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Foundation Operations: Board Issues-> Board Engagement

What are some strategies for engaging board members around policy and advocacy?

For foundations moving into funding policy and advocacy, an important first step is engaging board members to help them understand and embrace the course of action and goals for funding these activities. Opportunities exist in both the recruitment of new board members and the education of current members. Foundations that rotate board members and bring in individuals on a defined basis for open seats have a prime opportunity to infuse fresh perspectives to the organization, as well as influence the outlook of existing board members. Individuals who have intimate experiences with community needs and experience as advocates are more likely to support policy and advocacy activities. Including even one or two board members with this background and perspective may change the shape of the entire board and increase the likelihood for engaging in policy and advocacy.

In addition to recruiting new board members that will endorse the foundation's work on policy and advocacy, foundation staff and board leaders can create opportunities for educating current board members. While the orientation process for new board members is one opportunity to express the culture and direction of the organization to ensure that incoming board members understand the foundation's approach to grantmaking, ongoing strategies are important. For example:


  • The Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts, Inc. made a major investment in, and ultimately lost, a fluoridation campaign. Rather than get discouraged, staff used this experience as an opportunity to reexamine how its board prepared for future advocacy efforts. The foundation hired an experienced policy advocate to train and coach board members on ins-and-outs of funding advocacy, and address their questions and concerns.


  • Some foundations invite board members to affinity group meetings and use this as an opportunity to introduce them to issues they may not be exposed to in their everyday lives. The Consumer Health Foundation devotes time at the following board meeting to think about what was learned or to have a discussion about a health policy issue. Board members discuss the key take-away lessons and then reflect on how those relate to the foundation's work.


  • The Connecticut Health Foundation has established a policy committee on its board to take control of policy internally and be responsible for addressing political issues. In doing so, the foundation's board and staff fully understand that this includes a fair share of wins, as well as losses. While it did have success immediately, the board recognizes that it may have to someday be at the forefront of controversial issues or be willing to accept policy failures. The foundation is also reaching out to other community opinion leaders, particularly those in the business and labor communities, to build a stronger collaborative effort around health policy issues.  


GrantCraft, Advocacy Funding: The Philanthropy of Changing Minds (Washington, DC: 2005).  

Grantmakers In Health, Funding Health Advocacy, Issue Brief No. 21 (Washington, DC: February 2005).

Grantmakers In Health, The Path to Policy Change, Issue Brief No 26. (Washington, DC: February 2006).

Grantmakers In Health, Taking Time for Board Engagement Strategies, Issue Focus (Washington, DC: April 5, 2004).
































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