Atlantic’s Big Bet to Put Advocacy Lessons to Use

The Center for Evaluation Innovation is excited to announce the Atlas Learning Project, a three-year effort supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies to synthesize and strategically communicate lessons from the advocacy and policy change efforts that Atlantic and other funders have supported in the U.S. 

Philanthropic support for advocacy is evolving. More foundations are supporting action-oriented and adaptive efforts that put them and their grantees at the heart of high-profile policy change efforts.

At the same time, some funders remain steadfastly risk-averse in their advocacy funding, choosing to support the same tactics and strategies time after time. As this ultimately may restrict their effectiveness, we think there is a lot to learn from funders that have pursued bold approaches to policy change and its implementation.

The Atlantic Philanthropies occupies a unique space in the field of philanthropy, not only as the largest foundation in history to conclude grantmaking within its donor’s lifetime, but also as a funder that has made “big bets” using aggressive advocacy approaches on some of the most complex policy challenges in health care, immigration, education, criminal justice, and economic security.

The Atlas Learning Project is taking a deep look at Atlantic’s and other foundations’ experiences around five pressing questions that can help to capitalize on what has been learned through these big bets and to help push philanthropy and advocacy in new directions:

  • When is it valuable to engage or support 501(c)(4) organizations in policy change efforts to advance the public interest, and what are the implications for funders?
  • What have we learned about how to effectively fund strategic litigation?
  • How can funders more effectively support both policy change efforts and lasting advocacy capacity? 
  • What have we learned about funding collaborative multi-party campaigns?
  • How can funders effectively prepare for implementation?

We are partnering with many experts in advocacy and evaluation to produce a variety of products, events, and other resources that respond to these questions. Products will be relevant to funders, advocates, and evaluators. We will highlight what has and has not worked, and draw on lessons and insights from funder and grantee experiences.

Stay tuned for more to come! Sign up to get Atlas products as they are released.

If you would like to learn more about the Atlas Learning Project, participate in the research, or share ideas about related efforts, please contact Scott Downes at