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Personal Observations from Foundations on the Hill

Personal Observations from Foundations on the Hill

Friday, April 7, 2017

As you will see in the articles below, last month the Council had a very successful trip to Washington as part of Foundations on the Hill. There are two personal observations with which I came away.

The first is the sense I had before our trip that things in Congress must likely mirror the upheaval that is happening at the White House. So much has happened so quickly, and in such a dramatically different way than we’ve seen in past transitions that it has appeared quite chaotic at times. The Executive Orders, changing Cabinet appointments, mixed and sometimes contradictory messaging, and the tweeting all feels so accelerated…and frankly, unsettling. I was prepared for this atmosphere to be what we encountered down the street at Capitol Hill. Instead, what I found in each of the offices we visited were thoughtful, measured, deliberate people who know their jobs, and want to make a meaningful difference for good. There was nothing cavalier. That was quite reassuring.

The second observation is that in every conversation it seems as if there was a side, a line to be drawn. One is either for or against, with us or against us, red or blue, Freedom Caucus or Tuesday Group, Blue Dog or … and it goes on. This was not reassuring and it was unsettling. The divides seem to be not only multiplying but solidifying, the edges are hardening. I thought more than once about the Council’s 2012 Spring Colloquium discussion about civility and what role philanthropy might play in helping to restore it. I realized I wanted to pull out the book we gave, speaker Anthony Appiah’s “The Honor Code,” that documents how tribes and societies have changed behaviors. I also wanted to go back and watch the video excerpts from that Colloquium. Here is the link should you want to as well.

Because “love of humankind” is baked into the work we all do, it seems only natural that philanthropy has an important and essential role it can play. It is the work of the social sector – foundations and nonprofits – that so often is at the heart of what is needed. We can soften those edges, facilitate finding the common ground, convene the listening sessions, offer alternatives, and bring innovations and ideas to the table.


Nina Stack, President
Council of New Jersey Grantmakers