Advocacy represents an important element of philanthropy, leveraging our voices to effect change. As part of ongoing effort to provide support and programming on advocacy, we've compiled resources that can aid you in starting and continuing the conversation around this topic in your work to prevent and end homelessness. We will be updating this page with timely resources as they become available, so be sure to check back often!
Funders Together Policy Priorities
We believe philanthropy has a voice in addressing homelessness and advancing solutions to prevent and end it with Congree and the Presidential administration. As Funders Together to End Homelessness prepares to work with the administration, together with our national partners we are focused on continuing to make preventing and ending homelessness a bi-partisan priority.
How Would Terminating USICH Affect Efforts to End Homelessness? Preliminary Findings from Interviews with Federal Agencies, Communities, and Advocacy Organizations
This brief, by the Urban Institute and funded by FTEH members, including the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Melville Charitable Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Kresge Foundation, and Butler Family Fund works to understand the US Interagency Council on Homelessness’s (USICH’s) role in the nation’s efforts to end homelessness and potential effects of the agency’s planned termination in 2017.
The Legal Limitations on Advocacy
Funders can and should be advocates for policies and funding streams that can end and prevent homelessness. Understand the legal restrictions on private foundations’ advocacy efforts with this resource.
Webinar: Advocacy - The Funder's Role
Now is the time to strategize how we can best use our resources as funders to help advocate for innovative and effective solutions to ending and preventing homelessness. In this webinar, we examine the various roles a funder can take to advance advocacy efforts at all levels: local, state, and federal.
Webinar: Advocacy 101 for Funders
In this webinar, the Alliance for Justice leads us on a continued learning journey around various ways foundations and United Ways can partake in advocacy to effect change. We defined lobbying and the limitations in place for different types of funders, shared examples of unique and effective ways Funders Together members engage in advocacy, and examined ways your grantees can become involved.
One goal in our Strategic Plan is to engage philanthropy to address racial inequity in homelessness, recognizing that unequal access to housing is the biggest inequity issue. As part of ongoing effort to provide support and programming on equity, we've compiled resources that can aid you in starting and continuing the conversation around this topic in your work to prevent and end homelessness. We will be updating this page with timely resources as they become available, so be sure to check back often!
If you are a funder interested in taking a deeper dive into exploring racial inequities in housing and the systemic issues that perpetuate racism, as well as how to apply a racial equity lens into your grantmaking, consider joining our newest community of practice, Foundations for Racial Equity! From 2019-2020, we will convene philanthropic leaders working at national and local levels to build relationships with other funders, learn together about systemic racism in housing and homelessness, and lead the field in creating a more equitable world. Learn more on our Foundations for Racial Equity page!
You can also check out our Programming page for a list of learning opportunities focused on addressing racial equity.
Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) Phase One Study Findings
New research from SPARC documents that people of color are dramatically more likely than White people to experience homelessness in the US. The message is clear: to end homelessness, we must confront structural racism. The report offers strategies for organizational leaders, researchers, policymakers, and community members.
Putting Racism on the Table
In 2016, WRAG launched Putting Racism on the Table, a learning series for philanthropy. The series, from January - June 2016, convened philanthropic CEOs and trustees to learn from experts on the many aspects of racism, including structural racism, white privilege, implicit bias, mass incarceration, and the racial mosaic of this country.
Resources from the series are available on the WRAG website.
Why We Need to Talk About Racism and Family Homelessness
This Powerpoint from the Center for Social Innovation provides important background and data on the connection between racism and homelessness.
Homelessness, Racism, and Social Justice
Jeff Olivet, Center for Social Innovation, examines the connection between homelessness, racism, and social justice in this Huffington Post blog post.
Center for Social Innovation SPARC Initiative
SPARC is an initiative of the Center for Social Innovation in partnership with The Bassuk Center on Homeless and Vulnerable Children & Youth. With support from the Oak Foundation and others, the SPARC team is launching a multi-city initiative to conduct qualitative and quantitative research, hold public discussions and forums, train providers and activists, and collaborate with leadership in systems of housing, health care, education, and criminal justice.
Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity
The Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity provides publications, resources, and programming that can aid as you look to advance racial equity through your foundation. The goal of the initiative is to "increase the amount and effectiveness of resources aimed at combating institutional and structural racism in communities through capacity building, education, and convening of grantmakers and grantseekers."
