Best Practices & Case Studies

Foundation Advocacy Grants: What Grantees Need to Know

Publication date: 
January, 2020
Bolder Advocacy

Advocacy efforts, including lobbying, are critically important to the success of many nonprofits. Advocacy by 501(c)(3) organizations is legal, as long as your organization follows the rules. Of course, like other work your organization does, advocacy requires financial support. There are many ways in which you can raise money for advocacy, including fundraising events, membership dues, individual donations, and grants from public or private foundations. 

Your organization may choose one or all of these options. Chances are you will want to approach foundations to support your advocacy activities. When you do, there are a few things you should know about foundations and how to successfully obtain their funding for advocacy and lobbying. Sometimes the wording in your grant proposal or report can make all the difference, as in the example at the beginning of this section. This guide will focus on helping you understand foundations’ capacity to fund advocacy and how you can maximize your opportunities to gain foundation support through careful proposal writing and reporting.

In this report by Bolder Advocacy, you will find information on the rules that govern advocacy funding by private and public foundations, the different kinds of advocacy that you can choose to engage in as a nonprofit, the types of grants you can seek to support this advocacy, and Do’s and Don’ts for writing grant proposals and reports. 

Key Takeaways

As a nonprofit organization with a vital mission to improve your community, you should make the most of your rights to advocate on behalf of your cause – including your right to lobby. You have many great opportunities to seek funding for your advocacy, including in the foundation world.

Here are a few quick takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Most efforts to change public policy are not lobbying. Lobbying is an effort to influence specific legislation (including a ballot measure), either through communicating with legislators or with the general public. In many instances, efforts to influence executive branch (presidential, gubernatorial, or government agency) decisions will not constitute lobbying. Generally, analyzing broad issues and educating the public about those issues also do not count as lobbying.
  • There are no limits on most advocacy activities. The law gives nonprofits, including foundations, substantial room for supporting or conducting almost every type of advocacy. Lobbying and election-related activities face some legal restrictions, however. In addition, 501(c)(3) organizations are not allowed to support or oppose candidates for public office.
  • Private and public foundations may support 501(c)(3) public charities that lobby. Private foundations can do this by taking advantage of the general support grant or specific project grant “safe harbors.”
  • Public foundations can earmark funds for lobbying. Public foundations are permitted to conduct lobbying activities themselves, and may fund lobbying activities within the generous limits allowed by law.
  • In most cases, private foundations are not required to prohibit the use of grants for lobbying. The only time private foundations must prohibit the use of grant funds for lobbying is when they are making grants to non-501(c)(3) organizations.