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Too Close for Comfort? Obama and the Foundations

“It is nice to be able to say that you look forward to working with your own government to make the world a better place – independent of it, surely; at times critical of it – but feeling you have a partner, not an adversary. Maybe demonstration projects we fund in philanthropy that actually demonstrate something will no longer be like the proverbial trees that fall in the forest with no one to hear them.” So spoke Atlantic Philanthropies president Gara LaMarche shortly after President Obama was sworn in, capturing a widespread feeling that the new administration was opening itself in unprecedented ways to partnership and collaboration with philanthropy, and was prepared at last to “scale up” – with federal dollars – innovative foundation approaches to problems in education, welfare, and health. But as Mr. LaMarche’s statement suggests, we look to philanthropy for more than close partnerships with government. We also expect it occasionally to be a critic and adversary. How is that tension likely to play out in the context of the Obama administration? In the first flush of enthusiasm for a closer foundation/government relationship, is there a danger that the two can become too close for comfort?

William Schambra, Moderator

Hudson Senior Fellow and Director, Bradley Center for Philanthropy & Civic Renewal

Gara LaMarche Panelist

President, Atlantic Philanthropies

Terry Mazany, Panelist

Chicago Community Trust

Lewis Feldstein, Panelist

New Hampshire Charitable Foundation

Chester Finn, Panelist

Thomas Fordham Foundation

Hudson Experts

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