Skip to main content

06. Public Voice

Ideas to help you grow in the area of public voice.

Back to Practice Resources

Understand: Philanthropic organizations enjoy power and influence that we must use responsibly, both individually and collectively, for the greater good. Our public voice augments our grantmaking to demonstrate partnership in communities and to advance our goals.

  1. We understand our privilege to speak publicly. We understand the weight our voice holds within our community; we recognize how our public voice can support our grantmaking to advance issues and values that we care about.
  2. We have defined a strategy for communicating with the public about our work, our nonprofit grantee partners, and issues that are important to our mission. Staff and board know how to engage in our public communications activities.
  3. We understand the important role of exercising our public voice in a democracy. We understand the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution and how it impacts our work, our grantee partners and the social movements aligned with our grantmaking.
  4. Our board and staff understand how our organization can engage in the public policy process, including how, and to what extent, we can legally fund and otherwise participate in lobbying and advocacy activities.

Begin: We form our public voice by listening humbly to those with lived experience on issues we seek to influence. We use our collective voice to share knowledge, educate ourselves and others, and impact change on issues that advance equity and strengthen our community.

We use our public voice to be explicit about our work and our views:

  1. We regularly communicate with the public about our work, our nonprofit grantee partners, and the issues that are important to our mission.
  2. If we choose to remain silent on issues related to our mission, we acknowledge that this leaves our views and values subject to misinterpretation.
  3. We use a range of communications strategies to share our viewpoints, such as conference presentations, white papers, newspaper op-eds, blog posts, social media posts, public interviews and testimonials.
  4. We engage with other philanthropic organizations involved in similar mission work. We amplify their messages, support their programs and learn from their example.
  5. When appropriate, we collaborate with other foundations, nonprofits, and/or community leaders to create a unified, collective voice. (Talk with MCF about ways we can support your collaborative action.)
  6. Staff and board discuss our public communications and public policy strategies; we build an internal culture that provides clarity about how we use our external voice.
  7. The community is a key informant as we form our public voice. We pay them for their time spent partnering with our staff and board.

We use our public voice to the extent that is legally permissible and consistent with our organization’s particular tax status, for advancing public policy goals:

  1. We advocate publicly for and support issues that relate to our mission and values, and the interests of the charitable sector, within the limits of the law.
  2. We build relationships with our elected officials and educate them on the issues we care about.
  3. Through our grants agreements, we do not limit the ability of our nonprofit grantee partners to engage in public policy or advocacy, beyond the legal and tax-exemption limitations that are directly applicable to us, or our grantees.
  4. We adhere to all state and federal laws, including reporting requirements related to participating in lobbying and restrictions on engaging in political campaigns relating to candidates for public office.
  5. As active members of a vibrant democracy, we engage in lobbying activities that are allowed by law and in compliance with any applicable federal, state, or local registration or reporting requirements. All foundations, including private foundations and foundations that are classified for tax purposes as public charities (such as many community foundations), may engage in the following activities without violating their tax-exempt status:
  • Fund or present nonpartisan analysis, study or research that provides a full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts, is made widely available and does not directly encourage the recipient to take action with respect to specific legislation.
  • Engage in examinations and discussions of broad social, economic and similar problems not connected to specific legislative proposals.
  • Provide testimony or other technical assistance to a governmental body or committee, pursuant to a written request from the governmental body or committee.
  • Address proposed legislation that would affect the existence of our philanthropic organization, its powers and duties, its tax-exempt status or the deductibility of contributions to the organization.
  • Present information to a legislative body about a program that is, or may be, funded by both the philanthropic organization and the government.
  1. In addition to the activities listed above, if we are classified as public charities we may also actively engage in lobbying on legislative proposals or other public policies affecting the communities and constituencies we serve through our grantmaking or other programs, within the limits of the law.
  2. We understand that lobbying activities are only a small subset of the broader set of advocacy activities that foundations are encouraged to engage in and fund in pursuit of their mission and values. This broader set of advocacy activities includes, but it not limited to, issue education, community organizing, convening, media outreach, policy development, capacity building, litigation, and more.
  3. We partner with legal counsel to explore and fully understand the opportunities and limitations on our organization’s participation in lobbying and advocacy based on our status as a private foundation or public charity and applicable tax elections.

Aspire: We amplify the voice of communities that have been historically marginalized. We use our collective voice to impact change in public policy and public opinion on issues important to our communities. We use our resources to amplify community voices and support grassroots organizing and advocacy.

  1. We carefully consider when to partner, lead or follow the community. We collaborate with and support nonprofit grantee partners as they spread their message to the public, legislators, their peers and other philanthropies.
  2. As a funder, we ask nonprofit grantee partners, “what’s important for us to know?” We share that information as we use our public voice and we follow through and tell the grantee partners what came about as a result of their input.
  3. We fund community organizing, narrative changemovement buildingleadership development and capacity building.
  4. We understand that funding 501(c)(4) organizations may be permissiblewithin certain legal parameters, and that supporting multi-entity organizations can be an effective way to maximize community impact. We engage legal counsel or other experts to understand the opportunities and limitations of this strategy.
  5. We offer financial and relational support to local media and nonprofit news resources that advocate for communities that have been historically marginalized.
  6. We value and engage in multiple cultural ways of communicating both verbally and nonverbally.
  7. We advocate for a shared vision of the future, imagined and advanced by our community.
  8. We support public policies as defined by the communities, themselves.
  9. We fund long-term grassroots advocacy and power building in our areas of issue focus.  We understand that this work can be complex and non-linear, and multi-year, general operating funding provides the flexibility and commitment required for communities to leverage their collective voice and power to create meaningful change and impact.