Numerous recent polls show a low level of public faith in government. At least in some minds, that raises the question of whether the government is trying to solve too many problems. The Federal Drive with Tom Temin  spoke with someone who suggests the non-profit sector might be better at applying market forces to help. Elise Westhoff is President & CEO of the right-of-center Philanthropy Roundtable.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin Just for purposes of kind of placing your organization’s general outlook, just tell us what it’s all about, what your fundamental philosophy is here.

Elise Westhoff Absolutely. Well, the Philanthropy Roundtable is a network of philanthropists who believe in liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility. And we help donors advance those values through effective charitable giving. We also think it’s really important for donors to have the flexibility to give how, when and where they choose from a policy perspective. So we work on policy issues that are facing the charitable sector.

Tom Temin All right. And well, what are some of the policy issues affecting the charitable sector right now, by the way?

Elise Westhoff Yeah, that’s a great question. We are, there are many efforts right now to kind of restrict or coerce donors to give in a certain way. And we believe that will lead to less giving and less money going to communities in need. So we’re against any efforts that sort of force donors to give on a certain timeline. There’s something called the [Accelerating Charitable Efforts (ACE)] Act right now that we’re watching closely that would target donor advised funds and private foundations. And so we’re trying to educate people about how that would actually have a negative impact on the charitable sector and on communities in need. We also are watching efforts to force donor disclosure. So we work with public charities, organizations that are doing great work in their communities. And oftentimes, people are calling for lists of donors to be made public. And there are many, many reasons why donors may wish to give privately. And so we are working to protect that constitutionally upheld right to give privately, if donors choose to do so.

Tom Temin OK. Well, let’s get to the issue of some of the public problems, some of the societal problems, and government pretty much is involved in almost everyone you can name at some level. Either through direct policy of federal agencies or through the grantmaking process, which is quite a number of hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Give us some examples of things where the nonprofit sector, the philanthropic side, is doing good work in problems, say the government has not been successful at solving.

Elise Westhoff Well, I think education is a really great example. We have a lot of problems with our education system. And while well-intentioned, I think, the government is often failing in this area and we’re letting our kids down. And I think, the charitable sector has really stepped up to provide innovative solutions. People are getting scholarships to low income students. They’re starting new schools with innovative models that are working with underprivileged kids, and giving them opportunities that they wouldn’t have in a public school system. So that’s one area where I think the charitable sector has really shined. Issues like crime, we have organizations like Code Three, which is a D.C. based organization, that really tries to build trust between police and their communities. And I think that’s such an important effort right now, because we all know that there’s a lot of tension between the communities and the police right now. And to build that trust is a really productive thing to do.

Tom Temin By the way, just what is the mechanism by which Code Three does this? What is it they’re doing specifically? What are they funding? What types of initiatives does this take the form of?

Elise Westhoff That’s a great question. What they do is, they bring the police in and do kind of like volunteer projects with some of the youth in the community. They do outreach. They actually sit across the table from one another and get to know each other so that there can be an effort to humanize,  on both sides, and get to know one another. And I think, it really helps to have that human connection when you’re working to solve problems in the community.

Tom Temin All right. And then there’s one more that you have cited, too, and that is jobs for America’s graduates. For people as young as the sixth grade, getting them involved in what exactly?

Elise Westhoff Right. So this is an organization that helps connect youth to opportunities that are giving them the skills that they need to actually succeed in the workforce. So often our students aren’t well prepared for the workforce when they finish with school. And this is giving people tangible skills that they can use, kind of like an apprenticeship model, so that they can go and get jobs that are productive. And I think, again, this is another area where I don’t think the government is meant to do this, but a civil society solution can really step in and and make a huge difference in people’s lives.

Tom Temin All right. We’re speaking with Elise Westhoff. She is the president and CEO of the Philanthropy Roundtable. And I guess, maybe the question I would ask then, is what are some things maybe the government should not do that you think could be best taken up privately, between philanthropic organizations and those that they’re trying to help?

Elise Westhoff Well, government plays an important role in society, but there are so many advantages to private philanthropy and to charitable organizations. They’re flexible, they’re nimble, they’re quick. So having a strong partnership between government and nonprofit organizations I think is really important. And I think, the charitable sector can be an effective tool in almost every issue and problem that we face. If you look back at the pandemic, communities really stepped up. Neighbors helped their neighbors. The government is not nimble and flexible and entrepreneurial. It’s not meant to be, but charitable organizations can be. And so, even issues like research to develop a vaccine, philanthropy was really, really important in that effort, and helped to get things done more quickly. But of course, it’s always a partnership.

Tom Temin All right. And let me ask you this. Tell us a little bit more about your organization. What kinds of groups are members of it? And is it safe to say they have a market kind of orientation in general?

Elise Westhoff Yes, we have hundreds of philanthropists in our community, and they give in a variety of different ways. We have philanthropists who give through private foundations, who give individually, who gives your donor advised funds, and donors who care about a variety of issues, health, education, policy issues. And so it’s a really broad range of people in our community who are doing really important work. And yes, we do have our values, again, our liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility. So most of our community really values those free market solutions to solve problems.