6 Ways to Advocate for Policy Change


hammer-620011_1920Are you missing a key chance to change policy? Most foundations know that they can’t lobby directly for a piece of legislation that is being considered by a lawmaking body. But before the legislative process around a new piece of public policy ever begins, foundations can be key players in shaping the landscape for that policy and building knowledge and momentum. On the other side of the legislative process, after a policy passes through legislation and becomes law, some of the harder and longer-term advocacy work begins as new policies are implemented.

Here are six ways funders can support policy advocacy before and after the legislative process:

1) Establish a Vision. Foundations can use their convening power to bring together the best minds around a specific issue to spark discussion and new ideas that may become placeholders for future policy.

2) Conduct Research. Foundations can supply vast amounts of objective research to inform any policy debate. Research also can show the effectiveness or unintended consequences of a policy after it is enacted.

3) Educate Others. Grantmakers can play a powerful role in helping to educate a community about an advocacy issue, and can even educate policymakers directly in many cases.

For the general public (non-policymakers), funder strategies may include hosting educational forums or debates; developing nonpartisan materials for distribution; or speaking about issues that are affecting the community and offer possible solutions. When educating policymakers directly, foundations can share research about needs and potential solutions; discuss issues and needs (without commenting on specific legislation); or testify before policymaking bodies about specific legislation if requested by policymakers.

4) Support Advocacy Organizations. Organizations that engage in advocacy, community organizing, civic engagement, or similar activities are the backbone of policy and systems change work. They can be extremely valuable partners for systems change work, because of their deep content knowledge and grassroots networks. Providing grants to advocacy organizations allows foundations to take advantage of existing expertise and outreach ability while preserving internal foundation capacity.

5) Support Implementation. Once a policy is adopted, the work of implementation begins – and it is where the lion’s share of work is actually contained. National or statewide policies must be interpreted and put into practice at the state or local levels, sometimes requiring the generation of additional funds. Implementation of new policy also provides new opportunities for innovation that foundations are uniquely suited to support.

6) Legal Advocacy. Most policies are not implemented or enforced flawlessly. Advocacy through the court system is a complementary measure to policy advocacy to advance policy goals. One of the most direct ways to support legal advocacy is through state legal aid associations that assist marginalized populations in accessing and navigating the court systems.

The policies that guide our country did not grow overnight, and neither will the changes we wish to see in them. Policy and systems change requires a long-term strategy and a steadfast funding commitment to that strategy. It also offers practically limitless ways for funders to engage in creating change!

To explore more findings and lessons on systems change and policy advocacy, download the free field scan, The Role of Philanthropy in Systems Change.

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.


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