Five zombie philanthropic ideas that won’t die (#1)

Inspired by a Foreign Policy¬†article about “Five Zombie Economic Ideas that Won’t Die,” I’m thinking about the equivalent in philanthropy.

  1. Foundations are legally prohibited from doing advocacy.

The first one is easy: one of the most common concerns foundations, especially boards, express about doing policy advocacy is that foundations aren’t allowed to do it. The good people at Alliance for Justice have for years and years been combating this misperception. It’s an unfortunate case where a bit of nuance freaks people out. Perhaps it’s even just an excuse not to deal with the issue.

The main distinction is between what private foundations can do and what public charities, which include most 501(c)(3)s, community foundations, and other regranting entities that raise money from the public, like the North Star Fund or the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, can do. Public charities can lobby, but private foundations can’t – meaning only that they can’t take positions on specific pieces of legislation or specific candidates in an election. But both finds can fund lobbying and advocacy among their grantees.

Here’s AFJ:

Private Foundations May Advocate!

Private and Public Foundations May Fund Charities that Lobby

Public Charities Can Lobby: Guidelines for 501(c)(3) Public Charities (this includes public foundations like community foundations)

Public Foundation Representatives Can Safely Visit Legislators!

So the question really becomes, what else is behind a particular foundation’s reluctance to do advocacy? Is it about a certain level of public exposure, the risk of attacks from political actors or media sources? Moving past unfounded objections about foundations’ legal constraints with respect to advocacy opens up space for a conversation about these more fundamental questions – what Bill Ryan calls “generative” questions about who the organization is and what it wants to do.

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2 Responses to “Five zombie philanthropic ideas that won’t die (#1)”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Zombie philanthropic ideas that won’t die (#2) Says:

    […] title as the title of the post, I want to resurrect (ha, ha) an old thread from quite a while back: zombie philanthropic ideas that won’t die. The series (well, now it’s a series ’cause I’m posting a second one) was […]

  2. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » Zombie philanthropic ideas that won’t die #4 Says:

    […] #1 is “Foundations are legally prohibited from doing advocacy.” […]

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