A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Philanthropy’s Role in a New Fiscal Landscape

The outcome of the U.S. debt ceiling debate signals a major shift in future government spending patterns and holds significant implications for philanthropy. 

The outcome of the U.S. debt ceiling debate signals a major shift in future government spending patterns and holds significant implications for philanthropy. The pivot will be dramatic: From a federal stimulus plan designed to jump start the economy out of recession (2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to a deficit reduction plan that will slash $900 billion in government spending over 10 years―and reduce the federal deficit by an additional $1.5 trillion.

It will begin relatively slowly, with cuts that will put FY 2012 spending $98 billion below the Administration’s current proposal, and ramp down spending significantly in subsequent years. This shift is nothing short of tectonic, and will present a major challenge across a broad range of discretionary spending programs.

This transformation in the government’s spending philosophy will put extraordinary pressure on the philanthropic sector, as we are called upon to backfill public sector funding cuts and rescue struggling safety net programs in local communities across the nation. Given that all private, community and operating foundation giving in the US in 2010 totaled $41 billion, our sector will never be up to the task of closing the gap between current and future government spending, even if that were the desired goal.

The challenge to our sector is both clear and daunting. For those of us whose funding touches people who are homeless, we must become increasingly data-driven, strategic, and catalytic. By this I mean that we must fund only what works―practices proven by data to end homelessness. And we must do more than simply react to the current crisis. We must advocate for the solutions that work and leverage funding for them from multiple sources. And we must lead our partners-policymakers, providers, other funders―toward the necessary systems changes required to end homelessness for good.

Or, to use my favorite analogy, which feels more relevant now than ever: Philanthropy must act as a tugboat, helping to bring the supertankers of the federal government programs-at least what’s left of them-into effective and efficient alignment, so they can steer a course that provides the best possible support to Americans with the greatest needs.

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid Wertheimer is the Deputy Director of the Pacific Northwest Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Board Chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness.

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We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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