By Laura Wolff, Acting Executive Director, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation
At this time last year, many Philanthropy New York members and grantees were taking advantage of the first campaign season in 12 years with open races for all the citywide offices, to focus public attention on critical policy issues and inform the thinking of the City’s next leaders. Now that we’re several months into the new Administration, it is time to consider how we reposition ourselves for this new era.
As staff and board members of foundations and corporate giving programs, we are often sought out by government officials and nonprofit leaders to discuss potential partnerships. Particularly at times of transition, we—and Philanthropy New York – often initiate these conversations, eager to share our knowledge and ideas in the hope that they will be useful and influential. Yet, while we want to be loved for our minds, others, not surprisingly, are often more focused on our more tangible assets and are disappointed when we decline to simply write a check.
However, I believe that resistance to public -private partnerships in which foundations serve as “ATMs” for government agencies is not primarily a question of philanthropic ego. Rather it reflects justifiable concerns about achieving sustainable change, as well as the appropriate role of each of the three pillars in the civic ecosystem: not-for-profits, philanthropy, and government. Given each sector’s purpose and relative resources, the normative configuration of roles should be government partnering with philanthropy in supporting nonprofits to administer services and programs that advance the public good (rather than government and nonprofits both seeking money from foundations). In addition, foundations can be constructive partners to government by serving as conveners and sources of information about local needs, potential nonprofit partners, relevant research, best practices and experts in a field. Continue reading ‘What Kinds of Public-Private Partnerships Do We Want?’