Philanthropy and the federal government are still working out the kinks in their relationship as they try to work together to help proven programs grow.
Teach for America has learned the hard way that government money can be as difficult to count on as private donations, David Gergen, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told participants at the 2010 Inaugural Conference on Scaling.
The organization received $18-million in this year’s federal budget. Mr. Gergen, who is a Teach for America board member, said that the group was talking to officials at the Department of Education about a $50-million allocation for 2011 but that the money got caught up in the political backlash against earmarks.
So the budget request President Obama sent to Congress earlier this year eliminated the money designated for Teach for America and added it to a larger pool of competitive grants for teacher training and recruitment.
The challenge of working with government will only grow as budgets tighten in coming years, said Mr. Gergen.
“Partnership with government is going to continue to be hard,” he said. “We should pursue it but with a sober recognition there will be curves ahead on the road that you can’t see coming.”
The government has its concerns as well.
The Investing in Innovation Fund is a $650-milllion grant program run by the Department of Education to expand innovative school-improvement projects. Applicants can get up to $50-million, and winners will have to match 20 percent of the awards with private money.
When the program was getting started, the department had hoped that foundations would organize a joint fund to provide the match money, James H. Shelton III, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, told the audience.
“What we found was that the notion of pooled funding is anathema” to grant makers, he said. “People just had a base reaction to the idea.”
Twelve foundations have pledged $506-million that they will use either to provide a match to winners or to support promising applicants that do not win government money. But each foundation will choose which projects to support. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, for example, will provide $4-million to rural school districts.
Mr. Shelton said he “was torn” about the results of the collaboration between the department and philanthropy.
“You know, there’s a lot of strings to that $500-million,” he told the audience, “but it’s a completely different way of thinking about what it means to do this work.”
The foundation world is at a critical point, and the way grant makers work with one another and with government is changing, Nancy Roob, chief executive of the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, told conference participants.
“I would like to encourage all of us to take it piece by piece and try to build it incrementally,” she said. “It’s going to require major structural change in the sector, and that’s not going to happen quickly.”