Last year, we heard concerns from our members about attacks on our democracy. In response, we began to plan a series of programs focused on strategies to strengthen community capacity and democracy, including advocacy, civic engagement, and community organizing. Last month, we tackled advocacy. This month, we hope you’ll join us to learn more about strategies to strengthen civic engagement and leadership.
With major policy changes and proposals at the federal level and difficult spending decisions being made at the state level, advocacy seems to be more important than ever in CT. Last month, we hosted programs on advocacy in Norwalk and Middletown. The events featured Alliance for Justice and Murtha Cullina speakers to help members understand the federal and state laws that have implications for lobbying and advocacy efforts. And while many attendees reported they learned a lot, they noted that they'd be interested in learning more, particularly focused on how funders are using advocacy to further their mission and goals (we hope to plan such a follow-up program this year).
New to CT lobbying laws, I too learned a great deal and thought I’d share 3 big takeaways from the program:
1. Don’t conflate the federal and state definitions of lobbying. The federal tax laws that constrain some foundations from lobbying define lobbying narrowly. These laws are different than CT's state reporting laws that aim to increase transparency of who is trying to influence state legislators and officials. I've heard from many private foundations that they cannot lobby in the state because of the broad definition of lobbying. This isn't true! Private foundations can take part in lobbying that's allowed under federal laws; they simply need to understand and follow the state's reporting requirements.
2. The federal definition of lobbying still leaves a lot of advocacy work on the table. Public education, litigation, non-partisan voter education, organizing, getting to know legislators, research – these activities (and more!) are all activities in which all foundations can engage.
Are state or federal legislators considering a bill that you think will hurt the mission of your organization, or the clients of the organizations you support? You can share such a statement on your website or share it with media as long as it doesn’t include a call to action. Concerned about a federal agency rule? Providing input and recommendations on a federal regulation doesn’t fall into the definition of lobbying either. Go for it.
3. Foundations can fund groups that engage in lobbying and advocacy. Not only can foundations engage in advocacy and support organizations that engage in advocacy, they can fund groups that engage in lobbying.
There was much more learning during the program. If you missed it, you're in luck; Alliance for Justice has a great website full of resources. See below for links recommended by our speaker, Abby Levine. If you haven’t seen their Philanthropy Advocacy Playbook, it’s worth reading. We still have a few at the CCP office if you’d like a hard copy!
Join the Next Conversation
This was the first of several programs that CCP is hosting focused on Strengthening Communities & Democracy. The next program, Strengthening Democracy & Communities Through Civic Engagement on January 24, is focused on philanthropic strategies to bolster civic engagement. The speaker lineup includes national expert, Kristen Campbell, PACE, local experts, Everyday Democracy and DataHaven, as well as foundation colleagues from Massachusetts – the Solidago Foundation and the Foundation for Civic Leadership. We hope you’ll join us for this program, which also includes a networking lunch and a working meeting of the CT Funders Collaborative to Promote Civic Engagement, a newly formed group.
Join the CT Delegation in DC for Foundations on the Hill and PolicyWorks
CCP is now organizing a Connecticut delegation for Foundations on the Hill in March. During this most critical year in Washington, DC, join CCP President Karla Fortunato to meet with our congressional delegation and senators. This year the PolicyWorks Institute is being held inconjunction with Foundations on the Hill.
PolicyWorks Institute 2018: March 11-12, 2018
The PolicyWorks Institute is the one opportunity each year for regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations to take a "deep dive" together to strengthen their policy and advocacy work in philanthropy.
Foundations on the Hill 2018: March 12-14, 2018
Foundations on the Hill (FOTH) brings together foundation leaders from across the country for meetings with Congress about key issues of importance to foundations and philanthropy. FOTH is presented by United Philanthropy Forum, in partnership with the Alliance for Charitable Reform and Council on Foundations.
If you are planning to attend, contact Tiffany Walton, Executive Assistant and Office Manager, 860-525-5585.
Resources from Alliance for Justice
Factsheet on the specific project grant
Factsheet on funding public charities that lobby
Factsheet on lobbying for private foundations (and public charities that use the 501(h) election)
Flowchart on lobbying
Still have questions? Alliance for Justice is available to provide support; call or email to “Ask an Expert” your question.
Karla Fortunato is president of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy. CCP's blog, Giving Voice, is a blog for and about grantmakers in Connecticut.