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New Report: Philanthropy Needs to 'Smash Silos' to Help Address Social and Economic Crises
The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy

December, 2013

 Philanthropic support for work that brings diverse groups working on seemingly disparate issues together creates a unique space for deliberation, negotiation, overcoming social and political differences and collaboration on mutually shared interests is imperative to solving long-standing social and economic problems, says a new report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

In “Smashing Silos in Philanthropy: Multi-Issue Advocacy and Organizing for Real Results,” the D.C.-based philanthropy research and advocacy group urges foundations that want to see breakthroughs on issues including poverty alleviation, protecting our environment, improving our education system and other complex issues to fund cross-issue grassroots organizations as part of their overall grantmaking strategy. These organizations organize and mobilize multiple constituents and citizens to cultivate the power, leadership and relationships necessary to move the needle toward lasting solutions.

“If we look at recent wins on S-CHIP, health care reform and New York’s Stop-and-Frisk, you’ll notice that the success of these efforts were largely driven by the coming together of very diverse groups around a common goal,” said Aaron Dorfman, executive director of NCRP. “It’s people power making change possible.”

The report notes that as more foundations turn to “strategic” philanthropy to improve effectiveness and evaluation, there has been a corresponding preference for directing grants to organizations working on grantmaker’s single-issue of choice. This, in turn, directs more resources away from multi-issue advocacy and organizing efforts.

Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, cautions foundations about the trade-off to sticking to a single-issue approach.

“Although single-issue, ‘strategic’ philanthropy promises greater efficiency and accountability in the near term, it also threatens to undermine broader goals such as diversity, coalition-building and creating social capital,” said Brune. “NCRP makes a compelling case for how grantmakers risk losing the forest by focusing on just one tree.”

The report profiles organizations that engage in multi-issue work, often for a single-issue focused campaign and notes the contributions this work makes to social capital and civic engagement.

It identifies commonly perceived challenges to funding multi-issue advocacy and organizing such as concerns over demonstrating impact or evaluating the work, the amount of time and effort it takes to build relationships and coalitions, and competition among nonprofits within coalitions for limited resources. The report also offers ideas on ways that grantmakers can address these challenges.

Vivek Malhotra, director for equity and justice at Ford Foundation and a member of NCRP’s board of directors, sees “Smashing Silos” as a call-to-action for the country’s grantmakers.

“In a changing America, with increasingly diverse constituencies working across issues and identities, foundations should seriously consider the recommendations included in this report as we develop strategies to invest in multi-issue advocacy and organizing that contribute to meaningful civic engagement for the 21st century,” said Malhotra.

The report includes seven practical tips for foundations that want to effectively fund multi-issue advocacy and organizing. These include providing flexible multi-year grants, leading by example and treating grantees as real partners.

Smashing Silos in Philanthropy: Multi-Issue Advocacy and Organizing for Real Results,” is the first of a two-part series written by NCRP Research and Policy Director Niki Jagpal and Senior Associate Kevin Laskowski. The report is available for free

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., is a national watchdog, research and advocacy organization that promotes philanthropy that serves the public good, is responsive to people and communities with the least wealth and opportunity, and is held accountable to the highest standards of integrity and openness. Visit


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