Advocacy: A Best Practice to Change the World

By Betsy Dunklin, DFW Advocacy Committee Chair

When our board of directors adopted advocacy as one of DFW’s four programs, it put into place something that many members have been requesting for years. In fact, at DFW’s national conference in 2013, members called for a plan to add our voices to our dollars. They wanted DFW to have a larger role, through advocacy, in setting U.S. public policy related to poverty and inequality for women and girls in developing nations. Making advocacy part of DFW’s 2020 Vision is exciting because it means we can make an even bigger impact — by combining our collective donations, our collective knowledge, and our collective voices!

Research has shown that advocacy is considered “best practice” for high-impact nonprofits today.1 Yes, we can engage in advocacy work without jeopardizing our nonprofit status! The most effective nonprofits treat both the symptoms and the root causes of a problem. Consider Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds homes for low-income families. Habitat for Humanity also serves, according to its website, “as a voice for people in need of decent housing by working to change laws and shape policies that affect access to housing.” It encourages its staff, board members, homeowners, and volunteers to tell their elected representatives that they stand for safe, affordable housing. There are many other examples – even the PTA at your child’s school may invite parents to advocate on local education issues.

Since its inception in 2003, DFW has worked with more than 140 grassroots organizations to fund on-the-ground projects that address the symptoms of extreme poverty, directly impacting thousands of disadvantaged women and girls. It is not uncommon for nonprofits, like DFW, to begin by focusing on direct services, like the many inspiring projects we have funded over the years with our donations. Eventually, they realize that they cannot achieve broad change by addressing immediate needs, such as feeding the hungry, alone. Raising awareness and pushing for policy reform, through advocacy, can create more systemic, long-lasting change.


DFW can have a much bigger impact if we influence the policies and systems

that would end illiteracy, poor health care, violence, gender inequality

and lack of opportunity or women and girls.

How can we as DFW members influence policies and systems that affect women and girls? The United States has tremendous impact on issues we care about through its budget and policies. We can let our elected representatives know that we care and that we are watching!

Successful grassroots advocacy is about policy, not politics. It means using our voices as committed and informed champions for our mission. In the case of DFW, this means addressing U.S. policies – in a nonpartisan way — that are consistent with DFW’s mission to end poverty and ensure gender equity. It means making the broadest appeal possible to bridge the differences in opinion and turn ideas into solutions.

DFW formed the Advocacy Committee in 2016 and we are now meeting monthly to develop a program for our members. We are discussing the best practices we want to use, the criteria we will apply when identifying issues for our members, and how we will help members take action to fulfill our mission.

Our first step is to provide more information about advocacy and how it can be used to influence issues that affect our mission of empowering women and girls internationally. Education has always been an important part of our mission. In the future, we will include information about American policy and legislative issues that affect women and girls in the developing world.

Once we expand our education efforts, our next step will be to provide opportunities for members, if they choose, to use their collective voices in grassroots advocacy. This may include writing letters, signing petitions, and making phone calls and visits to your elected representatives. In addition, pitching media stories or submitting letters to the editor, speaking to other groups, or simply talking to others about our organization, our mission, and the effects of gender inequality are ways for us to collectively make a difference. There is power in being a grassroots organization with members who meet monthly in every region of the nation. That power is YOU!

One of the issues we are following closely is the U.S. international affairs budget, especially humanitarian aid and programs that target women and girls. While the international affairs budget represents only about 1 percent of the total U.S. budget2, it is crucial to providing humanitarian aid and programs that target women and girls.3 In the near future, we will provide more information about U.S. international affairs spending as it relates to women and girls.

DFW’s primary focus remains on our grants program. Our grants program is one of the foundations of our collective giving model and is the launching point for member education. Advocacy is one method to take our member education program one step further for the benefit of women and girls facing inequality in the developing world.

We need to both issue grants and engage in advocacy in order to truly change the way the world works for women and girls! We hope you will join us!

1Crutchfield, Leslie R., and Heather McLeod Grant. Forces for Good the Six Practices of High-impact Nonprofits. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, 2012. Print.
2“Budget Center.” U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.
3Holtan, March 8 2017 | Elizabeth. “How- and Why- the U.S. Can Do More to Empower Women Around the World.” U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.