Early in my tenure at the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), when our staff numbered just three, I realized that to get visibility for our research on foundation performance assessment, we would need to secure a spot on the agenda of the annual conference of the Council on Foundations (COF), the trade association for grantmaking foundations. Those conferences in the early 2000s seemed (to a newcomer like me, anyway) to be the place to be. They were where the important presentations and conversations about new research or trends in foundation philanthropy happened.

When it came to philanthropy “infrastructure” organizations, COF was at the center. I am not sure it was an especially strong voice in Washington or with the public, but it did wield power among the various organizations within Philanthrolandia.

COF’s leadership wasn’t interested in sharing that power, either. CEP didn’t have much success getting on the program (or the programs of most other conferences either) for a number of years.

It’s certainly the case that individual foundations are sometimes too quick to tout their own roles or successes. But foundations as a group have not done a very good job explaining their relevance and distinct role — or that of the larger nonprofit sector they support. To help us all make that argument, COF will need to listen carefully, synthesize those stories, gather evidence, and lead a chorus of organizations arguing forcefully for the legitimacy and importance of philanthropy and foundations.

In this political environment especially, it’s crucial that lawmakers and the public appreciate the role of philanthropy.

Read the full article about institutional philanthropy by Phil Buchanan at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.