A Critical Time for Philanthropy’s Voice to Be Heard

February 1, 2017

If there were ever a time for philanthropy to speak with a strong voice on the issues and values it cares about, now is the time. Whenever there is a new Congress and new presidential administration, it is a critical moment for all sectors to ensure they are being heard — philanthropy included. That need is heightened for philanthropy during this time of significant divisiveness in our country, as I’ve written about before.

I represent a large and growing network of regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) that all work to advance, inform and support philanthropy. In this time of change, our members are engaging in numerous efforts to ensure that philanthropy speaks out on issues that are vital to our country’s future.

Forum member Funders Together to End Homelessness, for example, has issued a set of policy priorities for advancing solutions to prevent and end homelessness with the new Presidential administration. Funders Together CEO Amanda Andere has noted that although the work under the new administration “might look different, or feel uncertain, the goal does not change.” She has stated that her organization remains committed to continuing philanthropy’s role to spur innovation and take best practices to scale, while pushing for public-private partnerships, because philanthropy cannot end homelessness—or tackle any social problem, for that matter—alone. Andere writes that this type of change “is bigger than ourselves, especially in uncertain and unclear times.” That sentiment applies to all issues that funders care about.

Another Forum member, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), is providing a strong voice for philanthropy around policies focused on immigration and refugees. Like all PSOs, GCIR is a critical source of information and resources for funders on policies that affect the issues its members care about and support. GCIR has spoken out to affirm, in a statement by GCIR President Daranee Petsod, that amid the change in leadership in Washington it “remains steadfast” in working to achieve its mission and remains committed to healing divisions. “All of us have a responsibility to do more, to reach outside our circles, to engage in tough conversations—and ultimately, to find common ground,” Petsod wrote.

Around the country, the Forum’s regional PSO members are providing a strong voice for philanthropy amid a change in political leadership not just in Washington but also in their cities, states and regions, to offer research, resources and guidance to their state policymakers to support balanced decisions for their communities. Philanthropy Ohio, for example, continues to convene Ohio funders around health and education policy issues, to ensure that philanthropy is an active participant in critical policy discussions and decisions in Ohio, on both the state and federal level. Many other regional PSOs are engaged in similar work.

The Forum itself is playing our role to ensure a strong voice for philanthropy on important policy issues for our field. For instance, we are working with many of our members to engage philanthropy on policies that will ensure a fair and accurate census count in 2020, which can affect many issues that foundations support. Decisions are being made right now at the federal and state level regarding resources and methods for conducting the 2020 census that will determine its accuracy. The resulting numbers from the census are used by 100+ federal programs to determine funding for the states. Philanthropy cares about this because when there are reduced government dollars for traditionally undercounted populations such as the elderly, children, people of color or immigrants, an undue burden will be placed on social service networks and philanthropy will be asked to fill the gaps—despite the fact that government dollars dwarf philanthropic resources.

Even more urgent, tax reform is widely expected to be on the table for Congress this year, so the Forum is working closely with our members and partners to ensure that the tax code continues to include provisions to incentivize charitable giving — most notably the charitable deduction. At a time when we need more resources than ever before to solve the urgent social problems in our communities, we should be doing everything in our power to encourage as much charitable giving as possible to benefit all of us.

Foundations on the Hill

To ensure that federal policymakers understand the important role of philanthropy in our communities, the Forum is presenting Foundations on the Hill on March 20-22, in partnership with the Council on Foundations and the Alliance for Charitable Reform. Foundations on the Hill is the one time each year when philanthropy speaks with a strong, collective voice on Capitol Hill. We need to ensure that Congress understands the value of philanthropy to our communities and our country, and to stress the importance of doing all that we can to encourage more charitable giving.

The Forum’s regional PSO members from all over the country will be bringing delegations of foundation representatives — more than 200 people in all — to Washington for #FOTH17. The event is part of the Forum’s yearlong effort to support our members in engaging with their federal legislators, not just in DC but back in their home districts as well.

If you are a funder who wants to be a part of philanthropy’s voice in DC, I encourage you to participate in Foundations on the Hill this year (reach out to your #FOTH17 state contact to learn more and sign up). Even if you cannot make the trip to Washington, your regional philanthropy association can help you be involved in policy efforts in your area.

No matter what issues and causes you support, and no matter where you stand on the political spectrum, if you are involved in philanthropy you have an important role to play to ensure that philanthropy’s voice is heard. This is not about being partisan. This is not about being political. This is about being active and engaged in our country’s civic leadership and discourse to move our nation forward.

David Biemesderfer is president and CEO of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, a network that includes Philanthropy Northwest. Follow him on Twitter: @dbiemesderfer