Lessons and Tips – Promoting Collaboration Among Grantees PDF
Lessons and Tips – Developing a State-Based Advocacy Program PDF
"The navigation of coalition work is always a challenge. You can find yourselves on different ends of the debate. But the payoff is worth it. You get great minds at the table, you learn from each other, and you can tap into the different groups' constituents to reach far more people."
- Beldon Grantee
Building the Advocacy Engine
Beldon focused on building the infrastructure for effective environmental advocacy by strengthening organizations and supporting effective coalitions and more sophisticated tools. This strategy helped position advocates to wage successful issue campaigns funded by other donors.
Examples of Results
- Environmentalists won policy victories in four of Beldon's "key states," including the ratification in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota of the Great Lakes Compact, a long-sought agreement to prevent the diversion of water from the Great Lakes.
- In Minnesota, it had been common for environmental groups to have over 50 competing policy priorities that received little or no attention. Once they joined together under the umbrella organization Minnesota Environmental Partnership (MEP), funded by Beldon, they started setting joint agendas with a limited number of policy demands. After the 2006 elections, MEP was well-positioned to take advantage of new opportunities. In 2007 it presented four policy priorities and won three of them.
- When public concern over consumer product safety peaked during the 2007 holiday season with reports of lead paint in children's toys, SAFER, a multi-state collaboration created with funding from Beldon and the John Merck Fund, was able to respond quickly. Advocates coordinated state-level efforts that included toy testing, creation of data bases, and communication with the public and media.
Investing in Collaborative Vehicles
For the most part, collaboration paid off – both with increased clout of the environmental community and concrete policy wins.
State environmental 501(c)(3) collaborations: Beldon started with a focus on building state environmental collaborations to increase the power and influence of advocates. These vehicles served several functions:
- Allowed groups to set a common policy agenda with a limited number of policy demands
- Helped coordinate advocacy activities
- Facilitated sharing of communication and other resources
State multi-issue 501(c)(3) collaborations: In 2004 Beldon began shifting its focus to invest in broader collaborations that brought environmental groups together with other advocacy organizations (such as labor, social justice, and health) with compatible policy agendas. The cross-sector hubs have a particular focus on coordinating nonpartisan civic engagement activities such as registration of historically disenfranchised communities, strategic identification and outreach to the public and policy makers. But they also have a policy advocacy component, which expanded, with Beldon support, to include environmental issues.
- Allowed environmental advocates to learn from and tap into the combined strength of activist allies outside the environmental community
- Facilitated cost-effective sharing of resources - including data bases and more sophisticated communications tools
One major challenge of funding public policy reform is that many determining factors are beyond the control of advocates. Beldon invested in building much-needed capacity in the field as a way to help grantees weather the bad times and take advantage of policy opportunities when the winds shifted. Building a strong advocacy infrastructure would also complement the funding of issue-specific foundations and leverage Beldon’s grants even further. Beldon could help build the advocacy engine and other funders would provide the fuel for issue-specific campaigns.
What We Did
Capacity building grants: Beldon provided multi-year general support to coalitions and to key organizations that could provide leadership in the field and help anchor and coordinate collaborative efforts. The purpose was to help organizations and coalitions build a solid institutional base that would allow them to conduct more effective advocacy and to make a stronger case to other funders for additional support.
Promoting collaboration: Beldon urged environmental grantees, most of whom were working in isolation or separate issue silos, to collaborate with each other and with other advocacy groups with compatible policy agendas. Joining together makes it possible to conduct more strategic – and persuasive – outreach to policy makers and the public. Strong coalitions also have more staying power and are better positioned to attract funding support. Here’s how Beldon supported collaboration:
- Provided incentives. Beldon gave planning grants for key organizations to come together to determine what it would take to expand public support for policy reform in their state and to propose a plan. The foundation then provided implementation funds for collaborative projects.
- Established or strengthened collaborative vehicles. These hubs allowed groups to share resources, tap into a wider range of skills, and develop a common policy agenda.
An external evaluation PDF and anonymous grantee perception survey PDF conducted in Beldon’s last year of grant making confirmed that this strategy achieved positive results across both program areas, including: stronger organizations, better alliances, more sophisticated advocacy skills, greater clout, and tangible public policy outcomes likely to have a lasting impact.
Positive Impact: Building Capacity
- Beldon’s grants allowed groups to fund core staff, support core operations, and expand membership. This helped build strong organizations and more effective advocacy, which in turn allowed grantees to make a more persuasive case to other funders for additional support.
- Beldon’s emphasis on capacity building allowed advocacy organizations to set their own agenda rather than be tied to activities driven by project or issue specific funding.
- Building advocacy infrastructure allowed groups to function in an “ambition” mode rather than a “survival” mode.
Positive Impact: Promoting Collaboration
- Establishing multi-issue collaborative vehicles – environmental and broader 501(c)(3) hubs that tap into the combined strength of other activists – helped grantees move beyond a short-term focus on single issue campaigns to a broader, more strategic focus on building power by strengthening the whole movement.
- Collaborative efforts allowed allied organizations to achieve efficiencies of scale – leveraging tools and resources that few, if any, could have afforded on their own. They included nonpartisan voter education tools, joint polling and communications training to sharpen environmental messages.
- Collaborations facilitated skills and experience transfer among organizations of varying capacity levels. They also tapped into the particular strength of each group, allowing an efficient division of labor.
- Collaborative efforts and shared use of tools are widely credited by grantees with helping to “professionalize” the sector. They increased the credibility of advocates and conferred a collective power that made them more effective. In Wisconsin, for example, advocates and policy makers credit the collaborative efforts with shifting the power to set the environmental agenda from policy makers to the environmental community.
- Collaborative vehicles fostered shared goal setting and development of more strategic policy agendas and activities. This had a significant impact on both the perception of the environmental community and specific policy campaigns.
Many grantees came to recognize the benefits of working together – most notably, the increased influence and policy results they achieved through collective advocacy. But they found that forging and sustaining collaborations could often be a difficult, labor-intensive, and frustrating process. And in Florida PDF, one of Beldon’s “key states,” the foundation’s effort to unite environmental advocates around a common agenda did not succeed. These experiences yielded useful lessons for other foundations seeking to strengthen state-based policy advocacy.
Among the challenges of creating collaborations:
- Struggle to achieve a common vision for goals, issue focus and success
- Ensuring the right groups are at the table
- Inter-group competition over resources and issues
- Time required to negotiate agreements
- Development of the right structure and governance
- Communication, transparency and trust.
In addition, Beldon sometimes stumbled in striking the right balance between encouraging and requiring collaboration. But grantees widely credit Beldon with putting time and energy into helping groups recognize the value of joining together and providing guidance to help them work through their differences. The process required an unwavering funding commitment. It took several years – and a few policy victories – for the coalitions to gel.