How Philanthropy and Nonprofits Responded to the Government Shutdown

Friday, October 18, 2013

We are all grateful that Congress moved back from the brink of default and frankly, it is hard not to simply want to forget about the last few weeks. But, it is clear that Congress bought time, not a solution. With that in mind, it might be valuable for us to consider how philanthropy and nonprofits reacted and fared during this last crisis. 

Some leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors made real efforts to address deeper problems presented by the government shutdown.

By giving $10 million to keep Head Start going during the shutdown, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation made a clear statement about their own values, but that donation also jumpstarted an important public conversation about whether or not private philanthropy can or should fill some of the void left by government. 

While many have contributed to that public discussion, perhaps none have been more forceful and eloquent than the National Council of Nonprofits President Tim Delaney. He told the members of the National Center for Family Philanthropy that the shutdown is "the latest example of maneuvers by politicians at the local, state and federal levels that force charitable nonprofits and philanthropy to subsidize government" and that "nonprofits and philanthropy need to open our eyes, analyze the mounting dangers from this transfer of government responsibilities and rally together to stop the assaults on our missions and viability." It is a variant of a message he's been discussing for some time. See: The NonProfit Times, Philanthropy News Digest and The Huffington Post.

In the midst of the Washington standoff, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced the formation of the National Purpose Initiative, a multi-year effort to develop "a broadly shared national agenda, a statement of shared principles that informs the nation's politics and economic life, and a vision for the country's future that is animating, unifying and empowering" -- and clearly designed to move us beyond the toxic partisanship engulfing our democratic institutions.  In addition to RBF, the initiative is supported by Open Society Foundations, the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller Foundation (all PNY members) as well as the Kellogg, Hewlett, Packard, Mellon and MacArthur foundations. 

There is no one right way to respond, but many different ways for philanthropy to take active and constructive roles fortifying our democracy.

These are important conversations to be having as a community and we will continue to provide forums for those convenings. I hope that you will also look at next week's Philanthropy Connects -- the PNY monthly newsletter focused on public policy -- to read about more members taking actions and sharing ideas. And, as always, let us know how we can help support your work. 

Best regards,