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Estimating “Return On Investment” for Policy and Advocacy Funding

February 28, 2012 2:00 pm Eastern Time

GIH Public Policy Strategies Audioconference Series

Tuesday, February 28 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern / 1:00 p.m. Central / 12:00 p.m. Mountain / 11:00 a.m. Pacific     

Lisa Ranghelli, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy 
Suk Rhee, Northwest Health Foundation

Investments in advocacy and other policy-related activities yield tremendous “bang for the buck”. A study recently released by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) provides compelling evidence of the impressive return on investment (ROI) generated by policy and advocacy funding. This Audioconference explored the findings and methodology of NCRP’s report Leveraging Limited Dollars — How Grantmakers Achieve Tangible Results by Funding Policy and Community Engagement and considered the implications of this research for health funders.

Ms. Ranghelli led the audioconference by describing the genesis of this study. She noted that during a NCRP strategic planning process approximately four years ago the organization attempted to identify the major barriers to funder investment in policy advocacy and civic engagement. NCRP found that questions related to the impact of such investments were seen as a major obstacle to increased funding in these areas. Therefore NCRP set out to develop a robust methodology for documenting the ROI of policy- and advocacy-related investments by philanthropy and other funders.

Ms. Ranghelli outlined key features of the study's methodology and encouraged call participants to review a more detailed summary of NCRP’s methods available on NCRP's website. She stressed that the study focused on documenting collective investments and impacts in seven sites across the country.  Within each site, NCRP sought to (1) identify a broad and diverse range of non-profit organizations involved in policy advocacy and civic engagement, (2) document the total financial investment in these organizations, (3) identify the most impactful accomplishments of these organizations, and (4) quantify the monetary value of these impacts. This collective approach was pursued given difficulties in attributing policy and systems change to specific organizations, funders, or grant initiatives. Taken together, approximately $231 million in funding yielded over $26 billion in community benefits within the sites studied, reflecting the work of 110 organizations in 13 states over a five-year period. 

Ms. Ranghelli cautioned that these findings do not provide a precise valuation of ROI, but should instead be viewed as a conservative estimate of returns. Importantly only about half of the impacts achieved by community groups studied could be appropriately monetized. A comprehensive, searchable directory of all documented community impacts is available through NCRP’s website. Roughly one quarter of these impacts are health-related and include policy changes associated with SCHIP and Medicaid coverage, as well as environmental justice and other public health achievements. 

Suk Rhee began her remarks by providing some brief background information about the Northwest Health Foundation. She emphasized the Foundation’s embrace of a broad, holistic definition of health and noted the organization’s commitment to achieving positive changes in systems and the social determinants of health.  Ms Rhee indicated that the Northwest Health Foundation helped to fund NCRP’s study given both a sincere desire to quantify the benefits associated with policy advocacy and civic engagement, as well as a desire to more broadly communicate the importance of such work and to increase funders' awareness of the benefits of making investments focused on “upstream” health issues. She discussed how the results of the regional report were released in conjunction with a separate Northwest Health Foundation study that documented the area’s relatively low levels of investment in communities of color.



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