All Foundations Can Learn from AIDS Funders’ Advocacy, FCAA 2015 Summit

Urgency and agency.  In the field of philanthropy, our sense of urgency seldom matches our sense of agency.

By urgency, I mean that nonprofit and foundation leaders feel a pressing need to mobilize our time, talent, and resources to combat critical challenges – hunger, disease, climate change, violence, poverty, illiteracy, and homelessness.

By agency, I mean that nonprofit and foundation leaders feel a sense of power or control to actually influence and hopefully accomplish a goal.  Urgency alone is not enough.  Yet, agency is threatened when work resembles a meager and proverbial “drop in the bucket.” When we don pragmatic hats, step back from our computers, pause at a conference, stare at a statistic, or dive into a deep conversation with a colleague, we often realize how systemic societal problems eclipse philanthropy’s limited time, talent, and resources.   To harness true, inclusive, and catalytic agency in philanthropy, many foundation leaders have moved beyond limited dollars of charity to leveraged dollars of philanthropic advocacy.

Of all the philanthropic affinity groups, one of the leaders in promoting advocacy is Funders Concerned About AIDS (FCAA).  Since the 1980s, with both urgency and agency, FCAA and its foundation members have fought the good fight against HIV/AIDS by infusing advocacy strategies into their time, talent, and resources.  FCAA member foundations have leveraged their grant dollars to secure more local, state, federal, and international government dollars.  They represent the voices of people who are HIV positive and negative, and they take that responsibility incredibly seriously.  They understand that foundations can accomplish more when philanthropic dollars leverage government dollars to support the best AIDS research, treatment, prevention, services and clinics, and stigma prevention.

However, it’s an uphill battle.  Government dollars are dropping and FCAA’s 2013 publication, Philanthropic Support to Address HIV/AIDS, explained how national and international philanthropic support for HIV/AIDS is dropping, too.  As of 2013, for every $100 awarded by U.S. based foundations and corporations only 64 cents were designated for HIV/AIDS issues.   The statistics become more concerning when we realize that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is responsible for 49% of U.S. based grants for HIV/AIDS, and just 10 foundations represent 83% of U.S. based grants for HIV/AIDS.  Therefore, given the decline in philanthropic and government dollars, advocacy that leverages dollars is all the more important.

FCAA member foundations understand that foundations supporting advocacy isn’t just valuable.  It is the whole ballgame.

I have had the privilege of attending three FCAA Philanthropy Summits.  My colleague, Keely Monroe, and I are excited to present at FCAA’s 2015 Philanthropy Summit in Washington, DC this  December.  We always look forward to sharing Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy content with philanthropic audiences.  However, we are particularly excited for this opportunity because FCAA members are pathfinders when it comes to the intersection of advocacy and philanthropy.

In our session, “Importance of Public Policy and Advocacy: How HIV/AIDS Foundations & Grantees Advance Their Causes beyond the Usual Suspects” scheduled for the first day of the conference, December 7, we will share AFJ’s newest publication, Philanthropy Advocacy Playbook: Leveraging Your DollarsThe Playbook provides benefits, tips, diagrams, and examples for precisely how foundations can effectively and legally support advocacy within their foundations and through their grantmaking.  Eleven chapters give foundation leaders the confidence to better reach their missions by incorporating lobbying, organizing, civic engagement, public policy, voter registration, grassroots work, and other advocacy strategies that could fall under the tent of social justice philanthropy.

Join us by registering for the FCAA AIDS Philanthropy Summit.  Whether you are an HIV/AIDS funder, health funder, or any funder, we hope you join our session.  We will connect lessons from FCAA’s history of intertwining philanthropy and advocacy, with Alliance for Justice’s confidence-building tools and resources.