Putting Grantees at the Center of Philanthropy
This series from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, in partnership with Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, focuses on grantee inclusion and provides perspective from both the philanthropic and grantee view on why and how making grantees the center of philanthropy can advance initiatives and help them succeed.
Integrating Racial Equity in Foundations, Governance, Operations, and Program Strategy
This paper from the Consumer Health Foundation provides an excellent overview of framework for organizing racial equity efforts within philanthropy.
Kathleen Enright, President and CEO of Grantmakers for Effective Organizations explains why having conversations around racial equity is critical and will require us to be vulnerable if philanthropy is to succeed in addressing race and making positive changes in their communities.
The Road to Achieving Equity: Findings and Lessons from a Field Scan of Foundations That Are Embracing Equity as a Primary Focus
This report from Putnam-Consulting Group and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides a look at some of the efforts leading foundations are making, as well as the challenges they face. Based on interviews with 30 foundation leaders, this report explores the ways in which foundations are applying principles of equity within their own operations - from grantmaking, to investments, to human resources.
Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide
One way to achieve social change in an organization is to incorporate race equity and inclusion at every stage of work. The seven steps in this guide, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, provide a clear framework for undertaking this important work. This tool adds to the resources already created by partners who have been working in the field.
Unite4Equity is a Change Philanthropy campaign focused on promoting equity in philanthropy as an investment of social and financial resources in policies, practices, and actions that produce equitable access, power, and outcomes for all communities.
Bolder grantmaking: Integrating Racial Equity Impact Assessments in requests for proposals
This blog from the Consumer Health Foundation focuses on the Foundation's revisiting of grantmaking protocols and a new practice to ensure that its investments are truly impacting communities of color.
An accurate census count is essential to our efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The numbers from the 2020 Census will be used to determine funding and service levels for the next ten years. We know that along with individuals experiencing homelessness, racial minorities, immigrants, young people, and people in poverty are historically hard to count. The 2020 Census is already facing new challenges including budget constraints, online response, and scaled back door-to-door outreach and canvassing.
As a field, the homelessness sector has experience and expertise counting these individuals. As funders, we can support our grantees to help ensure a fair and accurate count. Additionally, funders across the country are coming together to support local planning, inform policy makers, and to educate nonprofits.
The links below are a culmination of resources provided by our partners and members. If you are interested in having additional conversations on how the 2020 Census will specifically impact our efforts, please reach out to Lauren Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Upcoming Learning Opportunities
United State Census Bureau
From Our Partners
United Philanthropy Forum
- Census 2020: Why an Accurate Count Matters to Philanthropy
- A Critical Moment for the 2020 Census and Why Philanthropy Should Care
- Foundation Sign-on Letter: The Funders Census Initiative under the leadership of the Bauman Foundation is circulating a sign-on letter for foundations. Interested foundations can add their name to the letter by filling out the sign-on form.
Funders' Committee for Civic Participation
- Census 2020 Resources
- Participate. Convene. Invest. – A Call to Action for Philanthropy
- 7 Things Funders Can Do To Support Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA)
The Leadership Conference Education Fund
Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality
- Citizen Question Non-Response:A Demographic Profile of People Who Do Not Answer the American Community Survey Citizenship Question
- Counting People Experiencing Homelessness: A Guide to 2020 Census Operations
Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees
Brennan Center for Justice
- Where Things Stand in the Citizenship Question Lawsuits (Oct 12, 2018)
National Conference of State Legislatures
From Our Members
In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the destruction has been devastating and the complete impact of these storms remain to be seen. Those affected face a long road of uncertainty, especially those in poverty or already experiencing homelessness. Philanthropy can and should address the short-term needs to provide safety and protection for people in the path of these storms, but should also focus on a long-term response aimed at rebuilding in ways that address the needs of people with the lowest incomes and/or who are experiencing homelessness.
Below is a list of responses and resources by and for those involved in the work to end homelessness in response to this record-breaking storm.
In addition, Funders Together to End Homelessness is committed to sharing how we can support the identified needs of Texas and Florida and surrounding areas. We are currently working with our members local to the area and will provide timely updates and resources that can further aid in the development of both short and long term responses. Please check back and watch your email for more detail.
