Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #1

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

Download Full Report

Beldon’s efforts to marry policy, organizing, advocacy, and nonpartisan civic engagement work in the environmental community are widely perceived to have been successful; the melding of policy advocacy with civic engagement remains particularly relevant today.

Fundamental to Beldon’s theory of change was the idea that connecting and marrying policy development, grassroots organizing, broader advocacy, and legally permissible nonpartisan civic engagement work would make the environmental community more effective and powerful.

“One thing they brought into the funding world is they took an integrated approach. They were early adopters of the cycle of nonpartisan organizing and mobilizing around advocacy and then doing it again around elections. They were out front on this.”

The basic idea was that there should be a year-in and year-out approach to the work that was cyclical in nature. Under this integrated theory, issue advocacy work leads into nonpartisan election work, which then transitions back to issue work, with an eye towards base, capacity, and power building throughout. While the Beldon Fund was not the only organization or leader to advance this approach, it is widely seen as one of the first, if not the first, to do it as a funder in a significant manner.

“I always describe it as groundbreaking when it comes to civic engagement and combining policy, and organizing, and multi-issue work. That was rare and new to the larger philanthropic world.”

The Beldon Fund invested heavily in this integrated approach by making multi-year, general support capacity-building grants to its key state grantees, as well as to select national grantees. These grants were not project or issue specific, but were flexible so that grantees could work on building and expanding their base and their capacity in ways that could be leveraged for both issue advocacy and nonpartisan voter engagement work. These bigger, multi-year grants are seen today as having allowed organizations to experiment with what it meant to truly marry policy, organizing, and advocacy in a seamless manner.

In addition to investing in this integrated approach, Beldon provided tremendous thought leadership on the subject, which is seen as a particularly valuable part of the Beldon legacy. One specific element of this is that Beldon’s evangelizing for the integrated approach increased the comfort level of many organizations with using 501(c)(3) resources for legally permissible civic engagement work as a part of their environmental advocacy efforts. Several interviewees stressed that having a funder actively fund and encourage them to do this work, while also providing grantees access to a top notch lawyer well versed in what 501(c)(3) organizations could legally do, substantially increased their comfort level pursuing civic engagement work.

“There was no more important funder in terms of encouraging and evangelizing ...pushing the limits of what 501(c)(3) dollars can do and really maximizing 501(c)(3)dollars.”

Beldon provided additional thought leadership on the importance of an integrated approach to environmental policy change and capacity-building through speaking at conferences, building relationships with colleague funders, convening grantees, and funding heavily in this arena. The grantee convenings hosted by Beldon are a legacy that continues to have relevance today, long after the events themselves ended. These convenings were a safe place where people could really learn about this approach and meet other like-minded organizations that they could connect with and learn from. Many grantees reported that the convenings helped them see that they were not alone in the challenges they were facing or the change they were trying to achieve in the world. The knowledge gained and shared and the relationships built are still bearing fruit today, with a number of grantees remaining in contact and serving as a network of support for one another.

“Bringing together leaders to form and cultivate relationships across states and learn from each other. Leadership can be lonely and Beldon helped us find a peer group in the state and outside of it.”

Beldon’s theory on the importance of integrating policy, organizing, advocacy, and civic engagement, while perceived as forward thinking when the Fund was operating, is far more commonplace in the field today. A more integrated approach has become a best practice in relation to advocacy and base-building not just in the environmental community (where the growth of League of Conservation Voters Education Fund state affiliates, the work of the Sierra Club Foundation, and a number of climate change organizations and initiatives shine through) but also in the broader allied community. Work around health care advocacy and gun violence prevention are both examples of a more integrated advocacy model. Today, five years after Beldon ceased operations, it is safe to say that the Fund’s efforts to marry advocacy and civic engagement work through its investments and leadership helped expand environmental advocates’ toolboxes for driving effective policy change.

“Thinking back to 2005-6 how many organizations had no clue they could do what they wanted to do in the 501(c)(3) realm. All of that was supported via access to education and efforts by Beldon.”