Telling Your Story to Policymakers

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.

Tips
  • 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.
Example

Avoid...

We are XYZ Community Foundation. We have $A in assets, and make $B in grants annually.

Instead...

We are XYZ Foundation. We have been supporting education, health and wellness initiatives, and community development projects in [city/county/region] for [number of] years.

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

Tips
  • 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:

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.

Tips
  • 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?
Examples

Access to Higher Education

Last year, we provided over $[amount] in scholarships to [number] high school students in your district to attend college or university. These scholarships enabled young people from our community to pursue higher education in [types of declared majors of students or specific programs, names of institutions they are attending, or number of institutions where scholarship recipients matriculated].

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Rate of students in community that go on to pursue further education; did the rate increase as a result of your scholarship grants?
  • Breakdown or demographics of students helped by scholarships
  • If program has been in place for a period of time, success stories of students who benefitted from one of your scholarships; i.e. what types of careers to they have? Do they remain involved in community issues? Are they engaged with younger generations of scholarship recipients?


Food Security

Last year, we provided over $[amount] in grants to [local food bank or program]. Our support enabled them to serve [number of people or families/number of meals] to those who needed support the most in your community.

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Poverty statistics for your community/district
  • Demographics of individuals who are food insecure


Annual Giving Day

Through our annual Giving Day at [name of your foundation], we encouraged over [number] of individuals to contribute $[amount] in grants to local charities in your community. These contributions made a tremendous impact, going to support [types of programs; i.e. job training programs, afterschool mentoring programs, nature or historic preservation programs, school renovations] in [name of community].

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Was there an associated event with this? Do you have photos?
  • Were there certain charities that benefited that might be of particular interest to your lawmaker?


Senior Citizens

During our [year] grant cycle, we awarded over $[amount] to programs for the elderly in your community. In addition to providing funding, [name of your foundation] convened a volunteer day on [date] to help with outreach to the elderly in our community, which was hosted by [local organization that supports seniors]. Volunteers assisted local seniors through technology mentoring, delivering meals, and visiting with disabled elderly.

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Number of senior citizens in your community/district
  • Number that are living in poverty, or at risk of living in poverty


Economic Development

Our Economic Development and Community program awarded over $[amount] to [name of housing organization] in the last [number of years] to provide housing and shelter to local veterans and minors in the [name of region]. Through the [name of foundation]’s support, the [name of housing organization] was able to assist over [number of beneficiaries of program] of homeless individuals into permanent, stable housing.

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Number of individuals living in homelessness in community/district
  • Data for topics or areas of economic development that are of particular interest to your lawmaker; i.e. housing, new industries, tourism, etc.


Veterans

Through our local veteran’s initiative, we were able to grant over $[amount] to local veterans to assist their families in building a handicapped-accessible homes after returning home from overseas.

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Do you have relationships with individual veterans who have benefited from this work that would feel comfortable with you sharing their story to your lawmaker?
  • Number of veterans in community/district
  • Number of veterans who utilize or benefit from nonprofit services that you support


Environmental Preservation

In [year], the [name of your foundation] provided $[amount] in funding to launch the waterfront redevelopment and conservation project. In addition to beautifying the waterfront and bringing in visitors from across the state, spurring an extra $[amount] in local business revenue and [number] new jobs, the conservation project will save over [number] of gallons of water by rerouting water runoff and preventing soil erosion.

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Did you collaborate with a local governmental agency responsible for tourism in your region? How was the collaboration successful?
  • Are there any environmentally focused laws or legislation that your lawmakers has been involved with or sponsored?


Disaster Relief

In support of this year’s unexpected [disaster], the [name of your foundation] provided $[amount] to support relief efforts across the region—going toward rescue efforts, providing food and shelter to those who faced damage to their homes, and support services to help those who were impacted the most severely get back onto their feet.

If possible and appropriate, come equipped with:

  • Number of people affected
  • Number of people served as a result of your support
  • Number of volunteers who helped with relief efforts


For more examples, specifically on the positive impact of donor advised funds in communities, see Donor Advised Fund Success Stories.