During a meeting with philanthropic leaders at Philanthropy Northwest’s offices in Seattle right after the mid-term elections, one colleague asked me what impact I thought the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives would have on our sector.
I suggested that something far bigger than the partisan make-up of the Congress (and state legislatures) would define our future. There is a growing movement in society that goes far beyond the American political system and that is concerned about the size of, and borrowing by, our public sectors. Across the globe, we are witnessing the difficult decisions in country after country to reduce their public debts. In many ways this same concern helped define our elections last fall, gave rise to a Tea Party movement, and will define the upcoming agenda for the president and the Congress.
The key question we face is, “What is the role of philanthropy when our governments are both broke and broken?”
The quick answer is that philanthropy is NOT government lite. Neither is it philanthropy’s role to step in where governments fail to respond. But in an era when governments are paralyzed by polarization, and the private sector is consumed with survival in a global economy, philanthropy’s growth carries with it an emerging leadership role in society.
The Council on Foundations will provide both the specific services and the broader leadership voice that will enable our sector to meet the opportunities and obligations of 2011.
At the national and global levels, the Council will continue to serve as our sector’s voice and vision in ways that enhance philanthropy’s role in society. Our communications and government relations work will be focused primarily on our policy-makers, especially at the federal level. With 110 new members of Congress, we begin our work with the important responsibility to inform each policy-maker and his or her staff about philanthropy’s role in society.
We are also creating the next chapter in our Public-Philanthropic Partnership Initiative. As many foundations continue to work more closely with public sector programs at the federal, state, and local levels, they are asking the Council for help and support in this emerging work. While this work has focused on the economic stimulus and the Social Innovation Fund over the past two years, we now expect to direct much of our coordination and communications to permanent programs in health care, education, workforce, and economic development.
Service to our members remains the platform upon which the Council continues to define its value. In 2011, we will advance this work to a new level through efforts that include infrastructure upgrades, continued support for our Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative, and enhanced professional development programs and conferences. Mark your calendars for some very different and very exciting conferences in 2011:
We are at a unique moment in our sector’s history. Built on our commitment to innovation and independence, I believe philanthropy welcomes this opportunity to provide a leadership role for strategic investment in positive social change. Our success must be achieved by working together. I have often shared a favorite African proverb with many of you. “To go quickly, go alone. To go far, go together.” This is a time for philanthropy to go far, together. We at the Council stand ready to be your partners in this journey.
Steve Gunderson is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations