Foundations that want to see breakthroughs on complex issues, such as poverty, the environment and education, should fund cross-issue grassroots organizations as part of their overall grantmaking strategy, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

These groups organize and mobilize multiple constituents and citizens to cultivate the power, leadership and relationships necessary to move toward lasting solutions, NCRP said in a report released this week.

The report notes that as more foundations turn to “strategic” philanthropy to improve effectiveness and evaluation, they have tended to direct grants to organizations working on the grantmaker’s single issue of choice. This, in turn, directs more resources away from multi-issue advocacy and organizing efforts.

As a result, groups that have longstanding roots in communities and that work to address multiple issues confront great difficulty in fundraising.

“Although single-issue, ‘strategic’ philanthropy promises greater efficiency and accountability in the near term, it also threatens to undermine broader goals such as diversity, coalition-building and creating social capital,” Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said in a statement accompanying the report.

NCRP makes a compelling case for how grant makers risk losing the forest by focusing on just one tree.”

The report identifies commonly perceived challenges to funding multi-issue advocacy and organizing. These include concerns over demonstrating impact or evaluating the work, the amount of time and effort it takes to build relationships and coalitions, and competition among nonprofits within coalitions for limited resources.

The report lists several benefits of multi-issue organizing and advocacy:

  • Multi-issue organizing builds relationships and mutual accountability.
  • Broad coalitions that cross issues (and class, race or geography) bring unlikely allies to the table that create opportunities for change.
  • Multi-issue grassroots organizations are essential to taking advantage of social or political moments.
  • Multi-issue organizing creates constituencies and builds power and leadership for the future.