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!
Federal Intervention on Homelessness Resources
In September 2019, word of possible federal intervention on homelessness in California by the Administration circulated in the news. Then, on Monday, September 16th, the White House's Council of Economic Advisers released a troubling "State of Homelessness in America" report, which outlined actions the Administration may take as part of this intervention. This page provides a timeline of events, responses to the events, and resources for funders.
Funders Together Policy Priorities
We believe philanthropy has a voice in addressing homelessness and advancing solutions to prevent and end it with Congress 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: Investing in Change - Supporting Advocacy and Policy Efforts
In this webinar, Funders Together partnered with Alliance for Justice to answer burning questions from our members like: How can philanthropy make the case for funding advocacy to end homelessness? Uncertain whether you can fund grantees that lobby? What’s philanthropy’s role in educating new members of Congress on housing and homelessness issues? Can philanthropy support local ballot initiative work?
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.
A priority of Funders Together to End Homelessness is to engage philanthropy in addressing racial disparities in housing and homelessness and advancing racial equity. As part of ongoing effort to provide support and programming on equity, we've compiled resources that can aid funders in starting and continuing the conversation around this topic in your work. We will be updating this page with timely resources as they become available, so be sure to check back often! This is not an exhaustive list, so we recommend checking with our various partners also engaging in this work.
In 2019, Funders Together to End Homelessness released our Commitment to Racial Equity to show how we have and will use a racial equity lens to support our members and the philanthropic sector to shift its practice, policy and grantmaking actions and how we will foster greater diversity, equity, and inclusion within FTEH as an organization. You can view the Commitment here.
- Racial equity
- Structural racism (part I and part II)
- Levels of racism: institutional racism, interpersonal, systemic (cheat sheet, longer descriptions)
- Implicit bias (also this video)
- White privilege (and another resource)
- White fragility (and another article, both by Robin DiAngelo)
- A Brief Timeline of Race and Homelessness in America
- Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis(Aspen Institute)
- Racial Equity Resource Guide Glossary (W.K. Kellogg Foundation)
- Racial Equity Tools Glossary (racialequitytools.org)
- Interaction Institute for Social Change working definitions
Funders Together Resources
Learning Series and Webinars
Race Matters Institute Webinars 1-2 Debrief
Funders Together has been hosting a four-part webinar series, led by Race Matters Institute, that covers a range of tools for understanding the history of racial inequity in homelessness, conducting a racial equity impact analysis, and developing strategies to advance racial equity in your organization. In this video, Stephanie Chan, Director of Membership and Programs, provides a debrief of the first two webinars in the series.
SPARC Phase One Study Findings
In this webinar, Marc Dones and Jeff Olivet provided an overview of the findings from the Phase One Study released in March 2018 and shared what they mean for the field of homelessness.
2019 Funders Institute Past Events page
From July 22-24, 2019, we convened sixty funders in Washington, DC for our annual Funders Institute to learn about removing barriers to advance racial equity from the ground up. Held in conjunction with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, program participants learned about what other funders are doing to advance racial equity, Native homelessness, how to engage in advocacy at the congressional level, and how to support grantees in doing racial equity work.
Resources related to specific conversations are linked on this page.
Ending Homelessness Means Ending Urban Native Homelessness
During this webinar, we shared how the Coalition to End Urban Native Homelessness is partnering with nonprofit and Native organizations, government agencies, tribal leaders, and philanthropic partners to drive long-term systems change. Ending urban Native homelessness requires a culturally competent, collaborative approach, and this webinar will explore how AI/Ans have historically been undercounted and under-resourced, and what funders can do to support ending urban Native homelessness.
New Research on Racial Inequities in Coordinated Entry System Assessment Tools
C4 Innovations released findings from their latest research project examining how coordinated entry system assessments are perpetuating racial inequities by prioritizing white people for housing services and capturing vulnerabilities that white people are more likely to experience. This webinar brought this new research to our members. In this webinar, participants were one of the first to hear their research findings, what this means for funders working in homelessness, and what needs to happen next to end racism in the homelessness system.
