Hill Visits: Worth the Trip

March 14, 2012

Later this month, I’ll be heading to Washington DC with a group of foundation and corporate giving representatives for Foundations on the Hill. This is an annual visit that the philanthropic community makes to Capitol Hill where we meet with our Congressional Representatives and Senators. Many sectors hold similar “fly ins.” For instance, I know Arts Advocacy Day and Humanities on the Hill also take place each spring. There is even a fly in day just for associations, sponsored by the American Society of Association Executives.

We’ve been fortunate over the years to enjoy many substantive meetings with the Congressmen and Senators themselves, in addition to meeting with their senior staff.

These are important opportunities for any mission-driven organization and should be taken full advantage of. We hear so much about money and politics and limited access to our Washington officials. For nonprofits that can’t or don’t wish to pay lobbyists, working through your national affinity group is an ideal way to get the coordination help that can make Hill visits go more smoothly and effectively.

For Foundations on the Hill, we work through the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers (my organization is a regional association) and the Council on Foundations. They manage the logistics for the big convening event/pep rally, put together the briefing papers and background information on relevant issues before the Congress, and provide general hand-holding. Here in New Jersey, we recruit our members, reach out to each of the Congressional offices and schedule our own meetings, and create the briefing packets for each office. Working with CNJG’s Public Policy Committee we also determine the key messages we want to be sure to communicate.

First and foremost, we ask the Congressional offices to talk with us if anything comes up related to philanthropy and charitable giving so that we can offer the perspective of New Jersey’s foundation community. We stress that we want to make sure they “do no harm,” that is, nothing that will discourage giving. We talk about the work CNJG does to ensure best practices and sound governance. But we also get to share the amazing stories of what foundations have been able to accomplish through their investments in nonprofit organizations.

In these visits over the years, we’ve talked about the role of philanthropy in creating Sustainable Jersey, the Early Childhood Lighthouse Initiative, the Community Foundation of South Jersey…even the creation of the 911 emergency system (yes, that is due to pilot investments made by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).

We head to DC March 21st & 22nd, and we already have 7 meetings scheduled, with more getting confirmed every day. As many nonprofits know, philanthropy is often the silent funding partner to government. While it can’t provide as much, private philanthropy often provides the funding that can make all the difference. We look forward to sharing our stories on the Hill with you.

Nina Stack is the President of Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association for corporate, family, independent, and community foundations. She is a regular contributor to the Dodge blog.

Image courtesy CNJG