Provocations on American Foundations and Policy

American foundations sometimes fund advocacy or policy analysis or community organizing as part of their strategies for particular types of social change.

But who advocates on behalf of foundations about philanthropic policy? And what are the policy domains that matter to foundations as enterprises? In 2013 my Stanford colleague Rob Reich and I published a policy forecast on the issues that pertain to American foundations and nonprofits. The usual suspects - tax code, payout rate - those are in there. You can read that document here.

But it's high time to recognize that the tax code is no longer the fundamental policy frame shaping philanthropy and nonprofits. In a time when social businesses, impact investing, campaign contributions, and crowdfunding are all growing,  it should be obvious that tax privilege is only one factor that Americans consider when thinking about using their private resources for public benefit.

And in the digital age, the infrastructural issues that matter to civil society are going to be about data privacy, ownership, infrastructure access, security, and consent.

The tax code was the 20th century policy infrastructure for philanthropy.
Digital regulations will provide the scaffolding and shape for 21st century associations and expression - aka, civil society.
The laws on digital data and infrastructure will define how civil society functions in a digital age.

With this in mind, back in April I wrote a provocations piece on the policy infrastructure for philanthropy. I'm pleased to now make this document public. Here are the key points:

  • Focus less exclusively on tax policy. The foundation infrastructure and policy groups need to build working relationships and expertise on corporate code, digital policy, and investment regulations (at least)
  • Proactively engage with other philanthropic options and mechanisms for using private resources for public benefit. These include impact investing, crowdfunding, B corporations. 
  • Separate policy expertise from bigtent membership associations so these experts can be more proactive, flexible, and coalitionoriented.
  • Build relationships that cross type foundations and crowdfunding platforms, foundations and impact investors so that broad coalitions can be mobilized to respond to policy opportunities. 
  • Reach beyond the professional staff of foundations to build coalitions, more diverse skill sets, and deeper relationships with government partners, regulators and adjacent industry allies.
  • Develop a coordinated voice to the public about philanthropy’s inherent and comparative value.
  • Consider how the journalism industry’s focus on First Amendment issues serve as an analog for thinking about associational (nonprofit) policy. This could lead to more flexible and diverse relationships with existing First Amendment policy organizations and advocates.

You can read the download the paper here.

I welcome your thoughts.

1 comment:

The Sunshine Crew said...

Hi Lucy, thanks for making your paper public! I am looking forward to reading it this weekend. I enjoyed your session that was part of the LAAF Giving 2.0 #givingMOOC was wondering if you know if there are any resources that help to determine the feasibility of setting up a nonprofit versus setting up something through an existing foundation. We just don't want to duplicate efforts if something is already established that we could collaborate with for our idea of a project.
Well, thanks for all that you do for philanthropy. Truly appreciate that you share your expertise with others! Have a happy weekend! Colleen ( @f5th on Twitter and Pinterest)