Message from Vikki Spruill on Public Policy and Global Grantmaking

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

Last week, I wrote about some of the good work we've been doing as advocates and policy leaders, and today, I am writing to update you further on some of the good work being done by our policy and legal team. While the histories of both the philanthropic and public sectors are replete with examples of partnerships between foundations and various levels of government, we believe it is critical that our sector continue to examine the depth and impact of these partnerships, and we welcome our role as both facilitator and thought leader. I also want to thank our excellent legal team for continuing to supply guidance to our members on some of the most pressing issues facing the field.

Legal Advocacy

Maintaining a Strong In-House Legal Team
The Council appreciates that many of our members and legal professionals value the publications, programming and personal attention that are centerpieces of our legal affairs work. This work is supported by our top notch legal affairs team and the broad network of attorneys and academics in the field that help inform our work. Sue Santa, our vice president for public policy and legal affairs, has practiced for twenty years, with experience in the public, private and philanthropic sectors.

Our most recent addition to the team is Suzanne Friday, who brings a unique and impressive resume of experience to the Council. Prior to joining the Council, Suzanne was a partner at the Pennsylvania firm Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, LLP where she spent eight years representing foundations and other nonprofit organizations, including several community foundations. Suzanne also taught a course on charitable organizations at Widener University's School of Law and has written extensively on nonprofit law, tax, and estate planning. In addition to her nonprofit practice, Suzanne advised individual and corporate clients regarding tax, trust and estate planning issues and is well versed in charitable giving as an estate planning tool. Prior to Nauman Smith, Suzanne spent five years as in-house counsel for the Nature Conservancy, an international nonprofit conservation organization.

For those of you attending our Fall Conference for Community Foundations, you'll have the opportunity to seek out Suzanne's expertise when she hosts "The Lawyer is In" during the conference. The time and location will be available on the conference app. And, for those seeking more in-depth legal education, Suzanne is organizing our Advanced Legal Seminar at the upcoming conference.

Johanna Van Dyke Celebrates Her Tenth Year with the Council!

Also integral to our team is Johanna Van Dyke, who marks her tenth anniversary with the Council next month. Johanna's deep knowledge of governance issues and her strong institutional memory are invaluable. Look for more of Johanna's work in the coming year as she expands her professional reach into new Council publications and presentations.

Additionally, I’d like to take this opportunity to extend hearty congratulations to one of our counsels, Kristy Tsadick, who will be moving to the position of associate general counsel with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a longtime member of the Council, headquartered in California.

Equivalency Determination
The Council on Foundations continues to work in Washington to promote a regulatory environment that allows philanthropy to thrive. In September 2012, after years of working with the IRS to represent our members' needs, the Council, and our members, won a significant victory with the publication of "Reliance Standards for Making Good Faith Determinations" in the Federal Register. The ruling paved the way for more streamlined equivalency determination and thus, reduced the administrative and financial burdens of cross border grantmaking. At a time when philanthropy is needed more than ever, the ruling reinforced the power and potential of global grantmaking. Announced formally by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in an address at the Clinton Global Initiative, the ruling also paved the way for NGOSource, an equivalency determination service created through a partnership between TechSoup Global and the Council on Foundations.

Non-profit Media Working Group
The Federal Communications Commission issued a report in 2011 concluding that accountability reporting, especially at the local level, has contracted dramatically, with potentially grave consequences for communities, government responsiveness, and democracy. It also determined that nonprofit media needs to play an increasingly significant role to help meet the educational needs of citizens. Finally, it found that there was confusion about the IRS approach to nonprofit media.

L-R: Lucy Dalglish, Dean, Philip Merrill College of Journalism; Marc Owens, Member, Caplin & Drysdale; Steven Waldman, Senior Visiting Media Policy Scholar, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism; Kevin Davis, CEO, Investigative News Network; Joel Kramer, CEO and Editor, MinnPost; Eric Newton, Senior Adviser to the President, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The FCC report recommended that a group of tax and journalism experts gather to study these issues more carefully and make recommendations for further action. Supported by a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Council on Foundations established the Nonprofit Media Working Group (NMWG) including leaders of the foundation and tax-exempt media world.

In March 2013, the Council on Foundations and the Knight Foundation released the NMWG's report in conjunction with a panel discussion that featured journalism, legal, and nonprofit leaders. The report, entitled "The IRS and Nonprofit Media: Toward Creating a More Informed Public," makes specific recommendations to the IRS that maintain essential distinctions between for-profit and nonprofit media but remove obstacles to the types of innovation that are needed to fill the gaps in nonprofit news, especially accountability journalism.

Supporting Organization Regulations
On December 28, 2012, the Treasury Department and IRS issued final and temporary regulations on Type III supporting organizations. Simultaneously, proposed regulations were issued regarding payout for Type III non-functionally integrated supporting organizations. In addition to Type III supporting organizations themselves, these regulations will be of interest to community foundations and other public charities serving as supported organizations. These will also be of interest to private foundations and sponsoring organizations of donor advised funds making grants to Type III supporting organizations and trying to determine whether a potential Type III supporting organization is functionally integrated or non-functionally integrated.

