General News

Switzer Foundation and Fellows Network Advocacy Policy

Fellow(s): Lissa Widoff

As environmental leaders, we are undoubtedly facing a time of great challenge to environmental science, policy and practice and are looking for the best tools to use and strategic actions we can take. As we seek to leverage the resources we have as the Switzer Foundation and as the Switzer Fellows Network of more than 650 leaders working in all sectors (academia, NGOs, government, business, municipal, etc.), we want to clarify how we can foster individual and collective action in policy settings on the issues we care about.

The Switzer Foundation Board AND Switzer Fellows tasked us with learning about the legal limits of how we can engage in advocacy. As a private foundation, we have stricter limits on lobbying than public charities or NGOs that raise funds for their operations. 

The Switzer Foundation Policy on Advocacy follows, and we hope it offers our community of Fellows guidance and inspiration to use our collective knowledge from diverse fields of expertise to express our views about the issues we care about. We invite fellows to creatively work together for positive environmental outcomes that are equitable and just.

Fellows ought to become familiar with the legal limits of advocacy for your organizations and not shy away from the potential we have as leaders to speak our minds about scientific integrity, social justice and environmental protection. The best public legal resources we found are available through the Alliance for Justice, an organization that helps nonprofits and foundations understand the limits and opportunities for advocacy they have within the law.  

Please feel free to contact Executive Director Sarah Reed if you have any questions about this policy or how you would like to engage with other Fellows. See below for additional resources and we will continue to share opportunities for trainings, networking calls, webinars and policy engagement.

Please note the following policy was approved on February 15, 2017 by the Board of the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation. It will be updated from time to time.

Switzer Foundation Policy on Advocacy

The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation is a private foundation with limits on advocacy and lobbying that are a requirement of its charitable status as a 501c3 organization and in particular as a private foundation.

The Switzer Fellows Network is an informal association of Switzer Fellow alumni of the Switzer Foundation Fellowship Program. There are currently 650+ Fellow alumni with diverse expertise in a wide range of environmental issues.

Switzer Fellows are employed in various positions and sectors and hold deep environmental and social justice values.  It is not uncommon that Fellows will seek to influence policy, legislation and public discourse on issues that matter to them.

Switzer Fellows may utilize Switzer Foundation resources for communication and information sharing on a wide range of topics, using our listservs, website and social media channels. Switzer Fellows and the Foundation can express opinions (including criticism) on issues, policies, decisions that have already been made, Executive Orders, and other actions.  

Switzer Foundation resources, including our listservs, may not be used for direct calls to action for lobbying to directly influence proposed legislation, political appointments, ballot measures and more.  Switzer Fellows may not use Foundation resources to ask Fellows to "call your Senator to oppose "X" bill or nominee.

The Switzer Fellows Network can also act independently and collectively to voice positions on issues, but cannot be coordinated or controlled by the Switzer Foundation. However, there may be ways in which the Foundation and/or the Network can give voice to general principles and policies that would not be construed as lobbying.  For example -

  • The Switzer Foundation and/or a group of Fellows may prepare a general white paper or statement of opinion or principles regarding an environmental issue of concern with Switzer Fellows as signatories. Such a letter may be distributed through Switzer Foundation communications channels, to the press, etc.
  • A Switzer Fellow or group of Switzer Fellows may use the published letter as part of their OWN testimony or individual actions, so long as it is clear that they are using the material as a resource and this is not an action of the Switzer Foundation.

The Switzer Foundation may provide communication that does NOT count as lobbying such as:

  • Nonpartisan analysis, study or research that presents all sides of an issue
  • Responses to written requests for assistance from committees or other legislative bodies
  • Challenges to or support for legislative proposals that would change the organization’s rights or its right to exist
  • Examinations and discussions of broad social, economic and similar problems.

As individuals, Switzer Fellows may use their title “Switzer Fellow” to indicate their relationship with the Foundation and may use the following language to describe the affiliation: "The Robert and Patricia Foundation is a private foundation that supports environmental leaders who are innovators and problem-solvers addressing today’s most pressing environmental issues using science and policy frameworks including social justice and economic considerations to craft solutions. Switzer Fellows are individuals who have been supported by the Switzer Foundation Environmental Fellowship Program for their graduate environmental studies. All Switzer Fellows past and present are part of the Switzer Fellowship Network, a cadre of individuals committed to environmental improvement and social justice through their work, affiliations and networks."

The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation will in general follow the guidelines of the Alliance For Justice and their Bolder Advocacy Program, in particular their guidance for private/family foundations on lobbying and advocacy.  We suggest that Switzer Fellows and their organizations also become familiar with lobbying rules that apply to your organization and affiliations. 

Feel free to email Executive Director Sarah Reed with further questions or comments.