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From Civil Society to Civil Investing, and Beyond (Connections 2015)

The four-page article, “From Civil Society to Civil Investing, and Beyond”, by John Dedrick was published Fall 2015 in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research. Dedrick reviews the chronology of civil philanthropy, broken down throughout five distinct time periods between 1989 through present day. He discusses how major events during these time periods shaped how organized philanthropy responded and in-turn shaped the theory and practice of citizen-centered politics. Below is an excerpt from the article. Connections 2015 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

KF_Connections 2015From the article…

In 2003, Kettering and the Pew Partnership agreed to convene a series of dialogues that would include both veterans of the civil investing seminars and members of the communities that had worked with the partnership.

These conversations underscored themes from the work of Kettering and the Pew Partnership with communities and helped to clarify and consolidate what had been learned about community resiliency from the civil investing work. Importantly, the dialogues with the Pew Partnership illustrated that strong democratic practice is a central and explicit theme in community problem solving. While the conversations did not transform practices of the philanthropic sector at the time, new approaches to grantmaking that focus on building community as well as rebuilding communities, particularly among public sector and local funders, have emerged. Scott London’s Investing in Public Life provides an insightful analysis of dialogues.

After Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession (2005-2015)
In late summer 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. And once again, many in philanthropy asked: “What  are our priorities?” Three years later, in 2008, the bottom fell out of the US economy. In the period between these two events, resilience and community capacity became increasingly central themes for grantmakers. The Great Recession has had another effect as well, which was to resurface a set of questions about what philanthropy should be accountable for.

Kettering’s response to these developments has been multi-pronged. On questions of philanthropy’s role in community capacity, KF program officers Debi Witte and Derek Barker began convening meetings with community-based foundations, which led to a series of research collaborations with CFLeads, Philanthropy Northwest, and Grassroots Grantmakers. An occasional paper by Humboldt Area Foundation executive director Peter Pennekamp, Philanthropy and the Regeneration of Community Democracy, was one product from these exchanges. Kettering also worked with Public Agenda on research into accountability, reported in Don’t Count Us Out. Work with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) resulted in Philanthropy and the Limits of Accountability as well as an article by PACE executive director Chris Gates and KF program officer Brad Rourke in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. And continuing the longstanding practice of working with foundation associations, KF program officer Carolyn Farrow-Garland joined the board of Grassroots Grantmakers, while I was invited to join the PACE board.

Finally, former Kettering board member Daniel Kemmis, who was then serving on the board of Philanthropy Northwest, began organizing exchanges on a range of topics from philanthropy’s role in strengthening community-focused nonprofits to enduring questions about the role of philanthropy in American democracy and its accountability to the public. One product of this work is Kemmis’ working paper, Philanthropy and the Renewal of Democracy: Is It Time to Step Up Our Game?

Summary Findings
What have we learned from this work? Five top-line findings head the list:

-Civil investing is actually investing. It’s philanthropic work that’s aimed at building and strengthening democracy.
-Building a nonprofit infrastructure is not the same as creating civic capacity. These may be related, but they are not the same.
-Investing in the capacities of community to do public work is labor and time intensive. It’s deeply relational and requires a long-term commitment.
-Communications and language are critical, and we don’t have a common language or effective communication strategy for this work.
-Accountability matters, but it’s about much more than metrics.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2015 issue, edited by Kettering program officer Melinda Gilmore and director of communications David Holwerk, focuses on our yearlong review of Kettering’s research over time.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Dedrick_2015.pdf

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