Matt MendenhallBuilding Relationships in Public Policy from the Ground Up

By: Matt Mendenhall In: Community Foundations| Governance| Legal| Public Policy

28 Jun 2011

Two recent Council on Foundations events in Battle Creek, Mich. (Regional Learning Forum and Public Policy for Community Foundations Course), produced rich discussions regarding the capacities and roles of community foundations. A Lew Feldstein communication (2009) suggests that, similar to earthworms, “the Foundation’s job is to build the soil, to enrich the ground in which the state’s thousands of nonprofits work, to have the truly long view….” In support of this idea, a public policy course participant stated, “The most important work we have ever done is to build long-term relationships.” The capacity to promote long-term relationships and thinking represents one of many contributions community foundations make to their communities.

One avenue for community foundations to exercise their capacity for long-term relationships and thinking is public policy advocacy. As preparation to enter the public policy arena, community foundations first educate themselves regarding the true limitations as well as the misconceptions about limitations to public policy work. If the term “public policy” creates mental blocks (”we can’t lobby”), using other terms-such as “civic leadership”-may help to expand perspectives on what is both possible and appropriate. Finally, assumptions and values (e.g., the importance of “neutrality”) can create obstacles for foundations attempting to work on root causes situated in public policy.

So what is the earthworm’s work in public policy?  Preparing the “ground” might include clearing up misconceptions in the sector about public policy advocacy, fostering creative thinking about civic leadership objectives, and working through obstacles. The long-term view was one of many issues discussed in Battle Creek. Others included investing in community leadership, aligning financial/social resources, and promoting awareness and improvements in social equities. The complexity of these issues demands continued discussions in the field.

Matt Mendenhall is vice president of programs for the Community Foundation of the Great River Bend.

1 Response to Building Relationships in Public Policy from the Ground Up

Reading Roundup: Philanthropy – 6/29-7/5/11 «

July 6th, 2011 at 1:25 am

[...] 6) Building Relationships in Public Policy from the Ground Up [...]

Comment Form

Welcome to RE: Philanthropy! In this blog, guest and Council bloggers share ideas and insights on the most pressing issues in philanthropy. If you want to contribute, please contact

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Foundations.


Joshua Gibb
Ken Sternad
Joanne Kelley
Lara Kalwinski
Andrea Lubov
Jill Nash
John Porter
Patrick Gaston
Nancy Jost
Nina Smart
Susan Swan Smith
Teri Behrens
Sophia Guevara
Diane Miller
PJ Watters
Michigan Rural Network
Caitlin Walker
Paul Penley
Sidney R. Hargro
Rebecca Graves
David Maurrasse
Jeff Pickering and Susanne Norgard
David Wood
Cecilia Garcia
Rodney McKenzie
George McCully
Ashley Blanchard
Michelle Zupan
Lisa Parker
Elizabeth Douglass
Sidney Hargro
Peter Berliner
Anita Scism
Regine A. Webster
Erica Ekwurzel
Mayur Patel
Bruce Trachtenberg and Michael Hamill Remaley
Lisa Richter
Daniel Lee
Jennifer Leonard
Anne Vally
Jackie Franey
Richard Ober
Kevin F. Walker
Rosalie Nezein and Jesse Wrenn
Larry Kutner
Lyle Matthew Kan
Eileen Speaker
Roxanne Joffe