Are Housing Vouchers Contributing to Racial and Economic Segregation for Families with Children?
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently conducted an analysis on the location of families with children using housing vouchers. This is the first metropolitan-level analysis, to CBPP’s knowledge, to explore the concentration of families using vouchers across multiple neighborhood characteristics, including poverty rate, an opportunity index, and the share of residents who are people of color. This webinar discussed the findings, which help us better understand how local voucher programs perform relative to the local housing market and identify areas for improvement. We shared highlights from the analysis and discussed how funders can think about these findings and their investments in their communities.
Blog Posts and other Resources
A Brief Timeline of Race and Homelessness in America
This brief timeline lays out the history of the connections between race and homelessness in the United States and is intended to inform the work ahead in pursuit of racial equity.
Statement on the Continuous Killing of Black People, White Supremacy, and Anti-Blackness
A statement from Funders Together CEO, Amanda Andere, on the continuous killing of Black people, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness.
COVID-19 Resources for Philanthropy page
In light of concerns surround COVID-19 and how it's affecting our neighbors and communities, we know it's been top of mind for many funders and partners. This page includes general resources for funders as well as resources focused on COVID-19's impact on housing and homelessness as well as racial equity focused resources.
An Open Letter to Philanthropy: The Cure to Viral Racism Is Within Our Hands
This joint statement was included as part of an article "Asian American Grant Makers Call on Philanthropy to End Violence and Bias on the Rise as Coronavirus Spreads" published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy 4/8/2020. This post originally appeared on APPIP.org.
Ending Homelessness by Committing to Racial Equity
Past Board Chairs, Bill Pitkin and Janice Elliott, and current Board Chair, Katie Hong chronicle the racial equity learning journey of Funders Together to End Homelessness from naming it as a strategic priority to making its Commitment to Racial Equity.
2019 Funders Institute: Reflections from a Family Foundation Perspective
Marci Lu, Senior Program Officer at the William J. & Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation, attended the first day of the July 2019 Funders Institute, Removing Barriers to Advance Racial Equity from the Ground Up. In this post she outlines key takeaways on how family foundations can support community work that’s advancing racial equity and addressing racial disparities.
Trust Building and the Process of Learning: Reflections from the Foundations for Racial Equity March Convening
On March 6-8, twenty-five funders from across the United States and Canada gathered in Portland, OR to kick off Foundations for Racial Equity (FRE), our two-year community of practice for funders who want to undo structural racism to end homelessness. We came together to learn and share resources on racial equity work in our organizations and communities, identify collective action steps, and build relationships and trust with each other.
Prioritizing Racial Equity Through Experiential Learning
In the summer of 2018 the Butler Family Fund board and staff along with other Butler family members, traveled to Alabama to take their racial equity learning from behind conference room walls to an on-location “classroom” filled with the most qualified teachers – those with lived experience. Funders Together spoke to Martha Toll, Executive Director, and Anne Morin, Program Officer, about the events leading up to the trip, their experience and reactions, and how other foundations can incorporate immersive learning to further their racial equity journey.
2018 Funders Institute: Reflections From The Day
In July at the 2018 Funders Institute, attendees gathered to share what they are learning about homelessness prevention, including what it is and how to work effectively with other systems to really end homelessness. The highly interactive day included a panel discussion, speed networking on what we’re each learning in our work, roundtable discussions, and opportunity to connect with multiple national leaders.
What Funders Are Saying About Racial Equity and Homelessness
On February 7-8, 2018, the Racial Equity and Homelessness Summit convened to address the connection between racial inequity and homelessness with attendees from across the country. Kollin Min, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who co-sponsored the convening with the Raikes Foundation, recaps the highlights of the two-day event and funders who were present share their thoughts, takeaways, and responses to what they learned at the summit.
CEO Reflections II: When Should Philanthropy Lead From Behind?
“How should we respond?” Funders Together CEO, Amanda Andere, asks the question of philanthropy in light of the tragic events in both Charlottesville and Texas in 2017.
