Skip to main content

Here’s Why Funders Should Support Advocacy

Resource type: News

Gillian Mitchell, Gabrielle Ritchie and Melanie Judge | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

Photo: Treatment Action Campaign

Advocacy is a central mechanism for driving social change.

As Mark Heywood, Executive Director of Section 27 says:

“Advocacy is not a handful of individuals shouting from the rooftops. It is about effective community education, community mobilisation and community empowerment around particular objectives.”

Advocacy is a powerful tool to hold government and other centres of power to account. It has emerged as a key course of action for non-profit organisations (NPOs), social movements and activists in South Africa. Through lobbying activities, strategic communications and direct approaches to law and policy makers, NPOs and social movements have enabled a raft of constitutional rights to be affirmed through their advocacy. In some cases, and often as a last resort, advocacy initiatives have used litigation to compel government to meet constitutional obligations.

Advocacy, as an area of grantmaking, is attracting increased attention amongst South African funders, particularly those philanthropists and philanthropic institutions with an interest in addressing the systemic causes of inequality rather than just its symptoms. That said, many funders still avoid supporting this critical area of rights-based work. Advocacy is frequently perceived as a risky endeavour that attracts controversy and political opposition. Funding advocacy also requires funders to be “in it for the long haul” — because advocacy is often a slow build, over a number of years, that may or may not result in achieving the stated goals.

Advocating Change

Advocacy includes a range of activities carried out by grantees, and sometimes by grantmakers themselves, aimed at influencing opinions and action on matters of public policy or concern. Attention must be paid by funders not only to funding social change and rights-based advocacy, but also to advocating for a different approach to funding approaches and impacts. This includes, for example:

  • Getting other donors to increase funding for advocacy work
  • An improved legislative environment to encourage advocacy grantmaking
  • Promoting the scope and scale of giving and the institutional and legislative infrastructure that supports it.

Many of the advocacy initiatives led by Atlantic grantees have aimed to make substantive changes in the quality of life of large numbers of people, particularly those at the social and economic margins. This ‘big picture’ advocacy has left an indelible imprint on the South African landscape in that key rights have been translated into concrete realities in relation to, for example, land ownership, same-sex relationship recognition, and access to education, health care and justice.

NGOs, funders and communities have come together to advocate for change in the lives of migrants and refugees, LGBTI people, women, people living with HIV and AIDS, and impoverished people, who bear the brunt of social inequalities. This advocacy has challenged and changed government’s failures to deliver. Most significantly, advocating for change has empowered disadvantaged populations to advocate on their own behalves.

Through a combination of tactics, including advocacy, grassroots organising, protest action, public interest litigation and communications, Atlantic grantees have advanced a range of critical rights in South Africa.

This article is an edited extract from Advocating change: using advocacy to challenge injustice, a section of Resourcing Philanthropy focused on identifying and illuminating tactics and lessons in public advocacy that seeks to shift prevailing social conditions, often through changing laws to change lives.

Read more in this series:

> Margin to Centre: How philanthropy can help guarantee constitutional rights in South Africa

> Risk with Vision: Placing Informed ‘Big Bets’

Resourcing Philanthropy is a new online platform that profiles philanthropic giving through the sharing of information, advice, tactics, tools and insights from grantmakers, non-profit leaders and philanthropists in South Africa.

Drawing on the grantmaking experience and impact of The Atlantic Philanthropies, Resourcing Philanthropy is dedicated to growing the funding sector in South Africa by showcasing grantmaking approaches that are proven to work, in particular those that seek to advance human rights and social justice.

Resourcing Philanthropy was funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and developed by Gillian Mitchell, Gabrielle Ritchie and Melanie Judge of eMRJ — an independent association of consultants that provides services and support to NPOs and donors.