Note from Beth: I hosted a small army of guest bloggers, grantmakers, who attended the GeoFunders National Conference that took place recently in Seattle. The GEO community is united by a common drive to challenge the norm in pursuit of better results. GEO’s 2012 National Conference shared a range of perspectives and new ideas for smarter grantmaking that leads to better results and presents opportunities for participants to learn from the wisdom and experience of their peers. If you did not attend and are curious what funders are learning, you still have an opportunity to read some of the ideas and questions discussed right here on this blog.
Funding Services AND Advocacy: The Smart Choice for Grantmakers – guest post by Aaron Dorfman, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
Some grantmakers shy away from funding advocacy, preferring instead to fund direct services. But two sessions at the GEO conference clearly showed how smart funders are combining the two for maximum impact.
Lynda Frost from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, Becky Hayes Boober from the Maine Health Access Foundation, and Karen Linkins from Desert Vista Consulting led a fabulous session showing how three different health initiatives have successfully integrated services and advocacy to achieve true systems change.
And in a separate session, Tina Markanda from the Duke Endowment and Woody McCutchen from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation worked with Thomas Jenkins from the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) to explain how NFP has been brought to scale with a combination of upfront capital funding from foundations and advocacy for government funding to come in behind the proven intervention. NFP described an advocacy approach that incorporated both grass-tops and bottom-up advocacy.
I was heartened to attend both these sessions and see the rooms packed with grantmakers who wanted to know more. Are we turning a corner in philanthropy? Are funders realizing that support for advocacy needs to be part of any comprehensive effort to improve the lives of families and communities? I sure hope so.
NCRP has contributed to this discussion, too. In the fall 2011 issue of our quarterly journal, we published short pieces by the Marguerite Casey Foundation and the Foundation for the Mid South about why they think it’s smart to combine funding for services and advocacy. And we released a report recently that shows foundation funding for advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement has a return on investment of an astonishing $115 to $1. The groups in our study produced $26.6 billion in benefits for families and communities after spending $231 million on their advocacy. Many of the most powerful examples from that three-year project involved combining services with advocacy.
Thinking that one must either fund services or advocacy is a false choice. Often, it is essential that both approaches be supported to maximize impact.
Aaron Dorfman is executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).