Shaping policy

By Todd Cohen

Foundations need to play a bigger policy role.

Instead of limiting funding to programs, foundations should do more to help nonprofits improve operations and shape public policy.

Cowed by politicians who want to muzzle uppity charities, many foundations leave policymaking to government.

But making policy — the written and unwritten rules and goals guiding our communities and marketplace — is a job for all of us.

Charities are expected to handle the thankless job of cleaning up the social, economic and environmental mess created by self-absorbed citizens, heavy-handed government and near-sighted businesses.

Moving beyond paying charities to slap band-aids on social ills that are chronic and interconnected, foundations should team up with one another and with nonprofits, government and business to change public policies underlying critical social problems.

Short on details and lacking relentless champions, political promises quickly succumb to government gridlock, cynicism and business as usual.

Fixing social wrongs increasingly will depend on foundations that practice the collaboration they talk about, making it their business to push for policy change.

By equipping charities to operate effectively, and to both compete and work together to unleash innovation and spur social progress, philanthropy can begin to fulfill its promise.

Todd Cohen is the Editor and Publisher of the Philanthropy Journal.

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