Business and Philanthropy: A partnership whose time has come

by Tamara Copeland
President
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Last week, Bob Buchanan, principal of Buchanan Partners, a real estate development company, and president of the 2030 Group, an association of business leaders focused on regional issues and solutions, came to speak to WRAG member CEOs as part of our CEO Coffee and Conversation series. He was invited after he and Dr. Stephen Fuller (of the Center for Regional Analysis, George Mason University) called for a regional economic summit.  They suggested that, because the backbone of our region’s economy has been the federal government and that given the changes in our region’s relationship to this hometown employer, we must create a new regional economic reality.  They also underscored the fact that this isn’t a situation to be addressed solely by the District of Columbia or Fairfax, VA, or any other jurisdiction in our region, but a regional problem that should be examined as a whole and addressed by regional leaders using a broad lens and a long-range view.

I invited Bob to speak because, surprisingly, they hadn’t viewed philanthropy as one of the sectors to call to the planning table until I reached out. When asked why philanthropy wasn’t included, Bob responded, “business leaders go to those who can move the needle.”

What a wake up call!  Clearly, philanthropy wasn’t viewed as a change agent.

For years, I have thought that philanthropy doesn’t do enough to highlight the role that it plays in social change. That’s why we produced Beyond Dollars in 2009, featured Philanthropy Factoids in the Daily WRAG throughout 2011, and updated Beyond Dollars with a progress report in 2013. We wanted to showcase all that philanthropy does to improve people’s lives.  Unfortunately, that message hasn’t reached the business community, and part of that responsibility lies with us.  When I look back over the speakers that WRAG has presented over the last decade, I can’t find one business leader who isn’t also a philanthropist.  Until the conversation with Bob Buchanan, WRAG had not invited a business leader to present his or her ideas to philanthropy. We had not explored with business shared views and values toward possible shared action. In retrospect, wow.

So, WRAG is working to change that.  Bob Buchanan underscored the altruistic role that funders can play. He noted that when he speaks up for a particular need, he is often lumped in the category of “greedy developer” just trying to make his project work. Often, yes, he is trying to make a project happen, but it is a project that can improve the lives of many who live in a specific community.  His business identity often obscures the fact that he wants to turn a profit and improve the community.  He challenged the funding community to:

  • Consider how they are perceived as only helping the “un-” and “under-” members of the community. He acknowledged that funders are trying to improve the lives of all who live in a community and that when the “un”served or “under”served are helped, all community members are helped. He feels that the business community doesn’t see the role of philanthropy as helping everybody;
  • Look at how they might support start-up businesses that can improve the viability of communities just as they support start up/innovative, new social profit organizations; and
  • Make financial investments with their assets, not just grants.

He believes that elected officials charged with serving their discrete constituencies and limited by a relatively brief time in office can’t be the sole partners of business, particularly in pursuit of a new regional economic dynamic. He wants philanthropy to play a role.  Now we must determine what that role should be.

School nutrition remains an ongoing debate

FOOD
The struggle for consensus on school nutrition standards wages on as the GOP proposes a bill allowing schools to opt-out of current meal standards, and the White House warns it will veto if passed: (WTOP, 6/11)

The GOP spending bill would allow schools to waive the school lunch and breakfast standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama for the next school year if they lost money on meal programs over a six-month period. The House is expected to consider the legislation as soon as Wednesday.

EDUCATION
Montgomery County high schools will not be adopting a later start time, as a lack of positive feedback prompted the school superintendent to ditch the proposal. The plan was originally suggested as a way to allow students to get more rest, thereby improving school performance. (WAMU, 6/10)

– Parents in the revitalized Capitol Riverfront neighborhood have rallied together in order to revive a previously closed DCPS building. Van Ness Elementary is now said to be reopening in 2015, but for many of the parents seeing is believing. (GGE, 6/10)

PHILANTHROPY
 In this piece, Tamara asks how we can encourage more national foundation investment in our region and reflects on the characteristics of our region that seem to be deterring national foundations from giving here. (Daily, 6/11)

Related: On Thursday, WRAG member CEOs are invited to join us for a Coffee & Conversation featuring Dr. Alan Abramson speaking on this very topic.

– A study conducted by ABFE and the Black Philanthropic Network seeks to find why the number of black professionals in philanthropy is so low. (NPQ, 6/9)

OpinionTo Conquer AIDS, Philanthropy Must Fight the Injustice it Thrives On (Chronicle, 6/10)

SIBs │ New Study Offers Advice on Setting Up Social-Impact Bonds (Chronicle, 6/8)


Here’s a great, big guide to outdoor music this summer…and it’s all free!

Ciara

Government + Philanthropy + Nonprofits = Social Innovation

By Tamara Copeland, President

The often contentious relationship between the President and Congress seems to have found a solid place of coexistence in support of the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), a public-private partnership that takes community-based solutions to scale. Launched by President Obama less than five years ago, Congress increased its allocation to SIF this year by 40 percent, raising its budget to $70 million. In an era of budget slashing, I don’t need to tell you that that is no small feat.

While the government investment is important and significant, one of the key elements of the program is the 1:1 match of government funds with private investment. SIF grants funds to what are called intermediary organizations, typically foundations, which then raise the matching funds from other foundations and donors to invest in local nonprofit organizations.

Last week, Michael Smith, Director of the Social Innovation Fund, joined a group of WRAG CEOs to discuss the Fund.

Since its establishment in 2010, 20 intermediary organizations across the country have supported 218 nonprofit organizations whose work has benefitted over 200,000 people. In our own backyard, Venture Philanthropy Partners is an intermediary working with six local nonprofits to provide education and employment services to 20,000 low-income youth in our region through their youthCONNECT initiative.

With an investment of $1 million to $10 million per intermediary, the Social Innovation Fund is a powerful means of taking evidenced-based solutions to scale. But, as several of the WRAG CEO attendees noted, coming up with that match can be hard for many communities, including the Greater Washington region. Michael Smith agreed that the 1:1 match model may not work for every community. As SIF continues to grow, perhaps this conversation will be the seed of an innovation for the Social Innovation Fund. We’ll see.

For more info about SIF (which just announced its latest grant competition), check out this fact sheet and read Michael’s recent Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Innovation to Impact: Obama’s Social Innovation Fund at Four.”


Michael Smith announced that this year, the Social Innovation Fund will utilize $14 million to explore pay-for-success models, or what are sometimes referred to as “social impact bonds.” This strategy will be the topic of the next CEO Coffee & Conversation on March 25. More information is available here.