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Funders Forum

Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

January 2011

The mission of the Flint, Michigan-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is to support efforts that promote a just, equitable, and sustainable society. In recent years, the foundation has partnered with government to leverage good ideas and expand proven models developed to help provide pathways out of poverty in low-income communities. The Foundation Center asked Mott's CEO and president, William S. White, for his advice to other funders on engaging in productive collaborations with government:

Charles Steward Mott Foundation

QuestionThe Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has unique experience in partnering with government to help shape policy relevant to the foundation's various program areas. What strategies would you recommend to other foundations wishing to work more closely and effectively with government to create meaningful change that responds to society's critical challenges?

Answer"Although I don't think there are necessarily prescribed 'strategies' one can follow to ensure an effective partnership, I can share a few lessons from our experiences. Certainly one of our strongest collaborations has been with the U.S. Department of Education, which began in 1998 to support community-based, after-school programs in communities nationwide. Over the years, our overall investment has reached $140 million, which in turn has helped to leverage approximately $10.86 billion in federal funding.

"Mott's early role in that partnership was to fund activities that the government could not — including technical assistance, generating public will, seeding evaluation, and identifying promising practices — and that is one of the key recommendations I would make to others: be alert to specific needs and opportunities for investment that foundations are uniquely qualified to fill. Similarly, I'd encourage others to be aware of the special attributes that foundations bring to partnerships, such as the ability to act more quickly than government, particularly when it comes to providing funding, and to serve as neutral conveners and connectors when there are other parties that must align their efforts as part of an initiative.

"Second, be open to opportunities — some of which can surface serendipitously. Our afterschool partnership resulted from a chance meeting with a top person in the education department during a White House early childhood education conference.

"And finally, I'd advise: be patient. My experience is that good results require long-term focus and commitment. It's rare to achieve a major success overnight, so you need to be prepared to stick with certain projects for the long haul."

Funder's Forum: Donor Profiles

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Markle Foundation
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The Commonwealth Fund
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The Burroughs Wellcome Fund
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Posner-Wallace Foundation
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Public Welfare Foundation
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The Cleveland Foundation
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Jerome Foundation
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Charles Stewart
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