Foundations should focus on advocacy and service

December 22, 2010

I applaud the article by Aaron Dorfman, "Smarter grant-making" (Dec. 21) in which Mr. Dorfman encourages foundations to invest in "advocacy" activities that help change the root causes of social problems. However, in my view, Mr. Dorfman does not go far enough, actually shortchanging the benefits of investments in policy advocacy and grass roots organizing.

In the article, Mr. Dorfman contrasts foundation investments in policy advocacy and grass roots organizing with those of direct services to individuals. Indeed, emerging research is showing the positive benefits of advocacy investments on both improving policies and helping individuals who become engaged in working with others to effect positive change. For example, the youth development literature is replete with studies which show the positive impacts on youth, even high risk youth, who participate with caring adults to improve communities or work to change juvenile justice and child welfare policy for the betterment of involved youth.

Drawing from this literature and practice experience, Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), with over 130 programs nationwide in 25 major U.S. cities (including Baltimore), uses community organizing/system change activities as actual direct service interventions for the juvenile justice and child welfare-involved youth we work with. We are investing in a voice movement, engaging alumni, current youth and adult staff to work together on projects that seek to alter public policy in favor of reducing reliance on institutional placement and investing in communities and youth. We have found these investments to help individuals, enhance communities, improve policies and, as noted in the article, leverage new resources. For YAP and other organizations that see youth as resources and contributors, advocacy investments are in fact direct service investments. We applaud those foundations that invest in advocacy and understand the multiplier effects that such investments can produce.

Michael B. Marks, Lutherville

The writer is the chief development officer and national director for research for Youth Advocate Programs, Inc. (www.yapinc.org).

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