Foundations on the Hill - Go Out and Tell Your Story

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Forefront staff meeting with legislators during FOTH

"Go out and tell the story. Let it echo far and wide.”

Ragtime, “Make Them Hear You.” 

I was in Washington D.C last week for Foundations on the Hill (FOTH), an annual event where foundations from around the country descend on Washington D.C. to educate legislators on the importance of philanthropy. I was proud to be part of the 18-member Illinois delegation assembled by Forefront, one of the largest contingents in the country. My colleagues and I walked the halls of Congress, meeting with 17 legislative offices, educating them about the critical value of philanthropy and nonprofits to their communities, and developing relationships with important policy makers whose decisions could have far-reaching implications for all social impact organizations. FOTH attendees pause for a picture in front of a wall of book cases

This was a relatively new experience for me; I don’t have a background in advocacy or public policy. Like many of my colleagues on the trip, I was nervous and a bit unsure about my ability to influence legislators’ opinions and understanding.

And yet, we were all equipped with key talking points, and, more importantly, the knowledge that our work is critically important to so many people, particularly those in underserved communities. We needed to make these legislators hear us. We needed to tell our stories. Then, as we told story after story, we were, every single one of us, empowered and enlivened. We were no longer acting as mere observers affected by decisions made in Washington, but activists who were asserting our values as important, engaged citizens.  

Advocacy is the least understood, least appreciated aspect of Forefront’s work. It can seem so obscure with no immediate, tangible impact. However, advocacy has never been more important. We are at a critical point in our history, with a number of significant threats and opportunities facing philanthropy and nonprofits at all levels of government. The fate of the charitable deduction, nonprofit nonpartisanship, social innovation, and much more will be determined over the next six months.   

Is your work important to you and others? Does your work play a vital role in creating vibrant, just communities? Could you have an even greater, positive impact on our society if government regulations and policies were more favorable?

If so, go and tell your story. Let it echo far and wide. Pick up the phone and call your alderman, state legislator, and congressman. Write letters. Sign petitions. Attend Forefront advocacy events. Get outside your own echo chamber. Selfie of Forefront staff and Illinois foundation leaders at FOTH during a table discussion.

Make them hear you.

I guarantee that, like me, you will be empowered and enlivened by the experience. 

~ Eric Weinheimer, President + CEO, Forefront

Forefront would like to extend our profound gratitude for the following philanthropy leaders who joined us for two days in Washington DC: DeRondal Bevly, RubyRose Strategies; Amanda Blaising, Quarles + Brady, LLP; Evette Cardona, Polk Bros. Foundation; Amina Dickerson, Dickerson Global Advisors; David Farren, The Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; Joshua Gibbs, Galesburg Community Foundation; Caronina Grimble, Woods Fund Chicago; Bruce Kamazin, The Lumpkin Family Foundation; Jim Parsons, The Brinson Foundation; Jodi Pelletiere, Quarles + Brady, LLP; Mary Pounder, Comer Family Foundation; Leslie Ramyk, Conant Family Foundation; Mark Roberts, The Community Foundation of Central Illinois; Mary Rowe, Oberweiler Foundation; Umni Song, Fry Foundation; Beth Spurgeon, ArcelorMittal; Wegi Stewart, The Community Foundation of Macon County; Marcy Twete, ArcelorMittal / USA Foundation.