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Insights Advocacy for Impact

About the Book

It's all about fairness.

This book shows what’s possible when communities, nonprofits and funders challenge and help change discriminatory policies, practices and narratives.


  1. Seeking to Abolish the Death Penalty
  2. The Campaign to Take On the AIDS Crisis in South Africa
  3. Marriage Equality’s Path to Victory in Ireland
  4. Advocating for School Discipline Reform

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Among foundations, the topic of advocacy gets a mixed reception. Some wholeheartedly embrace it, while others worry that supporting advocacy will invite unwarranted attention or cause them to run afoul of the law.

Atlantic’s work shows that investing in advocacy is an effective way to advance positive and meaningful change, especially when the goal is to modify laws or public policies that deny people opportunity, fairness, or equity.

Although each of the four cases in this Insights is different, there are themes common to them:

  • Atlantic structured its approach to using advocacy so that it could have maximum effect given its plan to complete grantmaking by the end of 2016.
  • Atlantic invested in strategists as much as it invested in strategies, which have very much been part of the foundation’s approach to investing in both people and organizations. In Ireland, Atlantic had no hand at all in designing the campaign strategy that led to successful passage of the ballot initiative approving marriage equality. In its school discipline reform work, the foundation helped shape the strategy, but also gave the grantees great flexibility in how they implemented their individual efforts and campaigns.

Atlantic has always tried to understand the cultural context in which its grants occur.

  • In addition to funding support, Atlantic served as convener, counselor, and sometimes even referee. On occasion, the foundation played multiple roles within the same strategy. It led when it was helpful, but was just as ready to step into the background when it made sense to do so.
  • As a foundation that has made grants across five continents, Atlantic has always tried to understand the cultural context in which its grants occur. For example, in South Africa, there is a rich culture of protest and civil disobedience, which the Treatment Action Campaign used to move its political leaders to action. By contrast, in Ireland, leaders of the marriage equality campaign used a tone of conversation and inclusion, understanding that change in that country often happens incrementally and in a spirit of cooperation.
  • Finally, as far as Atlantic was concerned, the foundation saw great value in being able to make grants for lobbying, which was an important, and probably essential, tool in its work to end the death penalty and to improve health systems in South Africa.

Atlantic hopes that its work will add to a body of evidence that shows how foundations can bring about meaningful change in a wide variety of issues and geographies.


Death Penalty

What We Learned

The death penalty is one of the most controversial and challenging issues in the United States today. Here are some key lessons Atlantic has learned from its efforts to abolish capital punishment:

  1. Funding for policy advocacy made a huge difference
  2. Invest in strategists
  3. Collaboration can be tricky, but it’s essential
  4. Getting consensus around a strategy takes work, but it’s worth it



The HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa may be considered one of the major public health challenges of the past two decades. Here are a few lessons Atlantic has taken away from its investments to make antiretrovirals widely available:

  1. Funding lobbying was extremely important
  2. Both funders and grantees needed to be flexible and opportunistic
  3. Alliance building was critical
  4. There is no substitute for leadership

Marriage Equality

Lessons for Advocates

The Marriage Equality campaign in the Republic of Ireland was very much a product of its time and place. Yet there are several transferable lessons from this successful effort to expand rights and protections for LGBT people:

  1. Strategy is everything
  2. Test your assumptions
  3. Maximize your advantages and minimize your disadvantages

School Discipline Reform

Lessons for the Field

There is no shortage of lessons that funders and advocates can take from Atlantic’s work on school discipline reform:

  1. Authentic messengers, especially youth, were critical
  2. Local activists were essential
  3. Changing the narrative is particularly necessary when decision-making is decentralized
  4. Funder collaboration is key
  5. Big systems change can happen with a relatively small investment


Read it now.

Explore the four case studies in this book to learn how strategic investments in advocacy can help advance positive and meaningful change.


Download the full book (PDF) ›

Further Reading

Download Full Book (PDF)

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