Foundations—and community foundations in particular—are well-situated to engage with policymakers because the communities that you serve necessarily overlap with their constituents. Your grantmaking and leadership contribute to strengthening populations which your lawmakers were elected to represent. It is important to highlight this parallel when engaging and communicating with policymakers to demonstrate your shared goal of supporting and improving a particular population.
Use these tips to effectively convey the importance of preserving and strengthening philanthropy in your community and communities across the country.
INTRODUCING YOUR FOUNDATION
When you introduce your foundation it is important that you connect with the policymaker on the issues you both care about. Of course, data is very important when you are making your case for the value of philanthropy to policymakers. But, it is equally important to be able to demonstrate what those numbers actually mean in your community by telling stories that resonate.
- Avoid introducing or describing your foundation in terms of assets and grantmaking. This detracts from the message of how your work positively impacts your community every day.
- Depending on your policymaker’s level of familiarity with community foundations, it may be helpful to provide them with a brief overview explanation of the role your foundation plays as community leader, convener, and problem solver.
PRESENTING THE SCOPE OF PHILANTHROPY IN THE U.S.
The positive impact of philanthropy is reflected in immeasurable ways across generations of American society. You can help paint this broad picture of the scope of philanthropy in the United States by citing some of the following statistics on charitable giving in America:
- Government funds account for only about one-third of the revenues of America’s nonprofit organizations. The majority comes from private giving.
- American individuals, foundations, and corporate giving programs donated an estimated $373.25 billion to charitable causes across the country in 2015.
- 32% to Religion, $119.30 billion
- 15% to Education, $57.48 billion
- 12% to Human Services, $45.21 billion
- 11% to Foundations, $42.26 billion
- 8% to Health, $29.81 billion
- 7% to Public-society benefit, $26.95 billion
- 5% to Arts, culture & humanities, $17.07 billion
- 4% to International Affairs, $15.75 billion
- 3% to Environment/Animals, $10.68 billion
- 2% to Individuals, $6.56 billion
- Total giving by all types of foundations was an estimated $58.46 billion in 2015 alone. Giving by community foundations grew 6.5 percent in 2015.
Source: Giving USA 2016
- Try to emphasize the point that philanthropic giving is a deep-rooted American value, linked to thriving communities and sustained economic growth.
- To refocus and narrow the scope of the conversation to the specific context of your work and the population of interest to your policymaker, be equipped with data on philanthropy in you and your policymaker’s particular state, region, or city. See the following resources for this information:
- Independent Sector Nonprofit Sector Profiles By State
- Foundation Center Foundation Grantmaking Statistics (narrow the results by state)
TRANSLATING DATA WITH STORIES THAT RESONATE
Presenting data is only half of what it takes to make your case for the value of your philanthropic work to policymakers. Stories that give examples of the impact of philanthropy make the data relatable by tying it to a cause, evoking an emotion, or giving it a face.
Your foundation has a wealth of examples for how your work has positively impacted the lives of people in your community.
- Be thoughtful and intentional about the stories you choose to share with policymakers. To help make sure that your message resonates, do some background research into your policymaker’s topics and issues of interest. If you have a story related to one of these interests, it may help you gain momentum and support for your work.
- Consider relationships you have with individuals or groups within the community who have benefitted from your work. Might one of these individuals or groups feel comfortable with you sharing (or join you in sharing!) their unique story or experience with your policymaker? If they do not feel comfortable with this, might they be alright with you sharing the story it is anonymized?
For more examples, specifically on the positive impact of donor advised funds in communities, see Donor Advised Fund Success Stories.