Yes You (Funders) Can!....Make Better Public Policy 2: Here’s How

Hilary Pearson

In the first article in this series on funders and public policy I suggested that the decisions made by policy makers matter a good deal if you are thinking about your approach and the outcomes you hope for as a funder. Think of reducing poverty, improving education, preventing illness or fighting climate change. Then think about how public policy shapes the context in which this work takes place. Clearly, it’s important. Policies on community benefits, child and family tax benefits, supports for social housing and tax benefits for the working poor, rights for disadvantaged populations, etc.  All of this makes a difference in whether opportunity gaps can be closed. 

There are many ways that funders can help to frame more effective public policies.  And it’s not only about advocacy or raising a voice in the public arena. Before we get to advocating for policy, we have to help develop policy. PFC’s guide Funders Making Change: Engaging in Public Policy tells stories about the actions of funders to help develop policy in a wide range of areas. They convene dialogues, bring together issue experts, and operate their own programs. Many funders strengthen the voices of the community in the policy process or create spaces for dialogue and the expression of views. Some foundations do move into advocacy using their own voice to highlight issues in the public space. 

If you are a funder who supports policy development, you can:

  • Fund an organization that does policy research 
  • Fund training of charity leaders or folks who want to work on policy issues
  • Pull together a policy lab to develop ideas. 
  • Bring policy makers themselves together to learn from each other
  • Fund pilot projects designed to help government test innovations in policy

Here are some great current examples of Canadian funders who are pursuing these strategies:

The Muttart Foundation and the Pemsel Case Foundation

The Max Bell Foundation Public Policy Training Institute    

The McConnell Foundation Social Labs

The Graham Boeckh Foundation and Access Open Minds

The Lawson Foundation and the Indigenous Solutions Lab on Diabetes Reduction

If you are a funder who supports policy advocacy, you can:

  • Commission a public opinion survey and talk about the results
  • Write an open letter to policy makers
  • Support community partners who are raising their own voices
  • Present policy briefs or letters to legislative and public bodies.

Here are some more great examples of funders as advocates:

The Early Child Development Funders Working Group

The Laidlaw Foundation Youth Action Fund

The Trottier Family Foundation and the Montreal Climate Centre 

The diversity of the actions that foundations can take is remarkable.  This is what the federal government calls “public policy dialogue and development” activity. And all of this public policy work is considered legitimate charitable activity by the federal regulator, if it is related to your purposes as a charity. That means “yes you can” fund public policy as a charitable funder. 

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