Putting Advocacy Lessons to Use

This past year, I began partnering with the Center for Evaluation Innovation around a new effort — the Atlas Learning Project — that focuses on capturing and sharing lessons from advocacy and policy change efforts that The Atlantic Philanthropies and other funders have supported in the U.S.

Philanthropic support for advocacy is evolving, increasingly so in recent years. More foundations are supporting actionable 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 risk-averse in their advocacy funding, and in doing so, restrict their own effectiveness. We see this in examples of foundations choosing to support the same tactics and strategies time after time, shifting repeatedly to trendy new approaches that gain popularity, or providing advocacy grants without a clear-eyed connection to the desired policy change goals.

A core tenet of the Atlas Learning Project is our belief in the rich learning opportunities 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 fortunate to be joined by several experts who are partnering with Atlantic and the Center for Evaluation Innovation to conduct research and produce useful products that can be put to use by foundations, advocates, evaluators, and others.

Since the launch of Atlas, expansive research efforts have been underway, including hundreds of interviews with funders, advocates, evaluators, policy experts, intermediaries, and others. Two reports have already been released, with many more new products on the way in the coming months — including new publications and briefs, articles, videos, conference presentations, and more.

We hope this space can serve as a learning hub of sorts, and a venue to share the best ideas to help push philanthropy forward in its support of advocacy and policy change.