Council on Foundations signals stronger focus on policy

 

Neal Hegarty

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More than 1,000 people came together for three days in Dallas, Texas, for the 2017 Annual Conference of the Council on Foundations.  With its theme of ‘Leading Together’, the conference featured inspiring keynote speakers, challenging and provocative plenary and breakout sessions, and with site visits which showed the impact of philanthropy on local communities.

Interestingly, the 2017 conference also generated the largest-ever turnout for the Global Philanthropy Dinner, where guests were inspired by the work of Jaha Dukureh (Gambian women’s right activist and anti-female genital mutilation campaigner) , Zainab Salbi (Founder of Women for Women International), and Swanee Hunt (Founding Director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School) are doing to empower and support women and girls around the world.

While much can be said about the overall conference themes and excellent sessions, I was most pleased to hear a clear and consistent message that public policy in the United States will be an intensive focus of the Council on Foundations.  With potential threats looming for organized philanthropy on issues of payout, endowments, and political activity, it was important to hear CoF President Vikki Spruill clearly articulate a focus on efforts to protect our sector to help ensure that the impact of philanthropy will continue.

The Council will be doing the public policy work with other sector infrastructure organizations, such as the National Council of Nonprofits and Independent Sector, as well as with regional grantmaker associations.

Of keen interest to me were several mentions of concern about the possible repeal of the Johnson Amendment – enacted in 1954, this law created a firm separation between nonprofit organizations and overt political activity.

The law has served our sector well, here in the US, for more than 60 years, and the nonprofit sector in the United States should be very concerned about doors being opened to political activity and political money flowing through nonprofit and charitable organizations.  I was very pleased to hear the Council on Foundations take a strong stand in opposition to any repeal of the Johnson Amendment.

Neal Hegarty is Vice President of Programs for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

You can find more coverage from the Council on Foundations annual conference 2017 here.

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