Philanthropy and Government Working Together: What Does it Take?

April 26 – 27, 2012

On April 26 and 27, 2012 The Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy convened 30 leaders for a high-level intersectoral conversation around the strategic interplay of foundations and government in solving community problems. Participants included individuals working as “philanthropic liaisons” in city and state government, the director of the White House Office of Social Innovation, as well as representatives from the US Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services, and experts doing research on these efforts.

The roundtable opened with a discussion of how to leverage philanthropy and government, partnership rules of engagement, and the commonly held misperceptions of government by philanthropy and vice versa.

Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation stressed there is no silver bullet in community problems solving, and the key is to take an integrative, interdisciplinary approach that involves nonprofits, government, and business working together. According to Greenblatt, The White House Office “now focuses on elevating community solutions, meaning we’re not trying to create complicated strategies across the conference table in every state. We’re trying to reach outside of the Beltway and identify what works and then think about how we modulate our engagement.”

Day two focused on how government and philanthropy at the local, state and federal level can work and learn from each other if they create the infrastructure for cross-sectional relationships. Fred Ali, President and CEO of The Weingart Foundation and Chair of the Board of Advisors at The Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy, remarked, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more challenging time in philanthropy, especially in regard to some of the challenges being faced by our nonprofit partners. But, there’s never been a more important time, for close, effective cooperation between government and philanthropy.”

The Office of the Governor of Michigan shared their experience in sustaining an office of Philanthropic Liaison, and leaders in local liaison offices in Los Angeles, Denver, and Newark also shared their strategies in creating lasting partnerships that move forward shared agendas.

A few days later James M. Ferris, director of the USC Center, moderated a panel titled, “Does Working With Government Have a Payoff?” at the Council on Foundations (COF) 2012 Annual Meeting. The panel explored the emergence of philanthropic liaisons at the local, state, and national levels, as well as what they have achieved in terms of policy outcomes, and how to inform leaders from both sectors about how to work together more productively.

Ferris notes, “this roundtable and the panel at COF are the latest efforts in the Center’s ongoing commitment to research on philanthropic strategies for public problem solving, which includes studying ways that philanthropic organizations and individuals can develop more effective strategies for public problem solving, particularly through partnerships with nonprofits, government and business.”

The Center also interviewed the principals in the “philanthropic liaison” offices in order to understand the origins of their objectives and accomplishments, and lessons learned. The Center will publish a white paper to share the discussion with the broader philanthropic community and public officials this fall.

For a copy of the roundatable report, Click here

For a summary of the roundtable report, Click here