From Our Partners
Lessons Learned from Disaster Recovery
What does systems change to end homelessness look like? What is the funder's role in creating effective systems?Read more
While bringing together diverse stakeholders is a necessary step towards ending homelessness, it is not sufficient. Too often people convene to talk, learn best practices, and plan without making necessary changes in their own behavior. Too often they acknowledge that they know what should be done, but then fail to follow through because doing so may compromise immediate self-interests for funding, recognition, and feeling helpful.
Thinking and acting systemically are required to end homelessness.
At the community level, this involves:
- Engaging key stakeholders;
- Bridging the gap between reality and vision;
- Testing for a commitment to change; and
- Developing a shared vision.
At the national level, this involves:
- Educating funders and providers along the continuum of care about a systems approach;
- Convening stakeholders to mobilize a systems approach; and
- Running local demonstrations in communities and expanding community models.
How a Systems Approach Benefits Funders
Turbocharge Your Convening Power
Donors have a unique ability to engage stakeholders across the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. Bringing people together with a systems change lens creates a space for people to reconsider their immediate interests in service of the bigger picture. Systems thinking enables people to map the unintended consequences of actions, allows them to take responsibility for the problem, and empowers them to be a part of the solution in more effective ways. They become more motivated to and able to act in service of the whole instead of only their part—ultimately achieving greater impact.
Increase the Impact of Your Grantmaking
Funders faced with the philanthropic challenge of wanting to help people in both the short– and long-term often fail to recognize that quick fixes can hinder their ability to apply sustainable solutions. Because funders address chronic, complex problems, they must adopt a way of thinking to match. For example:
A problem’s symptoms and underlying causes are directly connected.
System performance is largely determined by interdependencies among system elements that are indirect, circular, and not always obvious.
A policy that achieves short-term success ensures long-term success.
The unintended and delayed consequences of most quick fixes neutralize or reverse immediate gains over time.
Most problems are caused by external factors beyond our control.
Because actions taken by one group often have delayed negative consequences on its own performance, as well as the behavior of others, each group unwittingly contributes to the very problem it tries to solve.
To improve the performance of the whole, we must improve the performance of its parts. Tackle many independent initiatives simultaneously to improve all of the parts.
To improve the performance of the whole, improve the relationships among the parts. Identify a few key interdependencies and shift them in a sustained, coordinated way over time.
Enhance Your Ability to Advocate for Effective Policies
Policymakers similarly confuse linear and systemic thinking. As a result, they can recommend policies that support quick fixes at the expense of long-term solutions. Funders can help education policymakers about a systems approach and thereby advocate for sustainable, system-wide solutions to complex problems like homelessness.
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The amount of legislative activity that is permissible for a section 501(c)(3) organization is dependent upon both the organization’s classification—that is, whether it is a “public charity” or a “private foundation”—and its size. Part I of this memorandum briefly describes the definition of legislative activities (i.e., lobbying) generally. Parts II and III address how much lobbying activity public charities and private foundations can engage in without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. Part IV describes the interplay of the lobbying limitations in the context of private foundation grants to public charities that lobby.
Part I: Definition of Legislative Activities
An activity engaged in by a section 501(c)(3) organization, including advocacy, is treated as a legislative activity only if it is an attempt to influence legislation.
Lobbying activity may include attempting to influence legislation through direct contact with the relevant legislative body or indirectly through “grassroots” activities (i.e., lobbying aimed at persuading members of the general public to contact their legislative representatives.) Thus, a 501(c)(3) organization is generally regarded as attempting to influence legislation if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation by (a) contacting members of a legislative body (or their staff) with respect to legislation; or (b) urging the public to contact members of a legislative body with respect to legislation.
Legislation need not be introduced in the legislature for an organization to be treated as engaging in lobbying activities with respect to legislation. Rather, lobbying also includes specific legislative proposals that are either favored or opposed by the organization, even if they have not yet been introduced.
Legislation also includes the confirmation of administrative appointees, Congressional resolutions, state and foreign legislation, local and city council legislation, and referenda and ballot measures. It does not, however, include regulations or actions exclusively within the executive branch.
An organization can be treated as lobbying (or influencing legislation) even if it does so through an agent or gives money to another for the purpose of facilitating lobbying. (See Part IV of this memorandum, below.)
