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Lester Salamon to head new think-tank

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By Todd Cohen

Tracking and stimulating philanthropic and nonprofit activity and innovation in the U.S. and abroad will be the focus of a new institute at The Foundation Center in New York City.

Heading the new Alexis Institute for Civil Society and Philanthropy starting in early September will be Lester M. Salamon, professor and director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

The merger will combine and expand research on foundations and nonprofits, respectively, that The Foundation Center and Salamon now conduct separately.

The Foundation Center plans to raise $10 million in initial funding for the new institute, partly through a broader fundraising campaign to fund new strategic initiatives as the center celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and partly through a separate endowment drive, says Sara L. Engelhardt, the center’s president.

Salamon says the new “joint venture,” named for Alexis de Tocqueville, the 19th-century French historian and author of Democracy in America, will expand the scope of research in the face of growing innovation in philanthropy and growing awareness of the critical role nonprofits play, both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

“We have learned that the problems we’re facing in the world and this country are too complex and too big for any single sector to handle on its own, whether it be government, business or the third sector,” he says. “And increasingly, governments around the world, including governments in our country, have seen in the nonprofit sector an important ally in solving complex public problems.”

But to develop effective partnerships between government and nonprofits, he says, “we need to have as good a body of information about the nonprofit sector as we do about the business sector and about government. And that simply has been lacking.”

Engelhardt says combining The Foundation Center’s work with Salamon’s will provide a more comprehensive look at the resources available for nonprofits from foundations, government and emerging forms of philanthropy such as charitable gifts funds, venture philanthropies, women’s funds, social-justice funds, and foundations created through the conversion of nonprofit hospitals and health-care insurers to for-profit companies.

“To get the larger picture, you really have to study them all,” she says.

Salamon, who has worked at Johns Hopkins for 18 years, initially as founding director of its Institute for Policy Studies, says the new institute will carry on and broaden research now conducted by Hopkins’ Center for Civil Society Studies.

That work includes tracking data on nonprofit employment; a “Listening Post” project that regularly asks a standing group of nonprofit leaders about innovation in the sector; a UN nonprofit handbook project that Salamon says is generating “a rich new body of data” on nonprofits throughout the world; periodic “State of the Sector” reports; and studies comparing the nonprofit sectors of countries throughout the world.

“I am convinced there is burgeoning activity in the world of philanthropy in this country and around the world, new forms of mobilizing philanthropic resources and bringing them to bear,” Salamon says. “There is not sufficient focused attention to them.”

In Mexico, for example, a consortium of industries has formed a new foundation that will work to train workers and improve working conditions and economic prospects, using funds from a voluntary tax on their payrolls the industries have agreed to pay.

“There’s an enormous amount of innovation going on, and we need to do a better job of disseminating it,” Salamon says.

Research the new institute plans also will aim to generate greater innovation in philanthropy, he says.

Now providing less than 2 percent of funding for nonprofits in the U.S., for example, foundations “might usefully begin to operate like philanthropic banks, leveraging other private resources by offering an array of financing options, including loans and loan guarantees, in addition to grants,” he says.

Previously, Salamon was director of the Center for Governance and Management Research at the Urban Institute, and before that was deputy associate director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

He is the author of over 20 books, including Global Civil Society: Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector, and The Resilient Sector: The State of Nonprofit America.

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