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Maybe This Time the Spotlight Will Shine Longer Than 15 Minutes

Obviously, an event meant to make foundations look good and raise their profile among lawmakers – i.e. the annual Foundations on the Hill – is bound to put a momentary gloss on philanthropy.  But based on how the Chronicle of Philanthropy is reporting on the event, this past week’s trip by grantmakers to meet and greet their representatives in Washington, D.C., might mean the sector is in for more than just 15 minutes of fame. 

According to the Chronicle, among the auspicious outcomes from the visit were comments like this one from an aide to Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state.  He reportedly said that “Americans don’t fully understand the amount of good that philanthropic dollars do in their neighborhoods and cities.” The article also quotes Christopher (Kit) J. Gillem, program director at the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, a foundation based in Vancouver, Wash. Gillem told the Chronicle he detected more interest this year and added that lawmakers were asking “how can we help you?”

Perhaps, though, the questions that more and more lawmakers should be asking – instead of “how can we help you?” – is “what are you doing that can help us, and by extension, the American people? And now that you’ve got our attention and interest, how can we learn more?”

After all, foundations, more or less, are in the solutions business. Their primary work is to invest in and support promising solutions to problems that have been afflicting this country a lot longer than ones resulting from the current economic downturn. And as foundation investments show promise, and as new ways of delivering services and attacking the problems emerge, one would hope Washington would welcome these solutions and find ways to help take them to scale either by funding them directly or in partnership with foundations as a part of a new, and long overdue, social betterment agenda.

After all, wasn’t the last election premised on a return to hope?  Hope so.

–Bruce Trachtenberg


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