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Advocacy in Philanthropy

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

By Abby Rolland

Can advocacy play a role in philanthropy? Can foundations advocate, or will they lose their charitable status?

The answers to those questions are yes and yes, to an extent. Specifically, private foundations are not allowed to lobby or give campaign contributions to specific candidates or campaigns. However, foundations can fund research, can work with other funders on shaping public perceptions, and can make grants to nonprofits that do some lobbying (as long as that donation is not earmarked for lobbying).

Many articles discuss how philanthropy can play a role in advocacy (check out articles from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Inside Philanthropy, or The Center for Effective Philanthropy for reference).

A recent example in Philadelphia highlights what a private foundation can do in terms of advocacy.

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance endorsed the Philadelphia Cultural Fund’s (PCF) FY2023 budget request of $3.5 million.* PCF is funded by the City of Philadelphia, and has suffered drastic budget cuts as a result of COVID when simultaneously, arts and culture institutions have suffered dramatic revenue losses as their earned income streams (e.g. ticket sales) have been decimated by COVID. As the Cultural Alliance shares with the City, “given its role in providing necessary financial support to hundreds of arts and cultural organizations, PCF grants remain a critical lifeline. These grants are also some of the most equitable and impactful distributed in our sector and our city.”

Advocating for this allocation is permissible for private foundations. The Presser Foundation, one of harp-weaver’s clients, is a member of the Cultural Alliance and strongly supports PCF’s budget request of $3.5 million. Arts and culture are essential to both the economy and the health of the Philadelphia community; as such, it is vital that the funds requested by the PCF are restored to the previous level of pre-pandemic funding. The Foundation has demonstrated support through outreach to City Council, sending letters to support PCF’s request.

This is only one example of advocacy and one way that foundations can use their voice (and often, their power) to raise awareness and support measures that will benefit their nonprofit partners and the community as a whole.

*Note that as of March 31, the Mayor’s Proposed Budget allocated $2.5 million to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance will be strongly advocating for a return to the $3.5 million in the final budget, and harp-weaver supports this ask. Learn more here.


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