Not all activities that touch on legislative issues are treated for tax purposes as attempts to influence legislation. Educational activities that touch on legislative issues, but are objective and do not have a purpose of advocating for a particular position are not treated for tax purposes as attempts to influence legislation. For example, the publication of scholarly studies, or of objective, nonpartisan analyses of legislative proposals, will not necessarily be treated as restricted legislative activity even if these studies or reports endorse a particular position. On the other hand, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has taken the position in some cases that educational activity that is otherwise proper becomes improper (i.e., legislative) where the purpose of such activity is the active advocacy of some specific legislative program.
In addition, providing technical assistance at the request of the legislature by responding to a request to provide testimony at a congressional hearing is not treated as lobbying. Discussion with legislators of broad social or economic problems also does not constitute lobbying, as long as the discussion does not address the merits of specific legislation.
It is very difficult to draw bright lines in this area, and even a comprehensive review of the decided cases and rulings would be of limited help, because the determinations of the IRS and the courts tend to be very fact-specific.
As a general proposition, however, it can be said that 30-second TV spots or newspaper ads that advocate a particular position, that are one-sided, that do not present backup data or opposing viewpoints, and that are timed to tie into legislators’ or voters’ consideration of legislative proposals, will be vulnerable to attack as not being “educational” within the meaning of the Treasury regulations.
While a section 501(c)(3) organization may be able to engage in legislative activities described above, it cannot engage in any political campaign activities. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are not allowed to participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office, regardless of their tax classification as a public charity or private foundation. Even de minimis participation in a political campaign would jeopardize the organization's status as a section 501(c)(3) organization and/or result in the imposition of an excise tax upon the organization.
Part II: Permissible Legislative Activity by Public Charities
The Substantial Activities Test
The category of so-called “public charities” includes those charitable and educational organizations that enjoy a broad base of public financial support. Prominent examples would be the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, and the United Way. Such organizations are permitted to engage in legislative activity—both “direct” and “grassroots” lobbying—so long as such activity is not “substantial” in relation to the organization’s overall activity. What constitutes “substantial” activities has never been defined with any precision; as the IRS likes to say, it depends on all the “facts and circumstances” of the particular case. At least one decided case suggests that activity that represents less than five percent of an organization’s overall activity will not be considered substantial.
How legislative activity is to be measured is another unanswered question. Certainly, financial expenditures, both direct expenses and reasonably allocated overhead, will be considered. In addition, time spent by volunteer workers and other factors may also be considered in particular cases.
The Section 501(h) Safe Harbor
Because of the uncertainty regarding the scope of legislative activities that a public charity may engage in before those activities are treated as “substantial,” public charities often elect, under section 501(h), to have their legislative activities measured by a mathematical formula. As a result, the section 501(h) election effectively provides a safe harbor for permissible legislative activities. For an electing organization, the permissible amount of legislative activity is then determined by reference to the organization’s overall “exempt purposes” budget, as follows:
If overall budget is
The permissible lobbying limit is
Not over $500,000
20% of the exempt purpose expenditures
Over $500,000 but not over $1,000,000
$100,000 plus 15% of the excess of the exempt purpose expenditures over $500,000
Over $1,000,000 but not over $1,500,000
$175,000 plus 10% of the excess of the exempt purpose expenditures over $1,000,000
$225,000 plus 5% of the excess of the exempt purpose expenditures over $1,500,000
There is a statutory maximum lobbying limit of $1 million per year.
Of the amounts determined under the foregoing formula, 100% may be spent on so-called “direct lobbying” (i.e., lobbying directed at the persons who will vote on the legislation, which in the case of ballot initiatives includes the voting public). Under a separate statutory limitation, only 25% of whatever amount is determined under the foregoing formula can be spent on “grassroots lobbying” (as defined above).
Part III: Legislative Activity by Private Foundations
Private foundations are section 501(c)(3) organizations that typically have, and are supported by, investments and endowments producing income used for grant-making purposes and that do not receive substantial financial support from the general public. Private foundations, as a subcategory of section 501(c)(3), are defined in section 509 of the Code. Prominent examples are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Pursuant to sections 4940 through 4946 of the Code, private foundations are subject to a series of significant restrictions that do not apply to public charities. Among these restrictions, section 4945 imposes an absolute prohibition on engaging in legislative activities. In other words, private foundations, unlike public charities, are not allowed to engage in legislative activity even to an insubstantial extent. The penalty for violations of these rules can range from tax penalties, measured by the amounts improperly expended for prohibited activity, up to revocation of the organization’s tax exemption (in certain cases of repeated or flagrant violations).
