USC Price School of Public Policy

Officials Discuss Philanthropic Leadership

Officials Discuss Philanthropic Leadership at CPPP 10th Anniversary Forum

By Cristy Lytal

Jim Ferris, Sonal Shah and Jack Knott White House Official Sonal Shah, center, with Professor Jim Ferris and Dean Jack Knott

With the going getting tough, the tough headed to USC for the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy’s 10th Anniversary Forum.

On Jan. 27 and 28, more than 200 leaders from the nonprofit sector, government, business and academia gathered to hear keynote speaker Sonal Shah – deputy assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation – and a host of distinguished panelists at “Philanthropic Leadership: Exploring Opportunities in Uncertain Times.”

At the opening plenary and reception in the Galen Center, Jack Knott, the C. Erwin and Ione L. Piper Dean and professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, kicked off the forum with an acknowledgment of how the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy has been advancing the mission of SPPD over the past 10 years.

“The school’s ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for people and their communities, here and abroad,” he said. “In fact, SPPD was one of the first public policy schools to recognize the importance of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, in addition to government and business, in solving our most pressing public problems.” He added, “I take great pride in the Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy and its accomplishments over its first decade.”

James Ferris, director of the center and holder of the Emery Evans Olson Chair in Nonprofit Entrepreneurship and Public Policy, then took the podium to introduce Shah. He explained that the newly created White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation aims “to coordinate governmental efforts to aid innovative nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs, and to expand approaches that have been successful in tackling pressing social problems.”

In her remarks, Shah outlined the goals, challenges and opportunities of her office. She shared recent examples of civic participation and social innovation – ranging from the broad expansion of civic participation through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to the innovative multisector partnerships surrounding the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Coalition.

She encouraged collaboration between government and other sectors in finding solutions to social problems – and ways to demonstrate the success of these solutions through transparency, metrics and information sharing.

“Over the next few years, I hope we can work together to achieve results,” she said. “We do have to show that we can achieve results: We can reduce maternal mortality rates; we can reduce high school dropout rates; we can reduce recidivism rates. And how do we do those things together?”

Shah then took her seat alongside panelists Karen Baker (secretary of service and volunteering, State of California), Diana Aviv (president and CEO, Independent Sector), Kerry Herlihy Sullivan (president, Bank of America Charitable Foundation), Fred Ali (president and CEO, Weingart Foundation), and moderator Robert K. Ross (president and CEO, The California Endowment) to address the topic of “Philanthropic Leadership: What Are the Emerging Opportunities in These Challenging Times?”

The Jan. 28 agenda commenced with a morning plenary panel titled “Where Is Philanthropy Heading? Where Should It Be? What Should We Be Doing?”

Moderator James Canales (president and CEO, The James Irvine Foundation) and panelists Stacy Palmer (editor, Chronicle of Philanthropy), William A. Schambra (director, Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal), Ralph Smith (executive vice president, The Annie E. Casey Foundation) and Sean Stannard-Stockton (CEO, Tactical Philanthropy Advisers) tackled topics as varied as the graying of America and its donors and volunteers, the potential uses of emerging technologies and the new populism.

The remainder of the conference consisted of three “tracks” with three panels each. The topics included building the nonprofit marketplace as well as public awareness and support for philanthropy, advancing the field, increasing effectiveness in foundations and their partners, engaging new donors and creating new models for giving.

At a panel on “Foundation-Government Relationships” moderated by Ferris, two extra rows of chairs had to be added to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd that gathered to hear panelists Karen Aldridge-Eason (foundation liason, Michigan’s Office of the Foundation Liason), Geraldine P. Mannion (program director, Democracy and Special Opportunities Fund, Carnegie Corp. of New York), Mike Roque (director, Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships) and Daniel Zingale (senior vice president, Policy and Public Affairs, The California Endowment).

Zingale observed that one silver lining of the recession is more collaboration between the government and philanthropic sectors.

“The economic and related budget crises put government in a situation where they just can’t do the things that people in public service went into public service to do,” he explained. “So to the extent where they get to exercise any of their aspirations, they’re increasingly figuring out it’s through folks like us.”

Knott moderated a panel on “Social Entrepreneurship and Public Problem Solving,” putting the trend into a context that included observations about Susan B. Anthony, John Muir, Jane Addams, John Dewey, Robert Marion La Follette Sr. and Theodore Roosevelt.

“In every generation, there really is a remarkable set of people who have the drive and the ability to turn ideas into reality,” Knott said. “Some start commercial enterprises such as Microsoft or Google that end up transforming the economy. Others have new ideas about how to solve social problems and social issues, and so they create organizations and start networks and movements that also change society.”

In another panel, moderator Jeff Hoffman (vice president, Worldwide Outreach, the Walt Disney Co.) and panelists Allison H. Fine (senior fellow, Democracy Team, Demos), Robert Grimm Jr. (director, Office of Research and Policy Development, Corporation for National and Community Service) and Robert Hollister (dean, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University) discussed “Youth Engagement, the New Media and Social Change.”

“Since 2000, United Way of America has lost 60 percent of its donor base,” Fine said. “Younger donors don’t care for direct mail. They’ll give online; they’ll give through texting now: We’ve certainly seen that [with the Haiti earthquake]. But they’ll give campaign to campaign. They’re not going to be your lifetime donors. So organizations have to become very facile, very agile at building relationships with young people, leaving the doors open and letting them come and go.”

Throughout the conference, many of the panelists and attendees echoed an observation that Ferris made during his opening remarks.

“While the current economic crisis has led to talk of a ‘reset,’ and the reversal of fortunes has decreased giving at least in the short term, there is little doubt that philanthropy has been transformed,” he said. “Indeed, it is during extraordinary times such as these that exploring possibilities for creating meaningful change is so critical.”

Photo by Robert Pacheco