The Land of Enchantment and Public Policy

This fall’s CCFE public policy seminar for community foundations will be hosted in New Mexico. The seminar is intended to provide community foundation leaders with the necessary skills and tools to advocate and engage in public policy on behalf of the philanthropic sector. As a faculty member facilitating the CCFE course, it will be my goal to not only share trade secrets with seminar attendees but also to underscore the importance of educating and informing lawmakers about the philanthropic sector. After all, how can members of Congress support proposals that benefit philanthropy if they don’t understand the sector? Part of educating lawmakers about philanthropy’s role in society is sharing stories about philanthropy’s independence, innovation, and investments in the communities that lawmakers serve. Believe it or not, you as a foundation constituent are your lawmakers’ boss. They need to hear from you. You don’t have to be an expert or a professional lobbyist.

Philanthropy is often overlooked simply because there is no understanding of the investments that are crucial for a modern and successful society. Here’s a case in point: The “Land of Enchantment” (Tierra del Encanto) describes New Mexico’s scenic beauty and its rich history. Prior to that, New Mexico was referred to as “The Spanish State” because of its border with Mexico, its historical background, and its many Spanish speakers. And before that, New Mexico was described as a place that offered enough opportunity to fulfill the hopes of all who came. However, like many states, New Mexico is faced with a host of challenges, including poor health indicators, low graduation rates, and heavy contamination of some of the state’s precious natural resources. Underlying all of these challenges is one critical problem—poverty. New Mexico ranks 49th in the nation when it comes to per capita personal income.

It’s not widely known that philanthropic organizations such as the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers  are working together to tackle some of the state’s most pressing issues, like education. New Mexico is ranked among the last in the nation when it comes to educational attainment. Only 56 percent of the state’s youth graduate from high school. Without even a high school diploma, these young people are limited to low-paying jobs. As a result, many of them will continue to live within a cycle of poverty.

How can we expect lawmakers to know these investments are being made in New Mexico? That’s why it is critically important for community foundation leaders to raise awareness of the philanthropic sector’s contributions to creating a better life for all. Lawmakers are most concerned and interested in the thoughts and opinions of people who live and vote in their state or district. Don’t shy away from telling your lawmakers about your foundation’s investments in the communities he or she serves.

Events like the CCFE public policy seminar and Foundations on the Hill provide opportunities for community foundations to learn different techniques for engaging in public policy and ensuring a legislative environment that will support philanthropic giving.

Chatrane Birbal is the director of government relations at the Council on Foundations.

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