The Importance of a 3-Way Partnership: Government, Philanthropy + Nonprofits

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Last week, Laurel O'Sullivan, Vice President, Public Policy at Donors Forum, shared remarks with colleagues from foundations and nonprofits at Independent Sector's Annual Conference in Atlanta.  The session, called Partnering With Government: Opportunities and Realities, was framed as a debate between Laurel and Otis Johnson, mayor of Savannah, GA.

Laurel's comments touch on the vital 3-way partnership between government, philanthropy, and nonprofits that is the cornerstone of a vibrant society.  

Here is an excerpt from Laurel's remarks.  Find the complete transcript here (PDF download). 

We believe strongly in a 3 way partnership, with philanthropy the third partner at the table needed to leverage its best practices and ability to catalyze change.

Philanthropy bridges the distance between the government and nonprofits; serving one and regulated by the other, nonprofits and government have a symbiotic, yet sometimes adversarial, relationship to one another. As an invested stakeholder in the health of our communities, philanthropy understands the complexity of government, partners closely with nonprofits and is invested in a healthy State that is a careful steward of nonprofit resources and services. Above all philanthropy can navigate these mutual needs, accountabilities and processes while simultaneously de-politicizing the conversation.

Surely there is more agreement than disagreement on the fact we, government and nonprofits, are interdependent and share a mutual goal to create a livable America. This was the premise forged over 200 years ago during the days of Alexis de Tocqueville that our nonprofits have a vital and unique role to play in empowering the underrepresented in our democracy, amplifying their voice whether it’s through direct services, civic engagement, preserving the environment, or supporting the arts. 

Forty years ago this implicit agreement was made explicit under Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society by providing government funding to nonprofits, which has only grown and expanded under every president since Ronald Reagan.  Its premise endures today and includes these, eminently reasonable things that we can hopefully agree on: 1) that we should serve our most vulnerable, 2) that we must do the most with limited resources and 3) that we agree nonprofits are unique and valuable partners because they represent local communities in ways government doesn’t; and the underlying premise of all of this is that 4) we have mutual trust in each other..

To read the complete remarks, click here(PDF download).

 ~ Hannah White, Public Policy Associate