Philanthropists who seek to improve local, state, and national public policies face difficult challenges, but as you can see in our cover story on donors who have succeeded in strengthening Chattanooga’s families, dramatic improvements are possible.
From long observation of such struggles and the donors who overcome the inevitable obstacles, I have discerned several habits of highly effective philanthropists:
1. They know what they stand for. They are deeply committed to clear principles which they do not compromise.
2. They redefine public debate through strategic investment in ideas and collection of the right data.
3. They think long-term, and they give long-term support to the institutions that will best advance their public policy reform objectives. While they are always looking for opportunities to achieve measurable results in the short run, they keep their focus and are patient. They know that public policy reform frequently takes time.
4. They build a broad-based multiracial coalition across party lines.
5. They are not afraid of controversy (though they do not seek it).
6. They establish and study models of success-demonstration projects or field trials that make the case for the larger reform agenda.
7. They keep control of their own funding decisions. They work closely with other funders who share their principles and public policy strategy. But in the absence of long-term agreement on principles and strategy, they are cautious about matching fund programs with public agencies and formal collaboration with other private donors.
Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.