Like many family foundations, we receive several worthy requests that we turn down due to lack of funds. Most of our grants are program/project-based—reactive to the problems at hand rather than tackling them before they become an issue. In the light of this, the Wright Family Foundation is trying different ways to combat social issues from a more proactive angle.

In 2011, I was stunned to learn that the Texas Legislature was planning to cut $10 billion from the state’s public schools. I was even more shocked to learn that many state legislators thought foundations across Texas would pick up the balance. To disabuse politicians of that notion, I attended a meeting at the state capitol with several other funders to educate them on how philanthropy works. Despite our efforts, more than $5 billion was still cut from the public education budget.

Emboldened by our newly acquired knowledge of the policy process, and concerned about the impact of the cuts, foundations joined together in a non-partisan group called TEGAC – Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium. Through membership dues paid to TEGAC and foundation grants, we commissioned objective research on how schools implemented the cuts and took that data to the Capitol.

We quickly realized the power of the collective voice of philanthropy. Foundation benefactors, trustees, and staff have a tremendous opportunity to educate legislators about the needs of our communities and the limits of private resources. The simple reality is that foundations have political access that the organizations we support and the clients they serve do not. Legislators will answer our calls and attend our meetings. When Texas foundations invited legislators to come to them for legislative meetings, the state’s leaders came, and they came early.

Read the full article about how foundations can change systems of inequity by Katherine Wright at Exponent Philanthropy.