Why Should Foundations Bother with Public Policy?

Thursday, November 3, 2022 - 10:41 am
Mason Rummel

For those of us in philanthropy, it can feel difficult to keep track of the rapidly shifting policy landscape – and how it affects our work. Grantmakers have guidelines, program directives, and division of duties. We have well-established relationships with grantees and a good sense of what we’re accomplishing on a daily basis. 

But if we step back, we can see so much more. In all that we do — locally, regionally, and nationally — there’s a larger frame that we simply can’t see until we take a breath. 

For most of my career, I’ve seen how elected leaders and the policies set by government officials can impact the lives of our friends and neighbors. I’ve been on guard when efforts erupt that could threaten the flexibility that philanthropy now enjoys. I’ve worked with colleagues to encourage government to partner with philanthropy to help communities thrive.  

That’s the value of the Council on Foundations’ Public Policy Summit. Through interactions at peer policy roundtables, reflections from policy leaders (like Don Graves, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce), and networking with colleagues we haven’t met before, we get a larger picture and realize how much more powerful our influence on public policy can be than we imagine. 

From November 15-16, the Council on Foundations is serving up an opportunity to gain that larger perspective, to connect with some of the brightest people in our field, and to learn how philanthropy’s intersection with government can magnify our impact. In other words, to take a breath. 

So, I make every effort to participate in these events because if I don’t, I can’t be part of a solution, an important conversation, or an opportunity to protect and defend the philanthropic sector that is so vital to a healthy and thriving civil society.  Our knowledge, experience, and stories are crucial for lawmakers to understand the consequences and impact of legislative ideas and decisions.  They welcome our input, and we welcome their interest with enthusiastic response. 

Don’t forget that in addition to the Summit this month, the Council on Foundations’ offerings also include an upcoming February training with CFLeads called Practice and Purpose of Policy, a dynamic training course for community foundation executives who are interested in deepening the policy engagement branch of their work.   

Over the years, events such as Public Policy Summit, the peer gatherings supporting it, and the opportunities that the Council on Foundations offers in webinars and training courses have not only given me the chance to see the bigger picture of our field, but they have also inspired me to want to learn more, to become better at what I do, and to connect the realities of our day-to-day work with the policy makers that shape it. I hope you’ll join me at the Public Policy Summit to learn how we can further our foundations’ individual missions as well as the broader mission of the field: building common ground to advance the greater good. 

Above all, I’ve found that gathering with peers gives me inspiration — and tools — to help my Louisville-based foundation achieve its highest and best impact. I know I’m not alone in that, and I encourage everyone to seize these opportunities to learn alongside colleagues. And take a breath. 

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