Search This Blog

Friday, April 13, 2012

Foundations as Policy Advocates

Our chapter on interest groups mentions foundations, which have traditionally financed academic research and charitable activity.  Inside Higher Ed reports on the Gates and Lumina Foundations, which are changing the role of such organizations:
But the unmistakable shift that the two foundations have led in higher education grant-making, Hall and Thomas argue, has been away from giving to institutions and toward closely collaborating with state and federal policy makers and a series of “intermediaries” (nonprofit groups created with the foundations’ funds, think tanks, consultants, etc.) who are interested in carrying out the philanthropies’ agenda.
The foundations back consultants who work to enact new state policies on such things as performance-based funding, and there has been significant crossover of Gates officials, particularly, into the Obama administration. They have also provided significant financial support to K-12 and higher education media organizations (individual publications and groups) aimed at encouraging reporting on the issues they care about. (Inside Higher Ed has not engaged in any such partnerships.)
The change has been driven, the paper says, by “an increasing level of distrust that higher education institutions can successfully enact reforms that will result in meaningful changes to our postsecondary system.”
Hoping to drive broader-scale changes than can be accomplished by seeding many ideas at individual institutions, the foundations have turned instead to the “unabashed use of … strategies to influence government action, policy, and legislation -- in their own words, foundations are taking on a leadership role, acting as a catalyst for change, identifying research areas, supporting best practices, engaging in public policy advocacy, enhancing communications power, using convening power, fostering partnerships, building public will, and employing the bully pulpit.”
They add: “This behavior reflects a deviation from the established norms in higher education philanthropy, norms that generally created a distance between foundation activity and politics.”