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Posts Tagged ‘philanthropists’

Think the debate over health care reform is over? Not a chance— and not just because Election Day is fast approaching. President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in late March after nearly a year of debate and deliberation. But the real work is only just beginning: Implementing the law at both the federal and state levels.

And so, Grantmakers in Health has called upon foundations to ramp up funding for public education about the legislation, as well as to build local capacity to implement it. Working to generate and sustain public support over the next few years will be critical if the law is to withstand efforts to repeal or undermine it before it has had a chance to take effect, according to Implementing Health Care Reform: Funders and Advocates Respond to the Challenge.

Moreover the Grantmakers alliance says that the issue should concern even those funders working outside of the health and heath care area. For starters, the report explains, the law touches on issues beyond health and health care, incorporating issues about workforce, income security and equity among racial and ethnic populations. But perhaps the most important reason the report argues that non-health funders should play a role in health care reform: the success— or failure— of the law could affect other public policy issues in the future. As the GIH publication puts it, the bill’s high profile and broad reach means that successful implementation could help restore public trust in government and demonstrate government’s positive role in improving lives. Wouldn’t that be something?

Although the focus—and controversy—has been on provisions expanding health insurance, the PPACA encompasses significant changes affecting virtually every aspect of the health system, from information technology to training to delivery system. The aim is to restructure the health care delivery system to make it more focused on prevention and primary care, reduce costs and improve quality. Indeed, it’s more complex and broader in scope than Medicare or Medicaid, and will be enacted in stages over the next four years, with many of its provisions requiring extensive planning and preparation.

Based on interviews with 43 funders and advocates, the GIH publication reports on foundations’ early implementation activities and plans. It also offers recommendations for further engagement and support. The organization will further discuss the report and hear from several funders engaged on the issue in a Sept. 8 conference call for members at 2:00 PM EST. (Email to register.) The report suggests that funders should work harder to coordinate and collaborate their efforts, within a state or on a regional level, learning about what their colleagues are doing. In particular, funders could work to create pooled funds for specific issues, activities or localities. And larger funders could seek out small, community and nonhealth funders, soliciting their expertise or advice on education, poverty or workforce issues as they relate to implementation.

More specifically, the report calls on philanthropists to fund efforts to explain the law in ways that people— including grantees— can understand, overcoming skepticism, as well as to target groups who might benefit from the early provisions, such as the uninsurable, seniors with prescription drug costs and small businesses. Another critical need is for philanthropists to help state government officials take on the local tasks of implementation. The latter will be a particular challenge, as states are constrained by budget deficits, staff reductions and anticipated turnover due to the fall elections. So foundations could identify ways to partner with local or state government, according to the report—if not direct funding for personnel or programs, then helping them apply for federal grants or support data collection and evaluation.

“Never before has there been such a national framework in place for major health systems change,” GIH reports.

The potential is certainly there—now, to make it real.

—Jane Wales

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Everyone has gripes with the ways in which government tax dollars are put to use. Especially now, knee-deep in tax season, some dream of a tax-free, libertarian society. It certainly has done that for those associated with the anti-tax Tea Party Movement.

But philanthropist Chuck Collins argues that the public debate should focus on the reasons for collecting taxes in the first place. The debate is “stuck” in anti-tax rhetoric, designed to appeal to the Tea Party Movement, Collins says. Along with Alison Goldberg, Collins is leading a campaign for progressive tax reform aimed at the post World War II goal of expanding the middle class and meeting collective needs ranging from public education to physical infrastructure. These two philanthropists are gearing up for Tax Day—April 15—by recruiting more colleagues to join their cause to provide a progressive counterweight of sorts to the Tea Party activists. Collins says the goal is to “bear witness” to the need for a tax system that produces a more equitable society. It should also produce more philanthropy.

As detailed in a March 24 Chronicle of Philanthropy online discussion and in a March 25 Bolder Giving teleconference, Goldberg and Collins’ organization, Wealth for Common Good, specifically aims, among other things, to end Bush-era tax cuts for those with annual incomes over $235,000, close overseas tax havens, reinstate the estate tax and create an additional top tax bracket for high incomes. Taken together, they assert that their proposals could generate more than $500 billion per year in revenue. Their organization is also considering ways to use the tax code to encourage more charitable giving aimed at reducing inequality. During the Chronicle of Philanthropy chat, Goldberg said that foundation boards and grant decisions should also be opened up to include representatives of the communities supported by their grantmaking.

The proposals contained in Wealth for Common Good reflect and respond to a growing worry about income and wealth disparities in our society. And philanthropy has a role to play in providing thoughtful solutions. As Goldberg wrote in a Jan. 13 post to the New Voices of Philanthropy blog, “the funding community can’t afford to be absent from these debates.” For the television news would have us believe that the tea Party Movement is the dominant—perhaps even the sole—voice.

—Jane Wales

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Will the Supreme Court ruling giving greater political voice to corporations have the effect of focusing the minds of those funders who support policy advocacy?

