NCRP Report Confirms Return on Investment in Advocacy
New research from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), a national foundation watchdog organization, concludes that public policy work is an effective strategy to address societal issues. A majority of grantmakers have traditionally steered away from funding public policy, grassroots advocacy, and other civic engagement activities. However, studies continue to show that advocacy work is vital to advancing a nonprofit organization's mission. The NCRP finding that there is such a great return on investment in advocacy could resonate with funders.
NCRP's Grantmaking for Community Impact Project seeks to increase philanthropic resources for advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement to particularly benefit communities most in need. An objective of the project is to appease funders' concerns by featuring the positive impact communities have experienced because of support for nonprofit advocacy. The project's reports use both quantitative and qualitative methods to gauge the positive returns from civic engagement.
NCRP began the Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities series with a report on New Mexico nonprofits in December 2008. This latest report, the third in the series, looks to nonprofits in Minnesota. NCRP details the impact of 15 state nonprofit organizations' advocacy from 2004 to 2008; during this time, the groups received $16.5 million from foundations. According to the report, "Minnesota foundations that made grants to nonprofit organizations in the state had a $2.28 billion impact from 2004 to 2008."
NCRP studied local nonprofits that worked with underrepresented communities on a range of issues and recorded the groups' activities and achievements. The organizations used a variety of advocacy strategies, including working in coalitions, mobilizing communities, working with policymakers, conducting research, and utilizing the media.
Most notably, and probably the most useful for those trying to gain foundation support for advocacy activities, is the cost-benefit breakdown presented in the report, as grantmakers want to know their money is being put to good use. According to NCRP, the economic and social benefit impacts of advocacy outweighed the cost of organizing campaigns.
NCRP tracked advocacy and organizing impacts, funding, civic engagement indicators, and the groups' progress. A return-on-investment calculation was made by dividing the aggregate dollar amount of successes, or desired outcomes, by the aggregate dollars invested in advocacy and organizing. The report found that every grant dollar spent on advocacy produced a $138 return on investment. This data led to the report's conclusion that it is highly beneficial for nonprofits and foundations to work together, and it is especially effective for these groups to become involved in public policy advocacy.
The report lays forth recommendations for foundations, particularly those facing tough economic situations. Foremost among the recommendations is that funding for advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement should be increased. Board members and donors should also be conscious of how advocacy can help an organization achieve its goals, according to the report.