Do Your Homework: Learning about Government and How It Works

Before bringing ideas to government, experienced funders said, vet them thoroughly with colleagues in philanthropy, grantees who work with government, and others who can help think through the practical implications of a policy change. “We need to know how to use the architecture of government to build programs that government can eventually take over,” said a grantmaker who partners often with city government to design and test new programs. “We need to understand tax policy and budget making on the capital as well as on the expense side. We also need to understand very concretely the constraints government operates under around public employees — hiring, firing, promotions, and salaries, and the fact that civil service often defines jobs in a particular way.”

Anyone who hasn’t worked in government may need to invest time in formal and informal networking, drawing on contacts who know their way around. A grantmaker who had previously spent decades working in public education, including in a job working “from the outside” with advocates around the country on teacher policy, recalled his “first foray” as a grantmaker into the complex politics of a single state: “Folks literally took me through the halls of the capital, and we sat down with members and staff, and they explained to me that this is how the system operates.” What he saw was both “interesting and surprising,” and the experience helped him to develop a network of people to call on when he needed insight about a government decision or process.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Working with Government.