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Dueling ideas

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By Todd Cohen

Philanthropy can play a powerful role in shaping the role government plays.

Financed by foundations, conservative and liberal policy groups crank out research on a broad range of policy issues, including whether government should do more or less to address critical social needs.

Yet while liberal foundations spend more on policy work, conservative foundations are more effective at policy change, says a report in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Conservatives are winning the war for the public square, it says, because they are smarter at packaging and marketing their ideas for public consumption.

Unlike liberal funders “preoccupied with generating unbiased and scientific research,” the report says, conservative foundations know how to work the media and target specific audiences with their ideas.

The report, echoing a study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, also says conservative foundations provide more flexible operating funds to policy groups than do liberal foundations.

In addition to investing in nonprofits that address social needs and innovation, philanthropy can shape public debate about whether government will stifle or unleash social progress.

But winning that debate requires more than just good ideas backed by solid research.

Success in the marketplace of ideas requires marketing ideas effectively.


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

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