Cultivating Philanthropic Partnerships Will Get Us Through This Season

It was August the year we moved into our current house. The air was still sticky thick and the foliage a deep-vined green. Two months later, the kaleidoscope of fall’s foliage exploded among our woods, replaced soon thereafter by a particularly icy, cold winter.

When Spring arrived, I discovered I had seven dogwood trees nestled by our rear deck. Azalea bushes, previously hidden beneath overgrown kudzu and Virginia creeper, announced their presence with purple, white and lilac-tinted flowers. Say what you will about the nation’s capital, but April and May in DC is glorious.

Even if one sneezes a bunch.

To All a Season

I am a firm believer in seasons. Those who live in monotonous climates, while lovely at times, miss out on the appreciation that seasons bring. We don’t leave the Christmas lights out beyond a certain day because we’d never enjoy the anticipation the rest of the year. And it’s the anticipation that is critical.

In other words, we can’t value the summer fern without the barren and hard ground of late fall. We may grumble at cleaning out our gutters and composting our fallen piles, but we smile again when the leaves are full and the trees sway. It’s why we plant bulbs, prune, patch seeds, mulch and fertilize throughout the year. We seek results, but enjoy the surprise of the timing and its benefits.

We are in a unique season right now, one that someday will become another, “do you remember when” question posed to peers, children, spouses, and grandchildren. Whether our answer is transmitted through bitter grief, clenched jaw, moistened eye, great laughter, blushed smirk, wistful smile, or head-pounding frustration, it will be genuine and lasting.

For those of us in the world of philanthropy, it is a moment where we will have been tested. For those of us who also focus on the relationship of citizen and state, I hope the memory will highlight not merely how that relationship has been altered, but how the partnership of private giving and policy improved our lot.

Partnerships Make the Difference

The other evening, I watched the premier of Free The People’s How to Love Your Enemy – a beautifully filmed documentary about the restorative justice program implemented by the Longmont Community Justice Partnership, a Colorado-based nonprofit. While the program is decades old, it is attracting attention from multiple U.S. cities because government courts are currently closed. Citizens, police, community activists, counselors and others are developing this as a (partial) alternative to the federal and state criminal justice system.

The program not only reduces costs and recidivism rates, but equally (and perhaps more importantly) emphasizes the value of accountability, victim satisfaction over punishment, and empathy when it comes to offender and offended alike. Private foundations and policy organizations as diverse as the Center for American Progress, Right on Crime, FreedomWorks, and the NAACP are partnering to advance lasting change.

Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian humanitarian organization is working with Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City to build an emergency field hospital in Central Park. Volunteers from local churches will construct it. Simultaneously, the Empire Center, a New York-based policy education nonprofit is working with Albany legislators to deregulate medical services and telemedicine. Suffice it to say, both efforts are intertwined.

The Duke Energy Foundation has announced $1 million in grants to support North Carolina K-12 programs focused on summer reading loss and STEM learning. At the same time, the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh is working with local school officials to postpone state testing and create more flexible requirements that will support on-line learning.

In Washington DC, the Andrew and Julie Klingenstein Family Fund is among those supporting the new DC Education Equity Fund, a project focused on ensuring internet access and available digital devices to support students. That effort is being replicated among dozens of other states. In those same states, local think tanks are identifying how barriers to digital access can be reduced. At the national level the Competitive Enterprise Institute is working with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure spectrum and bandwidth rules are eased so as to improve on-line access by millions of students.

By my rough calculations, nearly $275 million in private foundation dollars are currently focused on specific Covid-19 response measures. Another $100 million is being directed to universities and medical centers to fast track vaccine development and testing kits. Corporate-related relief funds already exceed $100 million. And this does not include the hundreds of millions that commercial banks, community foundation, and mission driven donor-advised funds grant as part of the overall charitable response. While there is no one grand Philanthropy “master,” there is greater synergy among institutional funders and non-profit policy and humanitarian groups than ever before.

This is not only being done out of necessity, but out of opportunity.

For Future Fruits

In the 17th century, the English poet and scholar John Donne summed up the notion of constancy and appreciation amid necessary change. “God made the sun and the moon to distinguish the seasons, and day and night, and we cannot have the fruits of the earth but in their seasons.”

Three hundred years later that same (albeit Biblical) sentiment jumped out through The Byrd’s famous lyrics “To everything (turn, turn, turn). There is a season (turn, turn, turn), and a time to every purpose, under heaven.”

This is a season of great gardening. We cannot comprehend what the fruits of our labor will be, let alone when we will enjoy the fruits of the earth. We understand that to reach spring again we must walk through the humidity of summer, the molting leaves of fall, and icy chill of winter. We do not know how long these seasons will last, but they will pass. They cannot do otherwise. It is how this third rock from the sun was set up.

Governments are making decision purely out of fear, and many citizens too find themselves caught up in its embrace. I anticipate looking back on those decisions with unrestrained judgement. But I also believe that same judgement will be muted by the realization that the eventual road to recovery was paved by the cooperative actions, generosity, and innovations of private givers, policy groups, non-profit medical research centers, technology and educational entrepreneurs, and the businesses that flourished because it.


  • Lawson Bader

    Since 2015, Lawson Bader serves as president and CEO of DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. Before coming to DonorsTrust, he amassed twenty years’ experience leading free-market research and advocacy groups including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He began his career in DC in as special assistant at the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, then worked as a legislative analyst/paralegal with Pierson, Semmes & Finley, and managed government relations at SRI International. He is a former weekly columnist with Human Events, and a current contributor to Kiplinger and member of the Forbes Nonprofit Council. He also serves on the governing boards of the Atlas Network, State Policy Network, and Oakseed Ministries International. Lawson earned a BA in political science from Wheaton College (IL) and an MA in public policy from The Johns Hopkins University.

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