Field of Themes: Five Early Lessons from an Innovative Advocacy Approach

Published: January 2015

Type: Publication

This article offers lessons about developing and deploying an advocacy field building initiative from a program officer’s perspective. 

Colorado Trust.  May 17, 2014.  Photo by Ellen Jaskol

Philanthropic support of advocacy efforts often entails identifying a policy target and providing funding and other resources or assistance to support the pursuit of the necessary policy change and underlying strategies and tactics. This approach is merited when the policy target in question is clear, concrete, and can be leveraged to engage and mobilize key constituencies and influencers. However, many public policy issues are so expansive and complex that they cannot be boiled down to such specific targets and require a different approach from funders.

Following a shift from focusing on access to health to prioritizing health equity, The Colorado Trust found itself in such a position, necessitating a change in perspective on how to support for policy advocacy.

This culminated in the development of a multiyear, multimillion-dollar investment to develop and build a field of organizations and champions focused on advocating for health equity policy solutions.

This article outlines the process and rationale behind the strategy’s development, and explores lessons learned, such as the:

  • Importance of time and space for strategy development
  • Value of having different perspectives involved in shaping strategy
  • Necessity of skepticism
  • Usefulness of intentionally capturing learning and putting it to use
  • Effectiveness of general operating support.