Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Foundations Urged to Drop Jitters Over Public-Policy Work

As reported by Suzanne Perry of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, speakers at this week's Council on Foundations leadership summit, took the view that foundation boards are far too timid about trying to influence lawmakers, mistakenly fearing it will jeopardize their tax-exempt status, in the words of Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation, in Washington, and a former Democratic U.S. senator.

“The IRS encourages philanthropy to be engaged in public-policy issues,” he said. Foundations should collaborate with government bodies, both to tap into their budgets and to have a greater impact, he continued, noting that a small change in public policy often has a huge “multiplier” effect.

Jean Case, chief executive of the Case Foundation, in Washington, said her organization gives preference to projects that involve government collaboration because they are “more likely to go further faster.”

She cited her position as co-chair of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership, a group set up by the U.S. State Department to attract private money for projects to improve the economy in the Palestinian territories.

The Case Foundation also persuaded the U.S. Agency for International Development to jointly support a project to provide “PlayPumps”—children’s merry-go-rounds that are attached to water pumps—to South Africa, she said.

John Bridgeland, president of Civic Enterprises, a public-policy consulting firm in Washington, urged foundations to  gear up to influence the transition team that will be preparing policy for the next president after the November election

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