Policy work is hard. And it takes a long time. And you should do it anyway.
Anything worth doing isn’t going to come easy, right? After all, if you’re planning to improve outcomes and expand opportunities for all students, you have to expect to put in a little elbow grease.
Or maybe an entire 40-gallon drum worth.
Which is why the Education Policy Working Group took some time on our last call to discuss some of the challenges of putting policy engagement at the heart of a grantmaking organization’s work.
Sometimes the challenge is straight-up legal: just understanding what role funders and their grantees can play in policymaking, under the law.
Sometimes the challenge is external capacity: how to build the capacity of the nonprofit sector–you know, those folks we fondly call grantees–to do policy and advocacy work. Just knowing which organizations to connect, particularly when it comes to connecting local and national organizations and efforts. Or to aligning different organizations’ strategies, for example engaging workforce development folks around education policy, and vice versa.
Sometimes the challenge is about opportunity: finding the right time and place to further policy efforts, especially to move from working at one locus, local or state, to another, state or federal.
Sometimes the challenge is about field building: collaborating can be enormously powerful in policy-related work, especially as a way to leverage resources toward a great impact. But it also means bringing together partners who do their policy work differently.
Sometimes–actually, an awful lot of the time–the challenge is about sustaining efforts over time: policy reform and implementation takes a long, long, long time. And when the political landscape changes, or the board changes, or the staff changes, or some exciting combination of all three changes, how do you keep everyone’s eyes on the prize?
Sometimes the challenge isn’t just about sustaining. It’s about succeeding. Specifically, about defining success, especially with a will-building campaign. Or with defining and celebrating small victories, the ones that keep staff and board engaged–but also allow for checkpoints to confirm or retool a policy strategy.
One thing that’s not a challenge: listing the challenges. With kudos to An-Me Chung of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Carmen Lane of the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation, Cassie Schwerner of The Schott Foundation for Public Education and Bruno Manno of the Walton Family Foundation for the insights above.
In case you think we missed a challenge–or if you’ve got a few good thoughts on how to overcome one of the ones we listed–chime in below.
And join the grand bell-chorus of chiming-in on our upcoming web seminar, Engaging Ways to Engage with Education Policy.