Choosing a Strategy

Among the earliest choices facing grantmakers in advocacy - and a question that may recur many times - is how an advocacy campaign should be organized: What kind of activity, involving what kinds of relationships among people, will drive the effort for change? Put another way, the question is: In order to promote the cause we've chosen, are we seeking to motivate individuals, create or support institutions, or build networks of people and organizations to advance collective goals? 

  • Mobilizing individuals directly may be the easiest approach to understand, but it's usually the hardest to accomplish. To stir individuals to carry out or advocate for change directly, it may be necessary to apply mass media in a sufficiently sustained and concentrated way to reach thousands or millions of people with a persuasive message.

  • Funding organizations to advocate for new ideas is the most widely used approach among grantmakers, and one with many successes. But aiming grants solely at influential organizations has its limits. Over time, even very popular, widely respected organizations come to occupy a niche in public policy discussions. They have established constituencies, a recognized point of view on certain issues, and often a kind of natural limit on how far their appeal and influence extends.

  • To overcome those limits, advocates and funders sometimes form collaboratives - or organizations of organizations. A collaborative may include a staff and a designated chair, committees and a division of responsibility, and sometimes a small executive committee or leadership group. The strength of a collaborative is its ability to gather different constituencies, ways of thinking about an issue, and styles of leadership and advocacy, all focused on a common cause. But that strength can also carry weaknesses: Managing philosophical and "turf" tensions among members, as one grantmaker put it, "is a constant challenge for the funders - that is, when the funders aren't busy managing their own differences among themselves." Still, almost every grantmaker interviewed for this guide cited the value of forming collaborative groups in at least some aspect of advocacy.

  • More and more, funders are beginning to explore a different model of collaboration, involving not just formal collaborative bodies but also decentralized networks. These tend to feature open paths of communication among actors at all levels, involving both planned, regular forums and spontaneous, ad hoc communication going on constantly. Participants may work in far-flung parts of the country, concentrate on different levels of government and policymaking, occupy varying ranks or branches within their organizations, and dedicate a lot or a little of their time to the problem the network addresses. Being part of the network allows them to exchange information, seek help or advice, view the world from different perspectives, compare observations or ideas, and plan activities with one another - in smaller or larger circles, depending on their needs and preferences. All this can happen without necessarily having to hold official meetings or otherwise draw members into a formal body. 

Successful networks tend to rely on some concerted effort to introduce the various participants to each other, at least electronically. In practice, a network usually needs well-functioning telecommunications, and may benefit from web meetings or teleconferencing. In short, it will probably need grant support to get started and to keep the communication flowing.

A grantmaker in civil rights believes that some of her most significant and lasting accomplishments have been in helping to form a network of committed people in many fields loosely connected with civil rights. She describes it this way: "These were people from fields whose goals were objectively interlinked, but whose movements were in reality completely walled off from one another. We had environmentalists, trade unionists, civil rights people, academics, education people, community economic development people, businesspeople, all committed to building a more equitable society, from their various vantage points. At first, the idea was just to forge a relationship among them so they could call each other when their movements overlapped or their needs were similar or just when somebody was getting in the way of somebody else. Amazing things have come about because of people in that group calling each other and saying, 'How can I help?'"

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Advocacy Funding.