The people most impacted by injustice can lead the way
posted on: October 1, 2010
This is a guest posting from Marjory Hamann, executive director of the Mckenzie River Gathering Foundation, a social justice funder in Portland, Ore.
By Marjory Hamann
I’ve been waiting to hear the results of NCRP’s research on the impact of funding advocacy, organizing and civic engagement in the Pacific Northwest and let me tell you—it was worth the wait.
I was in the room Wednesday when Aaron Dorfman announced that the 20 advocacy organizations they studied had secured $5 billion for marginalized communities in our region over five years in the form of wages, expanded services, investments in housing and other programs, and the defeat of damaging ballot initiatives that would strain state budgets.
The organizing campaigns that led to those gains raised $33.9 million from foundations, membership dues and other sources, resulting in a return on investment of $150 for every $1 contributed.
As the executive director of the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation in Oregon, I’ve seen the powerful results of funding advocacy first hand. For 35 years we’ve been funding groups that organize in communities of color, low-income communities and other communities that bear the brunt of societal inequalities. Groups like the Community Alliance of Tenants, the Center for Intercultural Organizing, and the Partnership for Safety and Justice, all of which participated in the study.
We fund this work because we believe the people most impacted by injustice can lead the way to public policies that work better for everyone. That belief permeates how our own organization is run. Our work is funded by hundreds of Oregonians who share our values of justice and equality, and the people who make our grant decisions come from the communities we fund.
The value of the NCRP study for us is that it focuses on the tangible benefits of advocacy. Advocacy efforts are often evaluated by counting the number of people who turn out for a rally or whether a campaign results in a policy win. This research gives us a way to measure the impact in financial terms, and provides a compelling case for us to share with donors about how their support is making a difference in our community.
Equally important, it gives us a starting point for talking with our peers about what works, and how we as funders can support it. As the report points out, community groups in the Northwest “looked beyond their individual organizations, issues, constituencies and short-term campaigns in favor of longer-term and more holistic processes that built power, changed mindsets as well as policy, addressed root causes and build their organizations strategically.”
This is long-term, challenging work. A good example in our state is the decades of alliance building between progressive Latino organizations, predominantly white groups in rural Oregon and LGBTQ activists. By backing each other’s agendas, groups like CAUSA, Basic Rights Oregon and the Rural Organizing Project are able to turn out massive numbers of Oregonians to advocate for gay rights and comprehensive immigration reform. In a world where political conversations are becoming increasingly polarized, these groups provide a national model for how communities can come together across differences.
We’re glad to be part of a national conversation about philanthropy’s role in advocacy and social change. Foundations often encourage grantees to work together. I think it’s equally important that we work together as funders to promote and support those groups that are tackling some of the toughest societal problems of our time. I invite any foundations that are interested in talking more about how to do this in the Pacific Northwest to get in touch.
Marjory Hamann is executive director of the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation. She also serves on the board of Grantmakers of Oregon & SW Washington and Western States Center, which gives her a regional perspective on the role of philanthropy in the social justice movement.
Photo: Members of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) rally for immigrant rights. Photo courtesy of BRO.