Many foundations now appreciate that the impact of policy advocacy is not as hard to measure as once thought. Less clear, according to papers in the most recent issue of the Foundation Review, is how fully foundations appreciate the importance of their support for advocacy as part of a larger social change strategy, and how much investment they are willing to make in its evaluation. The recent Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to spend more money on political campaigns may change their perspective.

The latest issue of the Foundation Review offers a number of research papers with insights for foundations working in the public policy realm. In particular, one paper from Innovation Network’s Johanna Morariu and Kathleen Brennan notes that three-quarters of advocacy organizations have not evaluated their work, and more than 80 percent of them have never worked with an outside evaluator. What advocacy strategies are appropriate in what contexts? What combinations of organizational capacities are most important? What are the most meaningful interim indicators in the journey from grassroots organizing to sweeping social change? The authors say these and other critical questions can’t truly be answered without greater support from foundations for advocacy evaluation. Morariu and Brennan go on to identify the key qualities of an effective advocacy funder, which include the usual suspects of offering extended grant cycles, support for program evaluation, and general operating support to enable grantees to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.

Another paper in this issue of the Foundation Review offers specific insights for foundations working to influence policy across the U.S. Ann Whitney Breihan of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland focuses on a multi-state program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that has impacted national policies on care for developmentally disabled adults. Among her suggestions: To build momentum for a particular policy, resist a temptation to fund states scattered across the country and instead focus funding in a region. Her study bears out that states are more likely to “follow the pack” in their own region. She also says funders should focus funding in those states that have already demonstrated interest – by spending their own funds – in a particular policy area. They’re more likely to consider further innovation in the area.

In general, philanthropists may be less hesitant about helping to define the voice of the social sector. Noting the success of highly strategic politically conservative foundations, other funders across the political spectrum have come to believe that nonprofits and foundations need to gain a greater voice when it comes to public policy. Many have taken concrete steps to do so by hiring more communications and policy specialists and more frequently collaborating and engaging with politicians and government agencies. As borne out in the Foundation Review, evaluation of these efforts is necessary in order to gauge how effective the current strategies and programs are and what can be done to improve them. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the need for these steps has become ever more apparent.

For further reading, the book Seen But Not Heard: Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy (published by the Aspen Institute) presents the findings of a multi-year research project called the Strengthening Nonprofit Advocacy Project (SNAP), conducted by OMB Watch, Tufts University, and the Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest and offers specific suggestions that nonprofit leaders can take to strengthen their organization’s advocacy work.

-Jane Wales

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Jane Wales, World Affairs Council President and CEO, is now blogging for the Huffington Post. Read her most current blog, about what philanthropists can do to meet the needs of lower-income Americans, here.

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Yesterday, the U.S. House passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  Following Senate passage of the same language last week, this means the bill will now be sent to President Obama so that he can sign it into law.

Unfortunately, the bill does not contain language creating a Commission on Cross-Sector Solution, as we mistakenly reported last week.  It does, however, include a new Social Innovation Funds Pilot Project, through which the Corporation for National Service will award grants to local programs.  We are pleased to see that Congress appreciates the valuable contributions of social entrepreneurs and also understands the need to measure the effectiveness of programs so that philanthropists can identify and fund the kinds of programs that work.  Here are the congressional findings related to this program, along with its stated purpose:

(a) Findings.–Congress finds the following:

(1) Social entrepreneurs and other nonprofit community organizations are developing innovative and effective solutions to national and local challenges.

(2) Increased public and private investment in replicating and expanding proven effective solutions, and supporting new solutions, developed by social entrepreneurs and other nonprofit community organizations could allow those entrepreneurs and organizations to replicate and expand proven initiatives, and support new initiatives, in communities.

(3) A network of Social Innovation Funds could leverage Federal investments to increase State, local, business, and philanthropic resources to replicate and expand proven solutions and invest in supporting new innovations to tackle specific identified community challenges.

(b) Purposes.–The purposes of this section are–

(1) to recognize and increase the impact of social entrepreneurs and other nonprofit community organizations in tackling national and local challenges;

(2) to stimulate the development of a network of Social Innovation Funds that will increase private and public investment in nonprofit community organizations that are effectively addressing national and local challenges to allow such organizations to replicate and expand proven initiatives or support new initiatives;

(3) to assess the effectiveness of such Funds in–

(A) leveraging Federal investments to increase State, local, business, and philanthropic resources to address national and local challenges;

(B) providing resources to replicate and expand effective initiatives; and

(C) seeding experimental initiatives focused on improving outcomes in the areas described in subsection (f)(3); and

(4) to strengthen the infrastructure to identify, invest in, replicate, and expand initiatives with effective solutions to national and local challenges.

With respect to the evaluation component, the bill included language allowing the Corporation to dedicate up to 5 percent of the funds available to the program “to support, directly or through contract with an independent entity, research and evaluation activities to evaluate the eligible entities and community organizations receiving grants … and the initiatives supported by the grants.”

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