Negotiating funding opportunities for an advocacy organisation

Funding is hard to get for any organisation. Indeed, sometimes it seems that the most pervasive story of community groups around the world is that of the perpetual search for funding.

For advocacy organisations, this task becomes even harder, especially for those groups who are dealing with more contentious issues.


Very few grantmakers will fund an advocacy-based organisation or project. There are rare exceptions, but those grantmakers usually have very limited funds and those funds are hotly sought after because there are so few of them.

If your organisation does not deal solely in advocacy there is a much better chance of getting funding - but not for the advocacy activities. If you're smart about it you can get grants funding for the things you do that are eligible, and free up the funds you would otherwise use for those activities for your advocacy work.

Our Community produces Australia's only in-time consolidated grants information newsletter, which is issued monthly and generated from Australia's largest grants database. The EasyGrants Newsletter is available as part of a Funding Centre subscription.

Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) Status

Before diving into the various other ways of obtaining funds it is worth mentioning the topic of Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status. If an organisation has been granted DGR status from the Australian Tax Office, then any donation over $2 it receives is tax deductible. To get DGR status your organisation must be defined as 'charitable', and this definition does not extend to advocacy organisations. This does not mean that you cannotadvocate if you have DGR status - just that it cannot be your primary purpose.

There are many advantages to DGR status, so if you are eligible to get it it's certainly worth your while. DGR status has two key advantages: firstly, people are more likely to donate to your organisation if you have DGR status (because they get a tax donation), and secondly, most philanthropic grantmakers require their applicants to have DGR status. But the rules are sometimes difficult to interpret and the process for applying often laborious.


Because the grants avenue is a much harder one for advocacy organisations you will probably have to pursue other fundraising options - you may run a film night, or a raffle, or a benefit gig, for example.

The Funding Centre is a good place to start in working out the fundraising options open to your group.

Independence - Take the money or run?

The old saying, "never bite the hand that feeds you" rings particularly true for organisations engaged in advocacy. Different circumstances require different solutions.

There are two key reasons for concern over who you take money from. First, there's the ethical issue. To take just one example, many would consider it extremely hypocritical for a health-based advocacy organisation to take funding from a tobacco company. Whether it's a case of being true to yourself and the cause, or the risk of being exposed and having your credibility ruined, it is important to maintain an ethical stance and be able to prove your independence.

The second issue is one of viability. It's common for organisations to become dependent on one funding source. This can be problematic, as it makes you vulnerable if this one source of funding dries up - or if you find you need to speak out against the organisation that's funding you.

Develop a funding policy

Developing an ethical approach to fundraising doesn't have to be hard, and it's very important - especially for an advocacy organisation. First, bring the issue up at your board or fundraising committee meeting.

Talk it through, and establish which groups and sectors it would be appropriate for you to approach for money - organisations where there is a natural fit and whose values are already aligned with your group's mission.

You then need to work out which sorts of organisations or sectors your group wouldn't be comfortable having as a supporter or major donor. A health group would probably have difficulty receiving funding from a tobacco or alcohol company, for example. Don't assume that these guidelines will be obvious, or that everyone in your group will agree where to draw them. Have the conversation.

The next decision you need to make is what you're prepared to provide in exchange for funding. Are you prepared to provide branding, naming rights, signage and so on? Are you happy to publicly acknowledge your sponsors and donors? It's important that any potential funder to understand your limitations as well as your strengths.

Appoint a fundraising coordinator

Finally, you need to ensure that one person oversees all your funding approaches or grant applications. That person needs to be aware of all approaches and to ensure they're consistent with the guidelines your group has agreed upon.

For more material on fundraising, check out the free help sheets and other tips and tools in the Funding Centre.

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