For the longest time, the story coming from foundations has been, “We don’t speak for ourselves; we let our grantees speak for us.” And to this day, most major foundations still have no staff or representation in Washington. But if philanthropy wants elected officials and others in Washington to understand the importance of their work, foundations must do a better job of telling their own stories, and the positive differences philanthropy makes in communities large and small.
As the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative found in 2008, most “influentials” (including Members of Congress) couldn’t name a single foundation accomplishment. We believe this still holds true today, and we want to help change it.
Hearing from the small minority of grantees engaging in direct advocacy just isn’t enough to convey the breadth of the philanthropy field – and when these groups engage, they are rightly focused on the issue at hand, not their funders. Membership organizations in philanthropy – by design – focus on issues that affect the sector as a whole, not on the grantmaking of individual members. This isn’t a shortcoming; it’s simply not a membership group’s priority.
We believe that public, private, and corporate foundations should think about education and advocacy more like the private sector does. The private sector understands that membership groups and/or trade associations are only one part of a comprehensive strategy that includes direct engagement on the organization’s behalf.