Our Democracy, Philanthropy and What’s Next

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Our Democracy, Philanthropy and What’s Next

by Michael Hamill Remaley, Senior Vice President, Public Policy & Communications, Philathropy New York
This piece was originally published as the feature article of the June 2017 New York PhilanthroPost Policy Edition

On many days, I feel small.  I feel powerless to influence those who can make the world more democratic and caring. But not last Friday. And not today.

Last Friday at Philanthropy New York’s 38th Annual Meeting: The Power of Participation, hundreds of PNY members came together to listen, discuss and share strategies to increase civic engagement, access to voting and quality of information communities rely on. 

Relatively few funders have a specific funding area dedicated to democracy building and civic engagement.  But what became very clear over the course of our five hours together was that funders of every stripe – whether they concentrate on education, health, workforce training, gender equity, racial justice or any other program priority – can fund civic engagement work that deepens democratic participation in those issues.

Today, we are putting out the call to all funders.  This is the time to raise your voice and shape what comes next.

For the past six years, PNY’s annual meeting has served as the jumping off point for additional programming and organizing of members on that meeting’s topic over the course of the year and beyond. For example, the 2012 annual meeting on education reform galvanized our Education Working Group and jumpstarted the organizing that would eventually lead to the creation of the Education Funders Research Initiative and its Six Priorities for reform delivered to the new mayoral administration in 2014. 

Last year’s 37th Annual Meeting: Rethinking American Justice was followed by more than half a dozen programs and additional funder organizing that we expect to culminate in a funder summit on justice reform and coordinated activities this fall. 

We don’t know where our work on democracy building will lead. But we want you to point us in the right direction. With crucial advice from both our members and organizations like Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement and Media Impact Funders, we focused the annual meeting, and will work with funders to create additional programming on:

  • Voting access and enfranchisement – Increasing the number of people eligible to vote and improving systems to make voting easier
  • Increasing ways to engage – Examining what it really takes to help more people in marginalized communities active participants in the issues they care about – not just voting, but feeling empowered to be active on a daily basis
  • Access to credible information – Recognizing how people are accessing information today, finding leverage points to affect the media system in meaningful ways

Leading up to and during the annual meeting, we heard from members who are very excited that Philanthropy New York is taking this on, and they told us that that they wanted to go deeper on topics such as:

  • New York Voting Reform – An examination of the legislation that passed the New York Assembly last month, but which hasn’t been taken up by the Senate, that would institute early voting, automatic registration and electronic poll books across New York State.
  • Census 2020 – A look at how philanthropy is supporting efforts to ensure the quality and reach of Census 2020, what nonprofits with community relationships can do and the funding for nonprofits that hangs in the balance.  
  • Local Journalism – A program looking at how funders of all programmatic varieties are investing in local journalism to advance better public understanding of the issues they care about.
  • Centering Women in Engagement – Building off of programming initiated by FCCP, we will help funders look at the opportunities in initiatives that start with women as the locus of community organizing. 
  • Education Systems as Drivers of Civic Participation – Is civics education about to stage a comeback? How are funders driving the movement to strengthen civics and youth organizing in schools?
  • Racial Justice Organizing is Democracy Building – The racial justice movement is increasingly and intersectional one, bringing together leaders of women’s, immigrants’, LGBTs and economically disadvantaged from rural areas to fight for populism on their own terms. 

We want to hear from you! How can Philanthropy New York support you in learning and connecting on these issues?  What other topics should we be thinking about? What organizations should we be bringing in to connect with the philanthropic community? 

Please share your ideas by emailing me: mremaley@philanthropynewyork.org

There have been many times in the past year when the incremental nature of progress seemed particularly frustrating.  Not now. 

This week, I, along with all of my PNY colleagues, feel so connected to our community and inspired by our members’ drive to support people in neighborhoods in their own unique ways.  We’re gearing up to help support you in new and exciting ways.  Today, I don’t feel small.  I feel like I am part of something really big.

Find More By

News type