Working with the Executive Branch of Government

Federal Philanthropic Liaisons Working Group
In 2009, the Obama Administration began making overtures to connect with the philanthropic sector. In an effort to provide a coordinated response, the Council organized a formal public-philanthropic partnership initiative. The goal then and now was to broaden the reach of philanthropy's investments by creating an avenue for the federal government to leverage its initiatives with the missions of foundations. Given the complexity of the federal government, there is a logical intermediary role for the Council in cultivating meaningful interactions between foundations and the national government.

The positioning of the Council in this leadership role complemented the Council's long standing work with Congress as a policy voice for foundations and ensured that philanthropy was strategically positioned with the Executive Branch departments and agencies as well. The focus of our work has been to create an organized pathway for foundations to take advantage of the unique confluence of opportunities and active interest in such partnerships sought across the government. The Council was purposeful in building its leadership "brand" in this policy arena as an intermediary but not a gatekeeper to facilitate foundations and government agencies seeking partnerships or engagements for mutual benefit.

Among the key strategies undertaken has been a focused effort to build active relationships with Executive Branch entities. Over the past four years, we have established and maintained working relationships within the White House (Domestic Policy Council, the Office of Pubic Engagement, Asian-Pacific Islanders Initiative) and with 13 federal departments/agencies (DHS/FEMA, USDA, DOL, Education, HUD, State, HHS, EPA, DOD, DOJ, VA, CNCS). Recent interests have surfaced from NOAA, NASA, and the NSF. (Confused by the federal acronyms? Find them at

To this end, the Council hosts a bi-monthly meeting among department and agency representatives to learn what emerging initiatives or policy development opportunities might be of interest to foundations. This has provided us with the opportunity to orient government staff about the culture of foundations and how to work more effectively with the sector. Interestingly, the convening of this federal Philanthropic Liaisons Working Group has also helped them to connect with each other to share their internal operations strategies and practical experiences working with foundations. Essentially, we are all working collectively to build the capacity of the federal government to engage the philanthropic sector in a durable way.

To support this learning, we have created a physical space at Council conferences for these liaisons called "Federal Central" (in the Resource Central hall) to give our members a face to face opportunity to interact directly with these Philanthropic Liaisons. The Liaisons who have attended our conferences have reported that this is an excellent way to reduce their learning curve about the philanthropic sector and to make connections. Our goal is to insure that there is a cadre of apolitical staff across the government who value philanthropic partnership and who can provide a durable presence as Administrations transition.

Council members looking to connect with any of these entities are encouraged to contact our Executive Branch Liaison, Stephanie Powers.

Global Engagement

Strengthening Civil Society through Accountability and High Standards
Though the Council is principally responsible for safeguarding the philanthropic sector in the U.S., in the globalized world of the 21st century, it is impossible for us to work effectively without engaging globally. We also believe that many American grantmakers would benefit from learning about the activities and practices of many foreign based organizations and partners. By emphasizing the mutual benefit of global engagement, the Council will be a better partner when operating abroad.

To this end, we are working to facilitate responsible and effective grant making for international purposes among Council members. We do this by educating the public and U.S. government about the value of international giving and by supporting philanthropy as an essential part of a strengthened civil society around the world.

The Council provides our members with services that respond to their global grant making needs. We promote the highest standards of accountability and effectiveness in global grantmaking, and we work with our members to ensure that those standards are evolving to meet the needs of the time. We work with our members and global partners to maintain strong thought leadership for grantmakers. Finally, we build ties between U.S. based foundations and their counterparts abroad.

Global Philanthropy Working Group

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing the launch of the Global Philanthropy Working Group in September 2012

The Council has established strong working relationships with federal agencies that interact with the international community in an effort to promote responsible and effective cross-border grantmaking practices. In that spirit, the Council co-chairs the State Department Global Philanthropy Working Group, engaged with the Secretary's Office on Civil Society as part of the Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society.

The Working Group is designed to provide a platform for collaboration between foundations and the U.S. government. Its agenda is committed to encouraging a culture of giving, strengthening the ecosystem for philanthropy overseas, and drawing on the rich tradition of private philanthropy in the U.S.


A number of activities are planned through 2014 to advance this unique public-philanthropic partnership, including:

  • Developing a mechanism for reporting to the State Department when foreign countries impose constraints on philanthropy and civil society, as well as providing a forum to discuss potential responses.
  • Identifying potential U.S. legal and regulatory reforms to reduce impediments to cross-border grantmaking by US foundations.
  • Meeting with and mentoring foreign philanthropic delegations visiting the United States.

Multilateral Institutions

Building on Strengths, a publication on partnerships with multilateral institutions

The Council also engages in ongoing dialogue on partnerships with multilateral institutions, including the World Bank and their Foundations Advisory Council, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Inter-American Development Bank. With our partners at the European Foundation Centre and the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmaker Support through the Global Philanthropy Leadership Initiative, in 2012 we co-produced a publication on partnerships between philanthropies and multilateral institutions.

Additionally, foreign governments routinely ask the Council to serve as a resource for how they might engage their own domestic philanthropic sectors. In recent years, officials from the governments of Denmark, France, Singapore and China have approached the Council for insights into the role of government in promoting philanthropy in those respective countries. The Council will continue to serve as a valuable resource for philanthropy globally.


I want to thank the many legal and policy experts who have helped craft our work. So many have offered their time, experience, and energy to the Council's legal and policy efforts, and without you, we would not be able to do the work we are doing. Please know that my door is always open to you and your ideas, and I look forward to great things over the coming months.


Vikki N. Spruill
President and CEO
Council on Foundations