Thursday, April 23, 2009


"What most foundations hope for when they partner with that the additional financial resources will allow successful programs to be sustained,replicated, and made available to more communities."

Lauren Foster, "Charitable Relations: Philanthropy adapts to the Obama era," American Prospect, May 2009.

That's one rather traditional view of philanthropy-goverment partnerships: philanthropy innovates and government replicates. As often, government innovates and philanthropic innovations are too expensive, complicated, or unreplicable.

A more productive view is to think about the distinctive roles and capacities of philanthropy and why these might be useful for an activist government interested in social innovation. Philanthropic financial resources can be used for venture start ups, glue money, capacity building, system change, policy advocacy, organizing, and integrating multiple government funding streams. Other foundation resources include civic leadership, staff, networks, and program-related investments.

A great example of this kind of unplanned partnership is how philanthropy and the nonprofit sector have gotten the word out about ARRA, pushed at its weak points, and helped co-creation efforts to link recovery elements like workforce, jobs, and energy infrastructure, and energy retrofitting. This is creative, uncharted territory.

On the other hand, philanthropy can act as a supportive but skeptical friend when government becomes enamoured of specific models or best practices, sharing the pitfalls as well as the upsides.

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