Blueprint Research + Design, Inc.
Philanthropic foundations exist as a function of public policy. They are regulated entities, overseenby elements of corporate, tax, and charity codes.Public policy guidelines, ranging from interna-tional laws to municipal codes, also shape theissues on which foundations work, such as educa-tion, health, the environment, human rights, or the media. Clearly, the power of public policy toguide philanthropic choices and directions, andeven to shape the tools that foundations use intheir work, is substantial.However, the public policy milieu in whichphilanthropy works and social goods areproduced is not simply background; it is itself apowerful tool for achieving change. Americanfoundations have engaged directly in shapingpublic policy — or working with intermediaries,institutions, and networks of organizations to doso — almost from the beginning. The Rockefeller Foundation’s work in providing public healthservices, training public health providers, and ulti-mately influencing individual states and thenation as a whole to address widespread diseasesbegan within a decade of its founding in 1913.
Examples of policymaking initiatives range acrossdisciplines from economic research to arts educa-tion, and from the international level to the local,state, and national level.
While the policymaking efforts of foundationsare well documented, the focus of this paper is ona key characteristic that this policy work shareswith themore recent philanthropic interest infield building. Field building and successful policychange both require thatfoundations act acrossentire ecosystems of change, where the workof grantees mutually rein-forces and strengthens theimpact of one another.
The decades of success ininfluencing policy domains holds useful lessonsfor the more emergent interest in field building asstrategy.Because field building and policymaking workso well to support each other, this paper’s specificfocus is the intersection of these two spheres of influence. It will detail the shared characteristics
Building Fields for Policy Change
From America’s neighborhoods to the capitals of the world, philanthropy is a major force in public policy,flexing its financial and intellectual muscles with those who determine the rules by which society lives.This expansive role for philanthropy naturally raises questions: How does philanthropy best engagepolicymakers? In what other ways does philanthropy influence policy? To whom is philanthropy account-able in this regard? How does public policy work fit within the larger philanthropic agenda?
Kathy Postel Kretman, Director, Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership, Georgetown University
The power of public policy toguide philanthropic choices anddirections is substantial.