California Philanthropy Goes to Washington
Just in time for the opening of cherry blossom season, California Philanthropy descended on Washington DC, last month as part of Foundations on the Hill (FOTH), co-presented by the Council on Foundations and the Forum of Regional Associations.
This year through coordinated efforts, NCG, Southern California Grantmakers (SCG) and San Diego Grantmakers (SDG) jointly scheduled and attended all meetings together as a unified “California Delegation.” Together our group set out to find opportunities to connect the work of our collective members to federal efforts underway.
In previous years, visits to DC have focused on meeting with Congressional offices and promoting the advocacy agenda developed by the Council on Foundations. This year, however, the California delegation opted to shift our strategy slightly. With all three associations in the process of articulating our respective advocacy strategies, and all three making it a priority to build working relationships with the district staff of California Congressional representatives, this year we felt our meeting attention should focus on the federal agencies in the Capital. While we still visited our State Senators’ offices and shared elements of the Council on Foundation’s advocacy agenda—including a request for the simplification of the excise tax on private foundations; a request for the permanent extension of the IRA charitable rollover allowance; and a request for easing the voluntary ruling process from foundations seeking to make program related investments (PRIs)—this year’s focus was more on building bridges within federal offices.
We set up meetings with a selection of federal agencies, particularly those currently investing in the communities where our members are working, or on the issues where our members invest as well.
Prepare yourself for the “alphabet soup” of federal work!
In 2010 the Obama Administration launched the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative an interagency collaboration engaging the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Education (ED), Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS) and Treasury. The collaboration is intended to support local communities in developing and obtaining the tools they need “to revitalize neighborhoods of concentrated poverty into neighborhoods of opportunity.”
The current administration has supported an unprecedented climate of coordination, and cross-sector collaboration, both in regards to interagency communication and coordination, and federal agencies looking to adopt best practices and strategies from other sectors. To this end, many officials recognize the expertise and long-view approach inherent to philanthropy and are seeking to develop working relationships with the sector.
We secured meetings with representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Education as part of the NRI, and additionally we reached out to meet with the White House Office of Social Innovation, and the California Governor’s Office in Washington.
We approached each meeting armed with information to share about the funder collaborations underway within our respective regions, and to begin to develop a roadmap of connections between what is happening within our memberships and the priorities at the federal level.
Who Went With Us
In addition to staff from NCG, SCG and SDG, our CA delegation also included Cole Wilbur, Trustee and past President of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, and Dan DeSantis from the Fresno Regional Foundation. Fresno was recently named as one of six participating communities in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (and the only participating city west of the Mississippi!). As part of the initiative, Fresno has staff from federal agencies living within the community, and working in partnership with the City and foundation staff to leverage federal investments for community and economic development. Mr. DeSantis was able to speak to agency staff about the efforts already underway, and clearly demonstrate the convening and facilitating role the foundation can play in supporting the initiative.
Meeting with Department of Justice
The Department of Justice, in partnership with DOE and HUD among others, supports the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, a national network of stakeholders which facilitates best-practice sharing to more effectively address youth violence prevention through comprehensive planning. Two of the six participating communities are in California: San Jose and Salinas. Representatives were recently in Washington for a gathering of the Forum on April 2-4. During our meeting with DOJ, Office of Justice Programs Chief of Staff, Thomas Abt, shared that local foundations can play a role in supporting the efforts of the initiative through serving as meeting conveners and committee advisors as the information sharing continues.
We also learned more about the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP), a core component of NRI that seeks to build the capacity of distressed communities through the provision of planning technical assistance and an on-the-ground facilitation, all with the goal of increasing the community’s capacity to receive stronger federal support.
”Having philanthropic support is a sign of credibility.”
Meeting with Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office for International & Philanthropic Innovation
The Office for International and Philanthropic Innovation (IPI) is truly the manifestation of the type of cross-sector collaboration we were seeking to encourage with our meetings. Created two years ago with the vision of building the capacity for HUD to learn from best philanthropic and international practices, IPI works across public, private and civil sectors to support HUD’s mission primarily through research, network development and facilitating collaboration of partners and resources.
Platforms for Connections
We met with Ana Marie Argilagos, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the office (and former grantmaker) who has been working diligently to connect funders to the work of HUD and other federal agencies. Earlier this year, HUD released a web feature at partner.hud.gov providing detailed information on Choice Neighborhoods grantees and high-scoring applicants. Meant to foster collaboration and coordination, the platform will likely expand to include other grant programs. Ms. Argilagos will be a featured panelist at the 2012 Council on Foundations conference in Los Angeles on April 29th.
HUD has also recently announced the inaugural Secretary’s Award for Community Foundations, which will be awarded as part of the Council on Foundation’s annual Fall Conference for Community Foundations. This award is meant to recognize excellence in public-philanthropic partnerships and highlight the power of collective impact. Applications must be received by May 11, 2012.
Department of Education, Office of Strategic Partnerships
Like HUD, the DOE has made great strides in reinforcing cross-sector collaborations with the establishment of the Office of Strategic Partnerships, which oversees coordination the Department’s various grant programs, and community stakeholders (including foundations, local government and families). Our meeting with DOE demonstrated this commitment to coordination, as we met with the Director of Strategic Partnerships, Suzanne Immerman along with staff representatives from the Office of School Turnaround (who administer the School Improvement Grants program), Promise Neighborhoods, and the Office of Innovation and Improvement (which administers the Investing in Innovation Fund, i3)
Also like HUD, the DOE has web-based interactive feature at data.ed.gov which allows users to examine datasets from the departments various grant programs. A truly comprehensive tool, data.ed.gov is part of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative and invites funders and other stakeholders to drill into a multitude of datasets and visualize resulting data.
Understanding the complexities of education reform, and the additional layers of complexity within California, staff representatives challenged philanthropy to establish a single resource to convene information on statewide education reform efforts. No small charge of course, we were reminded of the successful centralized cross-sector efforts underway in Delaware (Vision2015).
Additionally, we were called to bring our sector’s skills as evaluators to the table, as staff made the case for evidence-based data on measuring intervention efforts in education. Quite simply put, they pleaded, “We don’t know what works”. Grantmakers can play a significant role in outlining the evaluation components of the innovation fund grants.
The i3 fund is actively seeking peer reviewers with content expertise in their six Absolute Priorities, or in education evaluation for the 2012 Grant Competition. Education grantmakers are doubly qualified and we were asked to promote the opportunity with our respective memberships.
Roadmap for Success
We want to maximize the momentum built from these meetings and further facilitate connections between federal and regional efforts. While we recognize that many of our members are already working in partnership with federal grant programs, we realize there is still a lot more opportunity for bridge-building.
To that end we are in ongoing conversations with everyone we met with, and are working to identify both specific contacts for more targeted partnerships, and opportunities for learning.
The climate is perfect for ongoing public-private partnership development and we aim to serve as your network weaver to facilitate success!
Tags: COF, Cole Wilbur, council on foundations, Dan DeSantis, Forum of Regional Grantmakers, FOTH, Foundations on the Hill, Fresno Regional Foundation, Public Policy, San Diego Grantmakers, SCG, SDG, Southern California Grantmakers, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation