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Monday, January 22, 2018

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Bridgespan Study Points to Three New Ways for Philanthropy to Succeed in New Age of Government Austerity
Bridgespan - Daniel Stid, Alison Powell, Susan Wolf Ditkoff

October, 2012

In a recently released paper aimed at addressing how philanthropists can successfully create social change in a new age of government austerity, The Bridgespan Group analyzed a random sample of more than 400 $1 million + charitable gifts over the past decade and found that 40% of the donations were in some way connected to government. 

The biggest single chunk, 17%, went to publicly funded universities, and the remaining 23% was divided among other efforts to either shape what government does, improve its ability to function, or increase the effectiveness of the nonprofits that government agencies rely on to implement pubic services. (Data was pulled from the “Million Dollar List” released by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.)

According to Daniel Stid, a Bridgespan partner and co-author of the paper, “There is bound to be considerable overlap between philanthropy and government, especially for ambitious philanthropists seeking to tackle our most vexing problems; but, given the current fiscal challenges, not to mention political polarization, that means a lot of donors need to develop new strategies for interacting with government if they want to make a difference.” 

The Bridgespan paper identifies three promising approaches to help philanthropists work around these obstacles. They include:

·        Investing in government’s capacity to govern: As an example, the study cites Bloomberg Philanthropies’ nascent Mayor’s project, which has committed $24 million to pay for “Innovation Delivery Teams” in US cities to help mayors take on ambitious projects spanning bureaucratic silos they would otherwise be challenged to bring together.

·        Helping high-performing nonprofits make better use of public funding: As government budgets tighten, they are squeezing nonprofits, in turn, eroding their capacity to deliver results. Philanthropy cannot fill this gap, but it can pay for things that government won’t—and in the process strengthen the case for more sustained government investment. For example, the Nurse Family Partnership, which sends nurses to the homes of low-income pregnant women and mothers to help them prepare for birth and care for their children, gets most of its money from government. But when the organization sought to expand its high-quality operations, government was not in a position to fund the augmentation of the capacity needed to do so. Several foundations joined together to pay for a much needed data system and several other key components that would help the group expand successfully and make an effective case for increased federal government investment.

·        Mending broken political and budget processes: To illustrate, the study cites an effort in California in 2007 by five big California foundations that pooled $30 million to create a bipartisan organization, California Forward, focused on reforming state government to promote pragmatic, fiscally sound public policy. One early victory came from a redistricting initiative on a 2008 ballot, which turned redistricting over to an independent citizen’s commission, rather than to the partisan legislators, who had previously controlled the process. California Forward was a strong supporter of the measure and has worked hard to facilitate its successful implementation.

According to Susan Wolf Ditkoff, another Bridgespan partner and Mr. Stid’s co-author, “These approaches are not comprehensive, but they are strong examples of how donors can and should help government do more with less.”


Read the paper at{EF621570-EEEB-DE11-99D7-00155D751901}&cm_medium=email#.UGnTB5jA_wk


AboutThe Bridgespan Group

The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges in three primary areas: pathways to opportunity for disadvantaged populations, environmental sustainability, and civic engagement. Our services include strategy consulting, executive search, and leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.




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