Advocating for the interests of the philanthropic sector is an important part of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers’ role. Of course that advocacy isn’t partisan. Rather, it involves helping to shape state and federal policies in ways that help Council members maximize their impact and focus on mission.
Each year, Foundations on the Hill is one of the first forays into our advocacy and policy work. Hosted by United Philanthropy Forum, this two-day event brings foundation executives and staff, board members and philanthropic leaders from around the country together in Washington, DC to meet with their federal lawmakers. For 14 years, the Council has brought a delegation of our members, and this has helped build and strengthen relationships with our representatives.
The topics of our meetings include a range of issues important to the social sector: support for a universal giving incentive; simplifying the excise tax to a flat rate; helping policymakers understand that philanthropy can’t fill the gaps left by reduced government funding; and opposition to weakening or repealing the Johnson Amendment, among others. Last year, the Council’s board approved making our voice heard to advocate for a full, fair and accurate 2020 Census count. That will be among the messages at this year’s meetings.
At the state level, Conversations with the Cabinet are an important person-to-person contact with policymakers. Last fall, meeting with Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine McCabe helped grantmakers learn about DEP priorities, and consider how funders can leverage their giving. The gathering led to organizing quarterly meetings in 2019 between our Environmental Grantmakers Affinity Group co-chairs and key NJDEP staff. This year the Health and Aging Funders Affinity Group hosted a meeting with Assistant Health Commissioner Lisa Asare and her team to discuss how funders might further partner with DOH.
We’re enthused about another aspect of engagement in recent months. Council members have had numerous opportunities to meet with New Jersey First Lady Murphy at Council-led events and through other avenues. Early in 2018, Nina Stack and a group of CNJG members were invited to attend a private dinner with Governor Murphy and the First Lady. This initial introduction led to other meetings and opportunities for connection. In June of last year, CNJG hosted a meeting for grantmakers to connect with the First Lady in Trenton. Accompanying Mrs. Murphy were her chief of staff and her policy director, as well as Cary Booker, Governor Murphy’s education advisor and liaison to the New Jersey philanthropic community. And 2018 ended on a high note with First Lady Murphy addressing Council members at the Annual Meeting and Holiday Luncheon, and recognizing a number of our members during her remarks.
Our geographically-focused affinity groups are particularly adept at engaging with municipal leadership. The Newark Funders Affinity Group regularly meets with Mayor Ras Baraka. CNJG staffer Kevin Callaghan, the Newark Philanthropic Liaison, is laser-focused on connecting grantmakers and local government. For more than 10 years, the NPL has helped Mayors Booker and Baraka deepen ties to philanthropies in ways that have helped to fund important city initiatives. Last year, the Paterson Funders Affinity Group met with recently elected Mayor Andre Sayegh, providing an opportunity for the Mayor to share his vision for Paterson, including working closely with the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors to strengthen the city.
There was a time when many social sector leaders asked, “Why should philanthropy engage with policymakers?” Today, the question is posed much less frequently. The value of working with policymakers is understood. Leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors are more comfortable with this role. Indeed, they embrace it. As the Council’s work has changed and grown over the past 20 years, the importance of engaging with policymakers evolved to an expectation among our members – and we welcome that.
The social sector is committed to helping New Jersey communities thrive. And we’re part of the solution.
If you’d like to get more active in our advocacy work, a good place to start is Foundations on the Hill, on March 12- 13. There’s still time for you to join us; if you’re interested, please contact CNJG Deputy Director Theresa Jacks to learn more.
Jon Shure, Interim President/CEO
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers