Preparing for Opposition When Advocacy Meets Resistance

Balancing Negotiation and Confrontation: One grantmaker in civil rights described her view of opposition and negotiation this way: “My portfolio was a constant combination of battle and negotiation, but the most successful work, I would say, amounted to negotiation with a very high tolerance for confrontation. That’s where I landed at the end: You have to stand for the stuff you’re going to stand for, but you can’t be rigid and polemical about it. You have to help people partner with you even as you struggle with them as opponents.”

Acknowledging the Possibility of Controversy: Gather allies who know the turf and will stand by you. Another form of preparation that some commentators mentioned is finding a circle of advisers among other foundations supporting similar advocacy. A circle of reliable allies reduces the feeling of isolation in case of conflict and helps bring a wide variety of views and analyses into grantmaking decisions. “The fear of controversy,” said one grant maker, “is a huge obstacle to foundations taking up advocacy. How do funders help other funders address their fear of controversy? Who stands up and encourages others to stand up and take more risks? One way to support advocacy is to support the other grantmakers who fund advocacy. Part of the challenge is supporting one another.”

When the Toughest Opposition is Apathy: “Advocates in this field had been effective in limited ways,” she says. “They could get money for a piece of something, for one kind of emergency response or another. Agencies were willing to dribble out a little for this or for that, because they felt that the best they could do was emergency response, and they were sometimes willing to try out a new approach to that. But there was a belief in state government that this problem was intractable. You couldn’t talk about solving it, and there wasn’t even anyone with responsibility for solving it. It had been considered an inescapable problem for so long that even raising the question [about ending homelessness] just drew blank stares. That was the first thing we had to change.”

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.