a former program officer for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.

North Carolina will be the second of up to 10 states the national group will study as part of its initiative to track and encourage more advocacy grantmaking by foundations.

Funded with a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the “Grantmaking for community impact project” will include a report on advocacy funding and its impact in North Carolina, as well as efforts to encourage foundations to invest more in advocacy work.

David Heinen, director of public policy and advocacy for the N.C. Center for Nonprofits, says advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement “enable organizations to get at the root causes of many of the issues they’re dealing with in their communities.”

As a result, he says, nonprofits “can really have a larger systemic impact rather than simply doing the good works they’re doing to meet their missions.”

And with the economy in recession, generating “greater need for many of the services that nonprofits are providing,” he says, working for systemic change “can really have an enormous impact on the causes of the problems that nonprofits address on a long-term, sustainable basis.”

In New Mexico, for example, a coalition of nonprofits and a state agency worked together to persuade state lawmakers to appropriate $15 million to create a state trust fund expected to leverage another $168 million for permanent, affordable housing.

A similar effort in North Carolina that aims to increase to $50 million the state housing trust fund for affordable housing has helped boost that fund each of the past four years to a current total of $17 million from $3 million.

Working with local partners, which are likely to include the N.C. Center for Nonprofits and the North Carolina Network of Grantmakers, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy aims to identify 15 nonprofits in the state to participate in the study, says Lisa Ranghelli, senior research associate for the national group.

The report, which likely would be released next spring, would quantify advocacy funding by foundations for those nonprofits over five years, identify those nonprofits’ advocacy activities and quantify their impact.

Research by the Foundation Center in New York City suggests that foundations throughout the United States made $1.76 billion in grants in 2005 for advocacy work, or 11 percent of all foundation giving, Ranghelli says.

Mary Mountcastle, a trustee for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, says advocacy grantmaking is among the most important types of foundation
funding, particularly because individual givers tend to support direct services that nonprofits provide.

Funding for advocacy work and strategies, she says, typically focuses on helping “marginalized communities or lower-income communities” participate in decision-making on public-policy issues.

“Democracy is about people participating,” she says. “If foundations care about us having a vibrant democracy, then you should care about these strategies.”

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