On the Hard Work of Working with Government

From Gail Nayowith, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund: “Foundations and government share an obligation to solve problems and meet social needs, so it makes sense for them to work together. In practice, partnering with government is hard work, but it offers rich returns.”

  • Some of the most critical issues facing American communities cannot be addressed by a private sector solution, be it a marketplace solution or a philanthropic one. Education is a prime example: foundations could invest until the end of time and not make any measurable difference unless government embraces change.
  • Working with hierarchical organizations can be difficult for newer philanthropists who have created foundations. Their entrepreneurial desire for results often clashes with the way government works, yet government has a distinct role in spreading innovative ideas.
  • Foundations need to develop a body of good practice for how to use their financial resources, convening power, knowledge, etc., to work with government. There’s not enough talk about good and bad practice in this area.
  • It’s hard, no matter how clearly both sides see the potential of collaboration. Government is used to setting the agenda and is good at co-opting foundations. On the other hand, government has a right to be distrustful of funders who are also supporting advocacy work that is publicly critical of government — although that’s an essential role of philanthropy.

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.