Time to Get in the Fight: Why More Funders Should Consider Legal Advocacy Support

Few cultural venues can seem as superficial as entertainment awards shows. But in light of the rapid exposure of widespread sexual harassment, abuse, and assault in the entertainment industry and many other sectors, this year’s Golden Globe Awards brought with it a new chapter in social activism.


Backed by $13 million in seed funding from more than 300 influential women in Hollywood and other donors, the Times Up Legal Defense Fund was launched this past month leading up to the Golden Globes. It will be housed and administered at the National Women’s Law Center, and connect “those who experience sexual misconduct including assault, harassment, abuse and related retaliation in the workplace or in trying to advance their careers with legal and public relations assistance.”

The legal effort is paired with the broader Times Up campaign, which also includes public relations efforts, know-your-rights tools, connections to other resources and advocates, legislative campaigns, and a push for gender parity within the entertainment industry.

There’s something reassuring about such an effort that goes beyond the usual hashtags, lapel pins, and awareness campaigns. Those types of efforts are fine (sort of), but incorporating a legal defense approach as part of the Times Up campaign signals a seriousness and a potentially more sustainable movement than other past efforts that have come and gone.

This is something that has teeth - or at least has the capacity to have teeth. And in doing so, this campaign has the potential to help protect, empower, and defend women who are historically disenfranchised, dismissed, and discouraged from having any voice or recourse in their own safety and well-being in the workplace and beyond.

The TImes Up LDF aims to help women who otherwise wouldn’t have the means for recourse themselves - women, often women of color, who are less privileged and often work in retail, service, factory, farm, hotel, or restaurant positions.

For foundations and other donors who espouse values around gender rights and racial equity, this effort provides a great example of how to step into a fight and support very tangible, actionable efforts to address a serious, systemic problem.

The Pittsburgh Foundation provides another recent example of how foundations can use legal advocacy approaches to advance or defend issues that their work is adjacent to or dependent on.

Pennsylvania congressional districts (Philadelphia Enquirer)

Pennsylvania congressional districts (Philadelphia Enquirer)

With the Pennsylvania Supreme Court scheduled to hear a case next week on whether political gerrymandering violates voters’ rights, the Pittsburgh Foundation filed a ‘friend of the court’ brief urging it to determine “a reasoned and fair standard that will eliminate unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering.”

It’s an unusual move for a foundation and unprecedented for the Pittsburgh Foundation. But their CEO said the issue was too important to ignore, in large part because of a belief in fundamental rights of voters and the “civic fabric” that communities depend on.

Whether it’s protecting basic rights and recourse for women or defending democratic infrastructure on which so many pivotal social and policy issues rest, legal advocacy and strategic litigation approaches can be an essential tool to advance and protect progress.

Foundations would be wise to consider supporting these kinds of legal approaches and incorporating such tools in their support for advocacy and policy change efforts.

Funders can learn more about these ideas and how to put them into action from a variety of resources developed by the TCC Group as part the Atlas Learning Project, which was a multiyear effort coordinated by the Center for Evaluation Innovation to share lessons from advocacy and policy change efforts that Atlantic Philanthropies and other funders have supported in the U.S. 

Whether you’re a funder, an advocate, or an evaluator, there’s something here for you. The Atlas legal advocacy resources include a brief video highlighting two high-profile examples, an in-depth guide for foundations, a brief for advocates, an evaluation guide, and a status of the courts paper authored by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The fight over so much of what foundations care about is here and it’s happening at virtually every level of government and all venues for policymaking. On racial justice, gender equality, civil rights, health care, immigration reform, workers’ rights, climate change, and so much more. And there’s no reason foundations should be sitting on the sidelines or feeling like they don’t have a role to play and a voice to raise.

It’s time to get in the fight. And the clock is ticking.

Header photo by Uroš Jovičić on Unsplash