The following article was originally published January 26, 2016, by the Southeastern Council of Foundations (SECF). We are grateful to SECF for allowing us to share their interview, and we encourage you to click here to learn more about them.
SECF: What is your role within your foundation?
Regan Gruber Moffit: As Associate Vice President at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF), I am responsible for helping WRF proactively identify and support policy and advocacy activities that further the foundation's overall strategic goal to increase prosperity in the state of Arkansas.
SECF: What does your foundation typically fund?
Moffit: In 2008, the WRF Board of Directors launched Moving the Needle, a strategic plan with four goals to guide our work over the next decade: increase prosperity, increase educational attainment, strengthen communities, and build nonprofit infrastructure. Through Moving the Needle, WRF commits to use our resources to help move the needle to prosperity for all Arkansans. We invest in research, policy and advocacy, direct services that show measurable good practices, and nonprofit capacity.
SECF: Has your foundation developed any strategic goals (or programming) that require interaction with policymakers?
Moffit: The vision for Moving the Needle is that Arkansas ranks among the top states in the country for major measures of child and family well-being. Supporting advocacy and, in some cases, engaging directly with policymakers is essential to achieving this vision.
WRF recently partnered with the Arkansas Department of Education and the Walton Family Foundation for ForwARd Arkansas, a public-private partnership to create a P-16 plan for education in Arkansas. ForwARd sets a bold goal: Arkansas can become a leading state in education by improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap within a generation. The ForwARd plan sets aspirations and has tangible recommendations for policymakers, parents, and teachers.
SECF: How has your organization's relationship with policymakers improved the work of the foundation? The function of government?
Moffit: Through our research and grantmaking, WRF has learned a lot about what policies and practices can move the needle. By sharing this information, we support effective policies that in turn help us achieve the foundation's goals. For example, the WRF-funded report, Increasing the Competitiveness of the Arkansas Workforce for a Knowledge-Based Economy: How Do Current Higher Education Policies Help or Get in the Way?, provided data that led to a change in the higher education funding formula to incentivize college completion.
We have also engaged more directly through our participation in and support for the Arkansas Legislative Taskforce on Reducing Poverty and Increasing Economic Opportunity. The Taskforce developed recommendations for helping Arkansans move out of poverty, many of which have been enacted.
Through our engagement with policymakers, we have the opportunity to help government resources be used better and to scale best practices to improve outcomes in the state.
SECF: Why should other foundations engage in public policy?
Moffit: Foundations often think of public policy from a defensive posture. How can we protect the interests of foundations? It is true, as foundations, we need to tell our story so that lawmakers understand our importance as they consider policies that affect philanthropy.
We shouldn't stop there though. Foundations should think about public policy as an important opportunity to achieve their mission. As we think about the big change we seek to attain and the limited grant budgets we have as foundations, it becomes even more important to leverage public resources and share our learning to increase impact.
SECF: Is there anything else you want to add to promote your work in this area or to inspire other foundation leaders to engage in public policy work?
Moffit: WRF's commitment to public policy and advocacy goes back to our roots. Over more than 40 years as a foundation, we have seen the outcomes of many of our investments in policy change. Arkansas has moved from the bottom rankings to the top 10 in pre-K access. The state has made significant improvements in the quality and equity of K-12 education and has eliminated payday lending. Our work is far from done, but we believe that policy is an important tool as we strive toward the vision of a more prosperous Arkansas.