However, private foundations may engage in advocacy that is not treated as a legislative activity, such as permissible “educational” activity described in Part I of this memorandum. In addition, a private foundation will not be treated as attempting to influence legislation in discussions with governmental officials provided that:
- The subject of the discussions is a program which is jointly funded by the foundation and the government or is a new program which may be jointly funded by the foundation and the government;
- The discussions are undertaken for the purpose of exchanging data and information on the subject matter of the program; and
- Such discussions are not undertaken by foundation managers in order to make any direct attempt to persuade government officials or employees to take particular positions on specific legislative issues other than such program.
Part IV: Private Foundation Grants to Public Charities that Lobby
Amounts expended by a private foundation’s public charity grantees for lobbying activities can be attributed to the private foundation in certain circumstances. In particular, attribution can (and is likely to) occur when the foundation has earmarked its grant funds to be used to finance the lobbying activity in question. Of course, whether sufficient “earmarking” has occurred to result in attribution may be clear in some instances and not in others. The IRS has not developed specific rules to determine whether earmarking has occurred; rather, a facts and circumstances test is applied.
There are two types of grants that would ordinarily be permitted (i.e., the grants will not be treated as impermissible attempts to lobby by the private foundation):
- General support grants, so long as the grant is not earmarked to be used by the recipient public charity in attempts to influence legislation; and
- Specific project grants, so long as the grant is not earmarked to be used in an attempt to influence legislation and the sum of all grants made by the private foundation for the same project for the same year does not exceed the amount budgeted, for the year of the grant, by the grantee organization for activities of the project that are not attempts to influence legislation. In such a situation—setting aside the fungibility of money—the argument is that none of the foundation’s funds have been used for lobbying.
1 All section references are to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”) unless otherwise specified.
2 Treas. Reg. § 1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3)(ii).
3 Treas. Reg. § 1.501(c)(3)-1(c)(3).
4 The Treasury regulations include an example in which a private foundation publishes a report on the use of pesticides, which concludes that the disadvantages of using pesticides are greater than the advantages and that prompt legislative regulation of pesticides is needed. The example concludes that the report is within the exception for nonpartisan analysis since it presents information on both sides of the legislative controversy and presents a sufficiently full and fair exposition on the pertinent facts to enable the public or an individual to form an independent opinion or conclusion. Treas. Reg. § 53.4945-2(d)(1)(vii), ex.2.
5 See Seasongood v. Commissioner, 227 F.2d 207 (6th Circ. 1955) (finding that legislative activities were not substantial).
6 Section 4911(c)(2).
7 Section 4911(c)(4).
8 Treas. Reg. § 53.4945-2(a)(3).
9 Treas. Reg. § 53.4945-2(a)(5)(i).
10 Treas. Reg. § 53.4945-2(a)(6)(i).
11 Treas. Reg. § 53.4945-2(a)(6)(ii).
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Our sincere thanks to Covington and Burling LLP for their pro bono support in the creation of this resource.
Posted by Funders Together to End Homelessness · December 18, 2014 11:35 AM
Posted by Funders Together to End Homelessness · December 18, 2014 11:30 AM
Posted by Funders Together to End Homelessness · December 18, 2014 11:25 AM
Because homelessness has no single cause or solution, Funders Together to End Homelessness believes that:
- We must rethink the systems that have allowed homelessness to persist.
- We must support those who are calling for the integration of homelessness systems with other systems working to improve the lives of American families.
- We must improve collaborative efforts and strategic partnerships among philanthropy, government, business leaders, advocates, and service providers.
How We Get There
In order to end and prevent homelessness, we need adequate and affordable housing as well as appropriate income and employment opportunities.
Funders Together supports:
- Full and adequate funding for housing vouchers, public housing, and housing-related supportive services for vulnerable individuals and families
- Creation and funding of housing trust funds at national, regional, and local levels
- Use of federal funds to provide emergency housing assistance to those in need
- Creation of jobs for low income families that provide meaningful opportunities for work, skills development, and ultimately, career growth
- Creation of jobs for youth and young adults, especially those not in school
- Competitive grants to allow for the training of those who are unemployed
- Adequate childcare and transportation programs so low income parents can keep their jobs
- Strengthening the connections among federal assistance, job training, and homeless assistance programs
If you have any questions about these policy principles, please contact Anne Miskey.
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