Funding Advocacy Work Pays Off in the Billions

Marjory Hamann
NCRP Report Cover Preview

MRG has a long history of funding advocacy, organizing and civic engagement groups in Oregon. Last week, we received new evidence of the deep impact those groups have had on our state.

A new study from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy shows how 20 nonprofits generated more than $5 billion for marginalized communities in the Pacific Northwest over a five-year period.

Five billion dollars.

The benefits came in the form of wages, expanded services, increased investments in housing and other programs, and the defeat of damaging ballot initiatives that would've strained state budgets. Together, these groups also trained more than 11,000 leaders, turned out 417,000 people at public actions and registered more than 7,100 voters.

The organizing campaigns that led to those gains raised $33.9 million from foundations, membership dues and other sources, resulting in a return on investment of $150 for every $1 contributed.

At MRG, we’ve seen the powerful results of funding advocacy first hand. For almost 35 years we’ve been funding groups that organize in communities of color, low-income communities and other communities that bear the brunt of societal inequalities. These include groups like the Community Alliance of Tenants, the Center for Intercultural Organizing, and the Partnership for Safety and Justice, all of which participated in the study.

We fund this work because we believe the people most impacted by injustice can lead the way to public policies that work better for everyone. That belief permeates how our own organization is run. Our grants are funded by hundreds of Oregonians who share our values of justice and equality, and the people who make our grant decisions come from the communities we fund.

The value of the NCRP study for us is that it focuses on the tangible benefits of advocacy. Advocacy efforts are often evaluated by counting the number of people who turn out for a rally or whether a campaign results in a policy win.  This research gives us a way to measure the impact in financial terms, while also including concrete changes that affect our families and communities.  

If you’re an MRG donor, you can feel good knowing that the gifts you make to MRG are making a difference in our community.

Equally important, the study gives us a starting point for talking with our peers in the funding community about what works, and how we can support it. As the report points out, community groups in the Northwest “looked beyond their individual organizations, issues, constituencies and short-term campaigns in favor of longer-term and more holistic processes that built power, changed mindsets as well as policy, addressed root causes and built their organizations strategically.”

This is long-term, challenging work. A good example in our state is the decades of alliance building between progressive Latino organizations, predominantly white groups in rural Oregon and LGBTQ activists. By backing each other’s agendas, groups like CAUSA, Basic Rights Oregon and the Rural Organizing Project are able to turn out massive numbers of Oregonians to advocate for gay rights and comprehensive immigration reform.

In a world where political conversations are becoming increasingly polarized, these groups provide a national model for how communities can come together across differences.

We’re glad to be part of a national conversation about philanthropy’s role in advocacy and social change.

Foundations often encourage grantees to work together. I think it’s equally important that we work together as funders to promote and support those groups that are tackling some of the toughest societal problems of our time. I hope you’ll join us.