No More Half Measures: A new brief on supporting advocacy capacity and policy campaigns

In a segment earlier this year on her show Full Frontal, Samantha Bee raised an important lesson for foundations about the consequences of half measures in their advocacy work. 

“I think that the day we thought that Roe [v. Wade] was an end point and not a beginning point for women’s empowerment, they started to chip away at our rights,” said Ilyse Hogue, President, NARAL Pro-Choice America, in an interview about legislative attacks on reproductive rights and resulting court cases.

That interview aired this past February - 43 years and 1 month after Roe v. Wade was decided.

This is not to suggest that the reproductive rights movement has not fought effectively to advance and protect progress. Rather, it illustrates the long arc of policy fights, the near-constant oppositional efforts, and the resulting need for funders and advocates to remain attentive and vigilant.

Few policy wins are conclusive now, if they ever were at all. It’s rare that advocacy and policy work simply ends with the passage of a bill, a ballot initiative victory, or even a court ruling. There is seldom if ever a neat and tidy beginning, middle, and end.

Advocates and funders often experience these long arcs of policy engagement differently. Advocates, in it for the long haul by virtue of their organizational missions, must negotiate both short-term fluctuations and long-term shifts, windows of opportunity that open and close, threats that emerge and subside, and tension between tactical policy wins and the longer view of “moving toward victory over time.” They are always piecing together the resources, capacities, relationships, and strategies it will take to stay in the game and keep policy progress going.

But funders have the luxury of setting discrete goals and timeframes for their advocacy engagement, after which they can pull out and turn to new goals and strategies with a new set of partners and grantees. They can – and often do – choose between funding policy campaigns to achieve a particular policy goal or investingin advocacy capacity building ... as though advocacy capacity and policy goals can be untangled.

The consequence? Grantmakers who fund policy campaigns without simultaneously considering how their funding choices affect long-term advocacy capacity risk leaving policy wins vulnerable and defenseless to oppositional interests, or leaving a field of advocates no better prepared for the next policy battles. Funders who invest in advocacy capacity without linking it to specific policy targets risk pulling advocates’ attention from their own pressing policy goals and never seeing new capacities materialize into policy progress.

To explore funder mindset and grantmaking approaches that are supportive of the “long arc” of policy work, as part of the Atlas Learning Project, The Atlantic Philanthropies commissioned the Center for Evaluation Innovation to research the experiences of funders and advocates who have found themselves caught in the tension between policy campaigns versus advocacy capacity.

The resulting brief – No More Half Measures - reinforces the sense that funders, no matter their size or their appetite for long term funding commitments, have to get better at designing grantmaking strategies that meet the dual demands of advocacy capacity needs and the realities of the policy and political landscape.

Doing otherwise means funders are likely limiting their own effectiveness as well as the ability of advocates they support.

Download the complete brief here to see the findings and learn more.