On June 29, Philanthropy Roundtable released a special report entitled “Investing in Ideas, Influencing Policy: A Guide to Think Tank Effectiveness.” This publication was written by Howard Husock, senior fellow of domestic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. It explores think tanks and their effectiveness in influencing policy choices. It also serves as a guide for donors on how to direct think tank funding toward organizations with high impact.
Joanne Florino, Philanthropy Roundtable Adam Meyerson distinguished fellow in philanthropic excellence, wrote the following foreword to the report that explains the role of public policy grantmaking in philanthropy, and why this special report is a helpful resource for those looking for more information on the topic.
Foreword by Joanne Florino, Adam Meyerson Distinguished Fellow in Philanthropic Excellence
Private philanthropy in the United States supports a wide range of nonprofit organizations, including those that provide a variety of direct human, faith-based and educational services to individuals, families and communities; those that foster academic and scientific research to expand knowledge and those that focus on studying and advancing public policy. While some donors may choose to restrict their support to one type of charitable activity, many others use multiple tactics to accomplish their goals. It is not uncommon for donors to combine support for direct services with funding to promote new or changed public policy.
For example, health funders may support their local hospitals while also promoting actionable research to increase health care access and quality. Charter school advocates may make general operating support grants to one or more specific schools while also promoting regulatory changes to expand the number of charter schools allowed to operate in a particular school district.
Philanthropy Roundtable has consistently recognized the important role of public policy grantmaking in private philanthropy and has worked to educate donors committed to promoting liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility on how to use public policy to move those values forward. Philanthropy Roundtable’s 2016 guidebook, “Agenda Setting,” educated readers on the broad sweep of public policy grantmaking from the 1830s through the early 21st century. And the 2022 policy primer, “Policy Philanthropy and Its Key Role in Civil Society,” explained that policy-focused nonprofits are indeed “charitable,” and defended the rights of individual donors and foundations to support them.
Our newest offering in this area, “Investing in Ideas, Influencing Policy: A Guide to Think Tank Effectiveness,” authored by senior fellow of Domestic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Howard Husock, is a welcome contribution to work on both philanthropic freedom and values-based giving. Utilizing decades of experience with public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, the Manhattan Institute and the American Enterprise Institute, Husock educates donors on the different types of policy “think tanks” and dives deeply into the process used by autonomous and independent think tanks to move from research to action.
For public policy funders making both short- and long-term investments, this treatise offers invaluable insights into the various opportunities to move the needle – the “how” and “when” an influx of funds can have significant impact.
Framing questions strategically is critical, as is the extensive research that follows. But the great ideas that emerge from research require wise communication and marketing to engage valuable allies and develop favorable opinions on a more widespread basis. And gauging when the political environment is ripe for change must allow for an unexpected opportunity or crisis.
For charitable donors considering public policy philanthropy and for donors seeking to evaluate policy grants they have already made, the following Special Report on think tanks is insightful and highly recommended reading. With careful consideration to the process outlined in this report, donors may direct think tank funding toward those with high impact.
To read the full report, “Investing in Ideas, Influencing Policy: A Guide to Think Tank Effectiveness,” please click here.
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