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Advocacy as a Philanthropic Practice

Philanthropist's Field Guide
Advocacy as a Philanthropic Practice

Political, economic, or social advocacy are vehicles for altering existing structural systems, changing behavior on a large scale, and promoting a new status quo. High-capacity philanthropists are uniquely positioned to leverage their resources in the interests of generating social impact and systemic change.

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Whether or not you decide to engage in advocacy should come down to your personal goals as a philanthropist. A few basic questions will guide you. 

Do the changes I want to see in the world rely on more than philanthropy? 

If you aim to address systemic problems that require public engagement or regulatory changes, then advocacy might be an appropriate vehicle to achieve your charitable priorities. Similarly, if you are passionate about amplifying the voices of vulnerable groups in society, advocacy is an excellent way to advance your cause.

How can I engage in advocacy?

Advocacy is often considered synonymous with lobbying, but its definition is much broader. It is any action that promotes a point of view or aims to influence others. The full spectrum of advocacy includes a wide variety of activities, including:

  • Grassroots mobilization

  • Public education campaigns

  • Publicity campaigning

  • Coalition building

  • Conducting research 

  • Political lobbying

What do I need to be aware of before I start?

Your chosen philanthropic vehicle will determine the extent of your advocacy activities. For example, an LLC has more flexibility than a private foundation. Acting as an individual or via an LLC allows you to engage in direct lobbying or to make personal gifts to 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofits or 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to promote a chosen cause. It’s important to remember that some of these tactics will not be tax deductible, including any contributions to an LLC or 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. Nonetheless, these groups have the potential to influence your objectives for social or environmental progress. We recommend consulting with your legal counsel to ensure compliance when engaging in advocacy activities.

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