Maximizing the Value of Philanthropic Efforts through Planned Partnerships between the U.S. Government and Private Foundations. A. IDENTIFYING NEEDS

05/01/2009

In a very basic sense, both sectors recognize the same essential life cycle of an initiative, which the U.S. Department of State describes as having five steps: formulation, planning, implementation, evaluation, and renewal/termination (2008). Similarly, Kennette Benedict, former director of international peace and security at the MacArthur Foundation, maps out the life cycle of a philanthropic initiative in three stages: creation, change, and closure (2003a). She could have begun with another stage, however: choosing which problems to address. Indeed, she cites the selection of problems actually amenable to philanthropic intervention as one of the greatest challenges foundations face.

This contrasts somewhat with the USG position on problem selection, as government often is charged with addressing problems that will, in some sense, never be solved definitivelyfor example, national security and public health (Tarnoff and Nowels 2005). This explains the State Departments use of the term renewal/termination (which allows for continuation, or renewal, of initiatives) as opposed to the MacArthur Foundations use of the term closure. As detailed above, foundations often approach problems with the explicit intent that government will eventually assume responsibility for the initiative; for this reason, the end of foundation involvement in an initiative may coincide with governments entry into the arena. Foundations also work in arenas that do not provide a natural fit for government infrastructure, such as leadership development or high-risk ventures. In this way they are supplementing the work of the government toward the solution of larger social problems. (It is worth noting, however, that in a few high-profile cases, this may be changing. With the recent tremendous increases in foundation resources, and the simultaneous focus among philanthropists on results [Renz and Atienza 2006], a few select initiatives may be poised to solve problems definitively. Perhaps the clearest example of such a case is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations work on malaria.)

At a basic level, how foundations and USG agencies prioritize and decide which problems to address also depends, in great part, on their organizational missions. While foundations have been criticized for spreading their resources too thinly across a host of programmatic areas (Porter and Kramer 1999), most do specialize in just a few programmatic and sometimes geographic areas, and will consider intervening only in areas they view as germane to their interests. There is, of course, great diversity in the number and nature of programmatic areas on which foundations focus. For instance, the MacArthur Foundations stated mission is to support creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world (MacArthur Foundation Web Site), which could conceivably translate into activities in almost any area of human or community development. In contrast, The EMCF focuses on advancing opportunities for low-income youth (ages 9 to 24) in the United States, specifically through grantmaking to provide growth and capacity-building capital to exemplary organizations that have evidence of the effectiveness of their youth services (EMCFweb site).

The programmatic purview of federal agencies is to some extent more transparent, compared to foundations. Agencies roles are, of course, typically articulated by public law, circumscribed by public political and budgetary processes, and further refined through on-the-record administrative actions. Still, preferences of political stakeholders can influence the process. The question of accountability to the public and the consequent systematization of processes raise a further point of contrast between foundations and USG agencies. At the beginning, when identifying problems worthy of consideration, foundations often are motivated by the personal interests and proclivities of their individual founders and/or leaders (15 Minutes with Susan Berresford 2003). Agency heads, in contrast, may be very influential in terms of the direction their funded initiatives take but they are less likely to drive decision-making in their agencies in the way that a single, well-funded philanthropist can shape his or her foundations approach. The broader implication is that foundation strategies often are mapped out less explicitly than at agencies, where decision-making is defined more typically with respect to transparent chains of bureaucratic authority (U.S. Department of State 2007; cf. Porter and Kramer 1999)

As part of its goal to influence the problem identification process across USG agencies (at least among those involved in international initiatives), the Department of States Foreign Assistance Framework (2007) delineates five broad objectives for all U.S. foreign assistance: peace and security, governing justly, investing in people, economic growth, and humanitarian assistance. The framework includes more specific programmatic objectives within each broader objective and highlights those viewed by the administration as most critical for the trajectory of assistance in that category. Although the framework does not delineate funding levels, the highlighted categories mark the programs that should receive greatest budgetary priority. While some agencies, such as USAID and MCC, have fairly broad programmatic portfolios, their internal bureaucratic mechanisms can delimit potential areas of involvement considerably. For example, MCC has clearly articulated procedures whereby governments seeking to enter a bilateral aid agreement must first demonstrate their competitiveness on a host of indicators of their nations governance, social investment, and entrepreneurial capacities.

Some have criticized the USG approach because they view it as overly fragmenteda critique typically applied to foundations. For instance, Kharas (2008) takes issue with the increasing prevalence of vertical fundsresources directed at a specific issue or population, such as the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. With such funds, channeled more and more through specialized agencies, dedicated to particular targets, like HIV/AIDS or malaria, instead of through traditional agencies, Kharas is concerned that there will be little support for broad country development programs (p. 2). The result, according to critics such as Kharas, is a complex and convoluted approach to aid, which does not capitalize on precisely those advantages unique to USG: influence, accountability, and long time horizons.

In contrast to USG foreign aid, the framework that guides the identification of problems for targeting assistance in the domestic sphere is perhaps more fragmented. As noted, elected officials and high-level appointees typically bring their own sense of agency priorities to office; these then are filtered through legislative and administrative procedures, delimiting the nature of those problems agencies are in a position to address and the methods to address them.

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