The Advocacy Institute (AI)



Brooklyn, NY

Tax ID:


Tax-Exempt Status:



Left wing activist training




Maggie Williams

James Schaffer

Executive Director:

Marissa Martin

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The Advocacy Institute (AI) is a left-of-center organization that provides training courses and consulting programs for movements seeking legislative change within the state of New York. Initially created in 2013, Advocacy Institute’s website claims that the organization works to “level the playing field for Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) communities, immigrants, low-income people, and other leaders who have been historically excluded and underrepresented.” 1


The Advocacy Institute primarily hosts training seminars for left wing racial minority activists and government employees. For instance, in 2023, AI hosted a three-week “virtual summer camp” with sessions including “Who’s Who in Albany and How a Bill Becomes a Law” and “The NYS Budget Process and Relationship Building.” 2

In 2023, AI launched the Advocacy Leadership accelerator, a 10-month special training course for people working in budget or policy matters within the New York state government. 3

From 2013 to 2018, much of AI’s training work was based on “teaching folks how to navigate the [Independent Democratic Conference], the power and race dynamics behind it, and the ways that its formation served [Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY)].” The Independent Democratic Conference was a group of left-wing Democratic Senators who split with the New York Democratic Party to form their own caucus that strategically aligned with Republican Senators. During those years, AI’s influence expanded out of New York City into Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and Western New York. 4


Advocacy Institute co-founder Maggie Williams is the interim co-president of the Strozzi Institute, a trauma healing center, and is on the board of the North Star Fund. Previously, she worked in the New York Senate and was lead counsel on bills sponsored by Senators Eric Schneiderman (D) and Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D). Prior, Williams worked in criminal justice policy at the Correctional Association of New York and The Bronx Defenders. 5 6 7

James Schaffer is the co-founder of AI and was its co-director until 2019. He is a freelance software engineer and senior software engineer at Hello Alpha Inc, and previously worked at Data Society in a similar role. Prior to launching AI, Schaffer volunteered in activist organizations for four years. 8 9

Neither founder still works at Advocacy Institute. 10 11

In December 2018, The City Record described Schaffer Williams LLC, a group founded by the creators of Advocacy Institute, as using “legislative data synchronization tools, used to maintain data about State and City-Level Legislators, their party, conference, job, biographic and contact information, their committee assignments and district information not available elsewhere in this useful format.” 12 Maggie Williams listed Schaffer Williams LLC as her employer for a political donation made in September 2020. 13


Marissa Martin has been the executive director of the Advocacy Institute since 2019, and she served as board chair of AI from 2014 to 2018. She is also an advisory board member of All Together Now, an adopted person advocacy group. She was a board member of All Together Now, a support group for adopted children, until its closure in 2022. From 2017 to 2018, Martin worked as northeast director of Young Invincibles, a left-of-center youth advocacy group. From 2016 to 2017, Martin was a senior adviser for strategic initiatives at the Public Engagement Unit of New York City’s government. Earlier, Martin served as director of government affairs at the Coalition of Asian American Children and Families. 14 15

Cori Schmanke Parrish has been the deputy director of the Advocacy Institute since 2000, and he is a board member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. He previously served as deputy director of the North Star Fund for almost 15 years. Earlier, Parrish was an organizer at Californians for Justice and was the executive director of Virginia NARAL. 16 17


The Advocacy Institute has received funding from the Elias Foundation, New York Community Trust, the New York Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation, the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and other grantmaking organizations. 18

In June 2023, AI launched a fundraiser at the People’s Forum in New York City hosted by New York Immigration Coalition executive director Murad Awawdeh. The fundraiser targeted $20,000 and raised over $31,000. 19

Also in 2023, AI received a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. 20


Advocacy Institute member organizations include the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), and the New York Civic Engagement Table (NYCET). 21

Membership dues vary by the size of the member organization’s budget. Organizations with budgets under $1.2 million pay 0.25% of their budget annually with a minimum of $25; larger organizations pay between $3,000 and $3,750 annually. 22


  1.  “Trainings.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  2. “Trainings.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  3. “Trainings.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  4. “Maggie Williams.” CRE. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  5. “Maggie Williams.” North Star Fund. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  6. “Maggie Williams – Interim Co-President.” Strozzi Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  7. “Maggie Williams.” CRE. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  8. “James Schaffer.” CRE. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  9. “James Schaffer.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  10. “About.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  11. “James Schaffer.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  12. [1] “Volume CXLV Number 239.” The City Record. December 13, 2018. Accessed August 7, 2023.
  13. “WFP Justice Fund PAC Donors.” Open Secrets. Accessed August 7, 2023.
  14. “Marissa Martin.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  15. “All Together Now.” Facebook. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  16. “Cori Schmanke Parrish.” LinkedIn. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  17. “Team.” Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  18. “About.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  19. “The State of AI – A 10th Anniversary Celebration.” GiveButter. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  20. “Grants Database.” Ford Foundation. Accessed August 7, 2023.
  21. “Members.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
  22. “Membership.” Advocacy Institute. Accessed August 5, 2023.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 2022

  • Available Filings

    No filings available.

    The Advocacy Institute (AI)

    539 Atlantic Ave #170457
    Brooklyn, NY 11217