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Helping Funders Adapt to a Changing Policy Landscape

February 2017

I recently joined local policy experts and colleagues from Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR) and Grantmakers for Education (GFE) in a Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG) forum on the 2016 presidential election’s implications for philanthropy. Like GIH, GCIR and GFE are actively working with their members to prepare for new policies and policy changes that will affect key areas of programming. We are all also engaged in identifying possible areas of shared interest with the Trump Administration.

In our presentations, all of us emphasized the importance of using our convening power to help funders stay informed and connected. For example, on February 15th GIH convened a funders meeting called "The Changing Health Policy Landscape" in conjunction with the Families USA Health Action Conference in Washington, DC. Open dialogue about priorities and plans related to Medicaid, CHIP, and state exchanges, health care delivery innovations and systems reform, and the safety net and workforce gave funders an opportunity to participate in a candid and confidential conversation about how they are working with their boards, staff members, and grantees.

Similarly, GCIR and many organizations are holding "rapid response calls" to keep funders apprised of the latest policy developments. GCIR and GIH will also jointly sponsor a webinar on the election’s possible effects on the health of immigrant communities.

Among philanthropy-serving organizations there is also renewed attention to advocacy, both as a strategy that funders can directly employ in response to policy changes and as a grantmaking area. GIH recently completed a scan of the field to get a better sense of how local health funders are engaging in policy advocacy. Seventy percent of the funders who participated indicated that they fund or are directly engaged in activities intended to inform or influence public policy. Given expected changes to the ACA and Medicaid, we anticipate that this interest will remain vigorous.

The WRAG forum included tips for working with new presidential administrations. A particularly useful one was for local funders to take advantage of cabinet-level listening tours, which are an opportunity to raise policymakers’ awareness of important "outside the Beltway" issues. Another tip was to partner with knowledge centers within federal agencies. Career staffers in these centers are likely to have an ongoing interest in public/private issues that emerged over the last few years, such as housing and health.

2017 will clearly be a year of dynamic change. The WRAG forum demonstrated that it is a crucial time for funders—and philanthropy-serving organizations—to strengthen their ties across sectors, share learnings, and sharpen their strategic thinking.