Philanthropy and Problem Solving

September 12, 2012

Here is the age old question: What did you do over your summer vacation?

For one week this summer, I attended a national conference with my colleagues learning about trends in philanthropy and in nonprofit advocacy and policy. It was the annual gathering of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, an organization representing 34 grantmaker associations from throughout the nation. I came back completely revved up and rejuvenated!

The sessions were terrific and diverse and related to the interests and needs of my organization’s members – grantmakers. During the session “Why Can’t We Get Along?” led by Dr. Peter Ditto from UC Irvine, we learned about the impact of the biases we each carry around with us, often unrealized. Dr. Ditto outlined 3 forces in our society that are speeding up the polarization that we all are experiencing: moralization, partisan bias and the new media. It was fascinating information.

Helping funders to understand what is driving the growing animosity and increasingly divided world is something regional associations around the country are focused on, so this session was very useful. Our sector is realizing that different strategies are required when faced with subconscious biases or overt partisanship.  In fact, thinking about these same issues, here in New Jersey we presented our highly successful Spring Colloquium on the topic of civility just last June.  So, why are funders interested in this issue? One reason relates directly to their desire for impact and results.

More and more foundations and nonprofits are now actively looking to engage with government and working to help inform policymakers. Helping grantmakers develop those kinds of relationships was the focus of two days of the gathering during our PolicyWorks InstitutePolicyWorks is a national effort to help build the capacity of regional associations to assist their members with government relations and  public policy engagement. During the Institute, we got an excellent briefing from Tim  Delaney, President and CEO  of the National Council of Nonprofits on some of the national, state and local policy trends potentially affecting  our sector, including PILOTs (payments in  lieu of taxes), elimination of state charitable tax deductions, and the imposition of burdensome mandates and restrictions on what are private organizations because they are organized as a nonprofit. The issues are many and continue to grow both in number and scope of potentially harming the sector.  And most importantly, ultimately harming the people our organizations serve.  Here in New Jersey, for instance, we’ve had at least three communities propose some form of a PILOT (see this recent article). Clearly, there is a lot of education that needs to be done both with the general public and with policymakers.

The philanthropic sector has a strong record of working with government to better our communities and leverage resources.  Great examples can be found in the many government, philanthropic and nonprofit collaborations around the county.  Just this summer, at the 80th Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in June, a resolution was issued endorsing government-foundation-nonprofit offices and encouraging local governments to work closely with foundation partners to establish appropriate offices.  In fact, the Office of the Newark Philanthropic Liaison, a model initiative of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers was noted in the resolution.  While the opportunity for truly dynamic collaborations and partnerships are limitless, we must continually help policymakers understand the critical role the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors play in our communities.

In the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors, we are proud that we work with policymakers and elected officials from all sides of the aisle.  We are proud that we advocate on behalf of the people we serve. We are proud that civility is a cornerstone guiding our work. This is what makes our field unique. We all have one bottom line goal in our organizations: to make our communities better places to live for the people we serve.

So that is some of what I did and thought about over my summer vacation. Time well spent!

Nina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 120 funding organizations working in New Jersey. She also serves as Chair of the Forum of Regional Association of Grantmakers, a 33-member network serving more than 4,000 foundations, corporations and other donors across the country.