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Philanthropy + Policy Institute Recap

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Philanthropy + Policy Institute Recap: Storytelling and Data

Last week, sector leaders and regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) gathered in person to learn about and strengthen their policy and advocacy work at the United Philanthropy Forum’s Philanthropy + Policy Institute (PPI). In this intimate setting of over 40 people, strategies and best practices were ideated for cultivating and reinforcing the public policy skill sets for PSOs and their foundation members.


Post-election briefings and analyses, plans for philanthropy during the 118th Congress, and the idea of public policy as a practice are just a few of the many takeaways that participants were able to bring back with them to help drive their missions. By uplifting a collective approach at the local, state, and federal levels, the Forum, and our network are increasing the impact of PSO's advocacy and public policy work.

A huge element in common with most of our presenters was the idea of truth and power belonging to those who tell the best stories.

The Power of Constituent Stories in Advocacy

Every social movement, policy push, and rise against injustice starts with a story. As PSOs, storytelling is the most powerful tool that we have. Why stories? Well, The Opportunity Agenda explains it best:

“Stories, values, and culture have the power to move hearts and minds in ways that facts and advocacy alone often cannot. Stories bypass our cynicism and partisan biases to tap directly into timeless narratives of struggle, power, redemption, and cooperation that have been told and retold since time immemorial.”

If you want decision-makers to agree on your suggested policy decisions and guide the direction of public opinion, you must start with ideas and strategies that embrace the dreams of people and communities. Building those strategies in ways that are intentional and equitable cannot be done if the people directly affected by the policies are not included in the process.

Including your own stories as a PSO or the stories of the people that your foundation members serve in the advocacy process provides a yellow-brick road to policies that truly have meaning for the communities impacted.

The message here isn’t to discard data and facts completely. Rather, speakers at the Philanthropy + Policy Institute emphasized that they coexist and complement each other when engaging in public policy work. Facts and storytelling go together. Facts influence; stories deepen that influence and humanize facts in a way that makes your cause memorable — providing a solid foundation for communicating your purpose.


For example, the Universal Giving Pandemic Response and Recovery Act was a key topic at this year’s PPI. Supporting the expansion and extension of the universal charitable deduction to encourage all taxpayers to give more to charity is our what. Incorporating a story within this policy push would explain why this is important and what’s at stake. What critical work is your PSO doing? What communities are you supporting? Those stories are what’s going to help push this legislation forward.

Additionally, Institute attendees heard from seasoned advocacy practitioners about the role that stories played, for example, in the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Stories about the overwhelming number of folks who might lose that access to healthcare, given all it meant to them, were compelling.

In addition to the ACA example, a senior congressional staffer affirmed the salience of stories for members of Congress and added that elected officials are eager to hear the human impact of policies. Lastly, a lead staffer from the Department of Health and Human Services underscored for attendees that engagement from advocates and stories of policy-impacts are vital components of their data collecting and decision-making processes.

Grounded in Data, Stories Humanize Public Policy

At this year’s Philanthropy + Policy Institute, attendees learned effective advocacy should not just be about facts and flowcharts. Advocacy and public policy are also about what influences people, culture, and our society. The advocacy process is essential to the philanthropic sector’s ability to educate policymakers about the work, value, and impact of foundations.

By learning how to leverage the power of storytelling to bridge the gap internally on public policy, PSOs and foundation leaders will be better equipped to collectively participate in the advocacy process, gain support for policy issues, and build policy solutions that are holistic, civic, and fair for the full flourishing of the communities we serve.

Looking forward to Advocacy in 2023

The Forum is convening the foremost conference for the philanthropic sector on public policy and advocacy — Foundations on the Hill (#FOTH2023) — February 27 through March 1, 2023, in Washington, D.C.


Mark your calendar to save the dates and start your travel plans for this premier opportunity to connect with philanthropic leaders and colleagues to learn and strengthen the sector together.

Many Philanthropy + Policy Institute attendees noted the importance of FOTH and have begun engaging their policy committees, boards of directors, and members to encourage participation in #FOTH2023.

Registration will be available the first week of December, 2022.