Risks and Rewards of Partnerships

September 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm Leave a comment

The relationship between philanthropy and government has always been complicated. At times philanthropy is welcomed as a needed complement to governmental programs – an important “value add” to society. But there are also periods when the public is suspicious of philanthropy – seeing it as a way the wealthy use tax-free dollars to advance their private interests. While it’s likely that both attitudes are always present somewhere, one or the other is usually in the ascendancy. Today’s economic crisis, with its dramatic increase in social sector needs, has created a mutual desire to leverage limited resources, evidenced by the increasing number of public-private philanthropic partnerships.

OGF members, recognizing the opportunity to do more with less, are taking advantage of the government’s current willingness to work with philanthropy to address community needs. For example, in northeast Ohio the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is the lead partner in a multi-stakeholder application for a federal 2010 Promise Neighborhood grant to transform the “Central” neighborhood of their city. In northwest Ohio, the Toledo Community Foundation is working to bring federal dollars earmarked for cities impacted by the downturn of the auto industry to their region. And of course, OGF itself, through our education initiative, has been very involved in the state’s recently successful Race to the Top application, bringing $400 million additional education dollars to Ohio.

In the midst of today’s relatively cordial climate, cautionary voices are also being raised. Is it in the long term interests of either philanthropy or government to be so closely aligned? Is the business of philanthropy to help government do its work or should we be setting our own agendas? Do these partnerships inhibit government’s ability to exercise its regulatory responsibility? And are we endangering our independence if we are so closely associated with the priorities of one party or the other?

In the weeks and months to come, the balance may shift yet again as circumstances and policies change or as philanthropy weighs the risks and rewards of public-private-philanthropic partnerships. For now at least, both sides seem to be getting what they want out of working more closely together, and communities all across Ohio are the beneficiaries of this arrangement.


Entry filed under: Public/Private Partnerships.

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