Foundations as the "Brain Trust" for City Officials

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

You may have noticed that we have been working hard to create opportunities for our members to meet with newly appointed, senior officials within the de Blasio Administration. 

This week we had a  productive conversation with Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. On Monday, April 28, we will host a discussion with Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

We are in the process of developing similar opportunities for our members with other key de Blasio Administration leaders in the coming months. 

These meetings are valuable for funders who concentrate on New York City or who have a general interest in our local community.  But something that Commissioner Bassett said on Tuesday struck me as both an important "achieved objective" and a compelling reason for members to attend even if they aren't funding in New York City.  I'm paraphrasing, but in essence she said, "I don't see the funder community just as a checkbook, though financial resources are obviously important. I really see you all as my potential brain trust."

To hear that from Dr. Bassett was important, since this pproach is deeply imbedded in the public policy objectives Philanthropy New York has laid out for our work. Most government officials, recognizing the reality of their own budgetary constraints readily seek out foundations' financial support for new and innovative projects. But getting officials to recognize the intellectual capital that resides within the Philanthropy New York membership has been both our goal and, for some, more of a challenge. Of course, the title of the  session with the Health Commissioner was "Dr. Mary T. Bassett is One of Our Own," in recognition of the fact that her most recent position was that of Program Director for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.  So she fully understands the multiple values and resources funders bring.

That approach represents one of our goals for each conversation our members have with policy makers.

What does that mean for the funder community? Foundations who want to serve in the "brain trust" capacity need to come to the table. Often, these meetings produce unpredictable opportunities to share ideas about small, overlooked projects funders are supporting of which the leaders of very large bureaucracies may have only the most fleeting awareness.  Funders who can share national or international successes are also able to provide additional insights that can be immensely valuable. Please, join your colleagues for these opportunities to have a real impact!  

Best Regards,


Find More By

News type 
Related Organizations