An Equity-Based Approach to Fighting Homelessness
What does it mean for philanthropy to make a commitment to equity and its intersection with homelessness? Rosa Benitez of the Weingart Foundation dives in to how her foundation has been answering this question head on.
Why We Must Address Racial Inequity In Our Efforts To End Homelessness
Why is Funders Together to End Homelessness addressing racial inequity? Our CEO, Amanda Andere, explains how philanthropy's involvement in focusing on the structural issues that cause racial inequity can create a path to truly making sure homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.
Reports, Guides, and Toolkits
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.
New Resources Help Organizations Advance Race Equity at Every Step
The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s seven-step guide, Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide, aims to help organizations advance race equity and eliminate systemic barriers en route to improving the lives of children and families. Now, in partnership with several leaders in race equity, the Foundation has created and compiled a new set of resources focused on helping social-sector organizations navigate every step of this seven-part journey.
Racial Equity and Homelessness in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: Initial Findings
In this report Your Way Home Montgomery County shares the first cut of an analysis of our data, policies and procedures, and
personnel recruitment through a racial equity lens.
Blog Posts and News Articles
Reports, Guides, and Toolkits
American Healing Racial Equity Resource Guide
As part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's American Health work, this guide shares insights, resources and tools of individuals and organizations that have been working to foster racial healing and racial equity in communities.
Coordinated Entry Systems: Racial Equity Analysis of Assessment Data
C4 Innovations released findings from their latest research project examining how coordinated entry system assessments are perpetuating racial inequities by prioritizing white people for housing services and capturing vulnerabilities that white people are more likely to experience.
DEI Toolkit for Consultants to Grantmakers
Guide your philanthropy clients through the complexities of their work in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) with this DEI Toolkit for Consultants to Grantmakers by National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers. Help consultants and grantmakers alike look through issues with a DEI lens. The toolkit consists of key resources recommended by leading experts whose work focuses on DEI and its significant impact in the philanthropic sector.
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.
Equity as a Leading Principle
This is Part One of a five-part series titled, “Equity and Evaluation: Models of How Equity Can and Does Impact Evaluation” by the TCC Group.
Grantmaking with a Racial Justice Lens
This guide by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity centers what racial justice activists want funders to know and includes experienced funders’ stories and how-to tips on advancing racial justice.
Racial Equity Network Toolkit
This toolkit from the National Alliance to End Homelessness's Racial Equity Network (REN) helps to identify the following set of existing tools that you might find helpful as you get started in racial equity work in your community.
Report and Recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness
This report summarizing the key insights illuminated by the Los Angele Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) Commission as well as the Committee's recommendations for necessary action to advance equity and eliminate racial disparities impacting Black people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County.
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.
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.
State of Homelessness: A Look at Race and Ethnicity
A overview of findings from the 2020 Edition of the State of Homelessness from the National Alliance to End Homelessness
True Colors United for Black Lives
A statement from the staff of True Colors United and the membership of the National Youth Forum on Homelessness.
Why Am I Always Being Researched?
Chicago Beyond created this guidebook to help shift the power dynamic and the way community organizations, researchers, and funders uncover knowledge together. It is an equity-based approach to research that offers one way in which we can restore communities as authors and owners.
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.
Learning Series and Webinars
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.
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.
Blog Posts and News Articles
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.
Confronting anti-Blackness in immigrant justice philanthropy
In this Q&A with NCRP, Daranee Petsod, president of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), urges funders to confront and overcome this implicit and explicit bias for greater impact.
Dear Philanthropy: These Are the Fires of Anti-Black Racism
By Will Cordery, Advisor with Leverage Philanthropic Partners LLC
Kathleen Enright, former 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.
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.
