Thursday, February 17, 2005

The smartest blog in America

Sadly enough, is not mine. Rather, it is Mark Schmitt's The Decembrist. He is a wonky sort and thus the blog is very wonky. But it's also very smart and full of insight into the modern political process. He's been writing a lot in recent weeks about the article "Death of Environmentalism." In today's post he points out that the article criticizes environmentalists for being ineffectual, but points out specific foundation managers for achieving success in their efforts to fund environmental groups. Mark points out that this rings false, but doesn't point out that it also smacks of a little ass-kissing. I wonder whether the authors of "Death of Environmentalism", however sincere, don't have some ulterior motive in this praise.

In any case, one of the reasons that The Decembrist is so smart is that he doesn't spend much time pondering questions like the one I just posed. Instead, he draws broader lessons from the topics he discusses. Thus, in today's post, he concludes that foundation funding is too often mission-specific or goal-oriented. He suggests that there needs to be some leeway in funding restrictions so as to allow progressives to choose their batttles. This is dead on correct.

I worked in the non-profit management field for 4 years and saw first-hand how restrictive most foundations were in giving grants. As I watched my fundraising peers fill out copious reports and track every dollar spent, it became pretty clear that foundations had crossed a fine line and gone from setting core performance measures into flat out micro-management. Thought its only part of the puzzle, I suspect that greater foundation grant flexibility will be necessary in helping progressive groups succeed in coming years. Instead of funding specific programs, foundations should be giving progressive group operating funds that they can spend on a wide range of legislative and policy-oriented efforts.