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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Judith Healey, foundation consultant
March 11, 2016

Foundations inclined to keep a low profile on public-policy issues


According to longtime philanthropic professional Judith Healey, foundations used to see themselves as having little role in public life, affecting or effecting public-policy changes. While things have changed in that regard in the past few decades, she says foundations are still careful about being identified with a public-policy push. Because of federal regulations against foundations lobbying and because they are unelected forces in the public arena, they don't want to arouse the interest of Congress. Healey says foundations believe the best way to do that is to keep a low profile on public-policy issues.

She asserts that even if they worked together, foundations wouldn't have the expertise or necessarily the interest in developing a list of the most urgent needs in the community, as the Citizens League used to do. She believes the Civic Caucus or other organizations like it should be the ones to develop such a list.

Large foundations tend to be staff-run, Healey contends, while small foundation boards, especially in family foundations, tend to be more involved in developing grant guidelines and directing the staff. But in all foundations, she says, the power ultimately lies with the board, because it can always fire the staff. 

Healey discusses the challenges of defining outcomes, both for foundations and for their grantees. Are outcomes activities or longer term change?

She outlines the most important requirements foundations must meet as a result of the U.S. Tax Reform Act of 1969, which she says was prompted by concerns in the 1960s over financial scandals at foundations and abuses of their tax-exempt status. Among the requirements: more openness and reporting on foundation operations, no lobbying (except on voting rights) and making gifts of at least five percent of their assets every year.  

For the complete interview summary see: Healy interview

Individual Responses:

John Adams
I'm really sorry that I was out of town and missed the meeting with Judy Healey, whom I've known for many years.

Soon after she worked with Jim Shannon at the General Mills Foundation, John Brandl and I tried to persuade Jim to join the faculty of the (then) Humphrey Institute and to develop a public policy program on philanthropy.

Jim declined, and it took many years for the Institute to finally develop such a program.

It's sad to read what she said about the apparent lack of important policy ideas and questions being raised at the U of M.

Wayne Jennings
Judith Healey shed valuable light on the functioning of foundations. The giant foundations in the United States too often follow agendas that are politically motivated.

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The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Interview Group  includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman




The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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