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Philanthropists Increasingly Focused on Advocacy

Resource type: News

Philanthropy News Digest | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]

In a marked shift, a growing number of philanthropists and their foundations are spending large amounts of money and raising their voices to influence public policy, The New York Times reports.

According to Joel L. Fleishman, author of The Foundation: A Great American Secret, this increased interested in advocacy can be credited to a greater ambition to tackle big and seemingly intractable problems; a growing frustration over government gridlock; and an increasing number of foundations that plan to spend down their assets by a specific date.

Indeed, those speaking out to advance specific causes include some of the biggest names in philanthropy, among them George Soros, Warren Buffett, Jeff Skoll, and Bill Gates, whose foundation spends roughly 10 percent of the more than $1 billion it gives away each year on advocacy efforts.

Another sign of the change in foundation attitudes was Atlantic Philanthropies’ choice last year of Gara LaMarche, a former program director at the public policy-focused Open Society Institute, as its new president and CEO. Atlantic, which was created by Chuck Feeney, the secretive co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers, and for years made its gifts anonymously, recently published a report urging greater foundation support for advocacy and added a director of advocacy to its staff.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a relative newcomer to the foundation world, also has thrown its hat into the advocacy ring by financing the documentary I.O.U.S.A., a penetrating examination of the country’s addiction to debt, while working to educate the public about fiscal responsibility and distributing to Congress a report on the state of the nation’s finances. Indeed, Peterson himself and David M. Walker, the foundation’s CEO, have met with members of both parties to discuss the nation’s growing deficit.

“Each foundation has to make up its own mind about its mission and how best to accomplish that mission,” said Walker. “I do believe, however, that foundations have been very cautious and somewhat conservative about whether and to what extent they want to get involved in advocacy.”

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advocacy, Foundations, Gara LaMarche