Though the scalding heat of summer is likely to last for at least another month in Arkansas, the summer season is ending for many students as they prepare to return to school. As these students soon will do, funders and government staff recently gathered with sharpened pencils to learn together at Foundations 101.
Cosponsored by the Council on Foundations, the Southeastern Council of Foundations, the Conference of Southwest Foundations, the Arkansas Community Foundation, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, Foundations 101 was an opportunity for local foundation leaders to educate lawmakers and their staffs about foundations, philanthropy, and ways the Arkansas philanthropic sector can be a resource and partner in improving Arkansas. In addition to teaching the basics, funders provided rich examples of how foundations and government can connect.
For example, Foundations 101 allowed the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation to tell the story of how we are moving the needle on poverty in Arkansas and explore ways our foundation and the government can mutually support each other’s work. Our president, Sherece West, shared how the foundation has provided matching funds for a U.S. Department of Education i3 (Investing in Innovation) grant to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, grant-writing assistance as the state prepared to apply for federal grant funds, and technical assistance to nonprofits that received state and federal funding to ensure that they have the capacity to use the funds effectively.
West encouraged the diverse audience of government officials, which included staff members from city, state, and federal offices, to consider how we can work side-by-side to improve Arkansas. In particular, she urged these individuals to reach out to the philanthropic sector as a partner in building nonprofit capacity and improving the ability of nonprofits to access federal or state grants.
Though Foundations 101was designed as training opportunity for government officials, it offered many important lessons for funders as well. As foundations pursue their missions, public policy is not always a top priority, but it should not be overlooked as an important strategy in helping them achieve that mission. By leveraging federal dollars and contributing to positive policy change, foundations can multiply their impact. So sharpen your pencil and take down a note that incorporating policy and advocacy strategies is critical in helping a foundation meet its mission.
Regan Gruber Moffitt is senior associate for public policy at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, Ark.