Investment urged to address interconnected issues

Philanthropy is missing a big opportunity to address urgent and complex social and environmental issues by failing to invest in work involving multiple issues and constituencies, a new report says.

While some funders have become more strategic in their funding, they typically focus on narrow issues or “silos” and do not invest in “multi-issue advocacy and organizing,” says Smashing Silos in Philanthropy, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

“Strategic philanthropy has underlined the importance of marshaling and focusing on dollars for a cause but inexplicably stops short at funding groups that unite and focus people and organizations for a cause,” the report says.

“It is myopic for a foundation to implement its grantmaking strategy without acknowledging the imperative to look beyond its chosen issue area and [at] the interconnectedness of its local issue with other causes,” it says.

Increasingly focusing on “narrow issues silos” results in “marginalizing” grassroots community groups that work on multiple issues, the report says, while limiting the ultimate effectiveness of philanthropy, and undermining funders’ ability “to see discernible improvements” on critical issues such as education, health, the arts and the environment.

Multi-issue organizing and advocacy, the report says, can build relationships and mutual accountability; bring “unlikely allies” together and create opportunities for change; and create constituencies and build “power and leadership for the future.

The report recommends that grantmakers add grants to multi-issue organizations to their portfolios; nurture grassroots groups; provide them with general operating and multi-year support; model the collaboration they fund and want to see; and engage with their grantees as partners.

The key point is “to let grantees take the lead and treat them as partners, with funders letting go of control,” it says. “Bringing the community voice to the decision-making table is crucial; grantees are closer to the constituents that foundations seek to serve and can play the role of an essential conduit of knowledge about the problems that communities want addressed.”

Todd Cohen

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