NCRP Urges Foundations to Fund Multi-Issue Advocacy, Grassroots Work

Philanthropic support for work that brings together diverse groups working on seemingly disparate issues creates a unique space for deliberation, negotiation, collaboration, and social and political mediation and is imperative to finding solutions to longstanding social and economic problems, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy finds.

The report, Smashing Silos in Philanthropy: Multi-Issue Advocacy and Organizing for Real Results (36 pages, PDF), noted that as more foundations have turned to "strategic" philanthropy, there has been a corresponding preference for directing grants to organizations working on a single-issue of the funder's choice, resulting in the diversion of resources from multi-issue advocacy and organizing efforts.

In the report, NCRP argues that foundations that want to see breakthroughs on a range of issues, including poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and education reform, should fund multi-issue grassroots organizations as part of their overall grantmaking strategy. Such groups tend to organize and mobilize multiple constituents and citizens with the aim of cultivating the power, leadership, and relationships necessary to move the needle on seemingly intractable social and economic problems.

The first in a two-part series written by NCRP research and policy director Niki Jagpal and senior associate Kevin Laskowski, the report includes profiles of organizations that engage in multi-issue work and notes the contributions of that work to social capital and civic engagement. The report also identifies frequently cited reasons for not funding multi-issue advocacy and organizing, including concerns around demonstrating impact and/or evaluating the work, the amount of time and effort it takes to build relationships and coalitions, and competition among nonprofits within coalitions for limited resources.

"Although single-issue 'strategic' philanthropy promises greater efficiency and accountability in the near term, it also threatens to undermine broader goals such as diversity, coalition-building, and creating social capital," said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. "NCRP makes a compelling case for how grantmakers risk losing the forest by focusing on just one tree."

"New Report: Philanthropy Needs to 'Smash Silos' to Help Address Social and Economic Crises." National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Press Release 11/13/2013.