How Community Land Trusts Can Advance Racial and Economic Justice
In this Q&A, the Urban Institute speaks with Tony Pickett, CEO of the Grounded Solutions Network, to learn more about how community land trusts can generate opportunities for wealth creation, racial equity, and neighborhood stability
How Philanthropy Can Work to Give All Black Men an Opportunity to Succeed
By Tamara Lucas Copeland, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG)
How We Should Talk about Racial Disparities
By Natalie Spievack and Cameron Okeke, Urban Institute
"Non-Racism" Is Not Enough
By Aisha Alexander-Young, Meyer Foundation
Philanthropy and Indian Country
Posted on Philanthropy Northwest, by Se-ah-dom Edmo, MRG Foundation
Philanthropy with a Racial Equity Lens
Posted on the Center for Effective Philanthropy, by Anna Cruz, The Kresge Foundation
Race and Homelessness and inextricably linked. Here's what we're doing about it.
Posted on Community Solutions
Racial Equity and the Role of Foundations
Posted on Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, by Kendra Allen, Consumer Health Foundation
Serving Native Women Experiencing Homelessness: From Trauma to Transformation
Posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness, by Colleen Echohawk, Chief Seattle Club
The Association of Racial and Homelessness Microagressions and Physical and Mental Health in a Sample of Homeless Youth
This article focuses on experiences of microaggressions, or subtle forms of discrimination, in homeless youth by describing the development of a new scale measuring homelessness microaggressions and demonstrating the association between microaggressions, and health/well-being in a sample of homeless youth.
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."
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.
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
From Funders Together
Funders Together to End Homelessness, along with nearly thirty other philanthropy serving organizations (PSOs) and funders, contributed to an amicus curiae brief to contest the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The brief, submitted to the Supreme Court, provides concrete examples of how philanthropy relies on census data to support their missions, and, in turn, why the citizenship question is detrimental to efforts to effectively serve and invest in their communities.
In this webinar, we explored where current Census operations are, why philanthropy investing in housing and homelessness programs should care about the count, what some of the concerns and barriers are to counting people experiencing homelessness, and how funders can be an integral part in fair and accurate Census efforts in their community. We also heard from the Polk Bros. Foundation in Chicago on its role in the Illinois Count Me In 2020 campaign, how it supports efforts outside of funding, and the importance of bringing in funders from other sectors through mindful collaboration and coordination.
United State Census Bureau
- Area Census Offices for the 2020 Census
- 2020 Early Area Census Offices List
- Why Your Foundation Should Become a 2020 Census Partner
- How The Census Will Invite Everyone To Respond
From Our Partners
United Philanthropy Forum
- A Call for Philanthropy to Help Meet Unprecedented Challenges Facing the 2020 Census
- 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 circulated a sign-on letter for foundations.
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)
- Key 2020 Census Funder Milestones
- Census 2020 State Landscape Scan
- Citizenship Question Supreme Court Decision Day Funder Resource Guide
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.
You may also be interested in
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).
You may also be interested in
Our sincere thanks to Covington and Burling LLP for their pro bono support in the creation of this resource.
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.
You may also be interested in
Employment opportunities are key to the prevention of, and successful transition out of, homelessness. Without a viable income many individuals, families and youth are unable to sustain housing over the long term. Therefore, funding programs that support employment services for vulnerable populations is an effective strategy for ending and reducing homelessness.
Strategies for Funders
- Fund strategies that are effective in connecting vulnerable and homeless job seekers with employment.
- Fund and promote transitional jobs, subsidized jobs, career ladder programs, appropriate alternative staffing programs, and social enterprise with built-in social supports for people with high barriers to employment.
- Fund pilot programs that bond and strengthen connections between employment and homelessness solutions.
- Fund and promote programs that place clients in jobs that meet their interests, not just jobs that are available.
- Look for opportunities to co-locate programs, connecting homeless providers with employment programs.
- Fund and promote the successful engagement of private sector employers in hiring homeless and formerly homeless people, publicizing promising-practices.
- Leverage the Workforce Investment Act, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and other government funding and collaborate work between the public and private sector.
- Promote the strategies employed by the Pathways Back to Work Act.
- Fund and promote opportunities that facilitate and convene workforce boards with local and state homeless officials to brainstorm how they can better work together.
- Facilitate workforce conferences to cross-pollinate ideas and share best-practices.