How do you stay motivated and “keep the faith” in your cause when results are five, seven, or even ten years off?
That’s the dilemma for nonprofits and foundations that are engaged in advocacy, organizing and civic engagement initiatives. When years and years of effort seem to show few tangible benefits, enthusiasm wanes and supporters become discouraged and disillusioned.
But don’t give up! According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), when the pay off finally comes, it’s well worth the wait.
In its latest research report, “Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing, and Civic Engagement in Minnesota,” NCRP draws some bold conclusions about the quantitative impact of public policy initiatives in Minnesota: A $16.5 million investment (70 percent of which came from foundations) garnered $2.28 billion in community benefits.
Some will rightly quibble with the methodology behind the magnitude of the conclusions. But certain take-aways from the report shouldn’t be ignored, such as best practices for getting the most bang for the public policy buck. At a gathering of nonprofits and foundations last Wednesday in Minneapolis, NCRP Executive Director Aaron Dorfman offered these recommendations for funders:
- Increase funding for advocacy, organizing and civic engagement. Clearly, it pays!
- Engage trustees and donors in dialogue about the long-term benefits of advocacy. You can’t really achieve your mission if you don’t advocate, noted Marcia Avner of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
- Strengthen peer learning and strategizing. In Minnesota, participants in the “Funders Working Group on Community Organizing,” convened by The McKnight Foundation, are already learning from each other.
- Engage nonprofits as partners. Not as “recipients” or “grantees,” emphasized Trista Harris of Headwaters Foundation for Justice.
- Apply a racial equity lens. A gender equity lens, too, added Lee Roper Batker of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota.
- Provide general operating and multi-year support. In the research, 45 percent of grant funds were unrestricted and 25 percent were awarded as multi-year grants — atypically high percentages.
The report offers a lot more detail and specific examples of the notable achievements in Minnesota. But embracing these recommendations would surely be a good first step for funders. And who knows, with changes such as these, funders might be able to shave a few years off of the arduous journey up the public policy mountain. Then everyone will find it easier to “keep the faith” and rally others to the cause.
- Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services