Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Metaphor Clunkers

"And what did the philanthropists—the other side of that public-private partnership—accomplish here?...Remarkably, most of the recommendations had little to do with philanthropy. Rather, they were wish lists for Congress...Looks like the administration is beginning to nationalize another sector of the American economy."

David J. Sanders, "The Great Philanthropy Takeover," Wall Street Journal, July 30, 2009.

Some might argue that philanthropy is already nationalized given its core dependency on the IRS. And other so-called "national" takeovers have been for troubled sectors like auto and finance; the long-term prognosis for philanthropy is pretty good if it can weather the recession and the shennanigans of Wall Street.So, Sanders has a bit of a metaphor problem.

He's snarling about a recent rural philanthropy summit in Little Rock sponsored by the Council on Foundations. I think it's fair to observe that many foundations, especially larger foundations with a public policy bent, are experiencing the joys and scheduling hassles of unprecendented access to the Obama administration in its various forms. There's no better way to curry favor with philanthropies than by treating them as key players that know something important. And both are true.

Rather than producing more "wish lists" for Obama, philanthropy's role should be to focus the administration's attention on how to invest wisely and how to change the way the feds do business. Philanthropy should also focus on the "bottom up" strategy of supporting local communities recover and reinvest the best they can in this environment. Many foundations are showing progress on both fronts -- and not being further nationalized.

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