To kick off our new Member Q&A series, we are highlighting long-time member and leader within the EOF network, Marcia Egbert, Senior Program Officer for Human Services at the George Gund Foundation.
Marcia Egbert, Senior Program Officer for Human Services, George Gund Foundation
“We believe that it’s our moral responsibility to help drive greater public investment in basic human needs. So, we have prioritized our investments in informed public policy advocacy—lifting the voices of non-profit leaders and their constituents in policy debates at the city, county, state and federal levels. We think this can have far greater and more lasting benefit than our direct charitable grantmaking.”
What’s the mission of the foundation and how does addressing economic equity and opportunity fit in?
The George Gund Foundation was established in 1952 as a private, nonprofit institution with the sole purpose of contributing to human well-being and the progress of society. Over the years, program objectives and emphases have been modified to meet the changing opportunities and problems of our society, but the foundation’s basic goal of advancing human welfare remains constant.
We have one of those really broad mission statements, not unlike many foundations, says Marcia, admitting that it’s a pretty lofty goal. The challenge is how to hone that into a manageable and practical agenda.
The foundation has started with the premise that thriving cities are our best hope—an incredible unit for moving social and economic reform, equity and opportunity. So, we are place based— we serve a specific geographical community, greater Cleveland—yet we focus equally on the sense of community. It’s the latter that’s a prerequisite for human progress.
What do you see as the big barriers you’re trying to overcome?
Referring back to this geographic place and the sense of community, both are threatened by powerful forces and divisive issues. And, these issues are complex and intertwined.
The barriers we see are: climate change and environmental degradation—with poor people everywhere suffering disproportionately, with fewer resources to adapt, entrenched and accelerating inequity and the corrosion of democracy—can our democratic institutions capably address matters of such significance? Do we have the right institutions? Are they functioning in a way that renders them able to tackle these issues? Healthy democracy rests beyond government. For example, it’s also grounded in a free, robust and open media. This wasn’t really on the foundation’s agenda ten years ago. Now we see these three areas as being completely intertwined. We see lifting facts up to illuminate a challenge and providing useable, freely accessible data that is well conveyed as part of our responsibility.
What excites you?
At the foundation, we are so fortunate to sit at an intersection of the best and brightest people in our community and beyond and see the enormous talent, passion, and commitment among non-profit leaders, our grantees, and philanthropy colleagues. And because of our amazing board, we’ve had the luxury of diving into hot button, complex issues—large scale education reform, criminal justice reform, etc.—and staying with them over time.
We believe that it’s our moral responsibility to help drive greater public investment in basic human needs. So, we have prioritized our investments in informed public policy advocacy—lifting the voices of non-profit leaders and their constituents in policy debates at the city, county, state and federal levels. We think this can have far greater and more lasting benefit than our direct charitable grantmaking.
For example, with our local foodbank, we have funded its vital “in the moment” work of alleviating hunger ($50,000 per year), but we also provide operating support to the state association of foodbanks to drive advocacy. This has brought in almost $20 million a year in state funding for hunger relief—an amount we could never hope to reach with our direct service grantmaking
Here’s another example, some years we have provided as much as $1 million for local low-income housing programs. Simultaneously, we support the state homelessness coalition. Its advocacy work now secures $53 million a year and better policy for low-income housing supports. These state investments are sustainable and bring the work to scale in ways a single foundation grant never could.
How does being a member of EOF help you achieve your goals?
EOF is a genuinely safe space. A space for candid conversations among peers and for honing skills. It’s extremely valuable.
A hallmark of EOF is how current it stays. It helps us stay relevant. Through it, we have access to the most current research and analysis.
One of the very best characteristics is how politically timely and active the gatherings are, with opportunity for dialogue, learning and camaraderie. We hear about lessons learned—what’s worked and what to avoid.
Ponderings for your funder colleagues?
How does the concentration of wealth at the top and growing inequities affect our capacity for justice? Especially racial justice, but also for women, immigrants, LGBTQ.
In my work, particularly, I am consumed by how we raise public investment in children when they have no political voice. How do we stem the tide of disinvestment in children when the political class does not answer to them?
And, as political dysfunction grows, how do democratic institutions rise to meet the challenge? What role can we play in strengthening our historic pillars of democracy?
What’s something we didn’t think to ask, but you’d really like to share?
It’s more of a reflection really. I am always left with a feeling of optimism. And, I’m not joking. At the foundation we feel like we’re optimistic because of what we get to see in the course of our work. Love does trump hate. Every day we see it playing out in the work of our grantees and partners.
Any useful resources to share with your colleagues?
At the foundation, we ask grantees to complete a climate change statement. These are always interesting. They educate us all the time. You can find them on our website here.
Additionally, we use, and have been involved in creating, some tools for evaluating advocacy capacity and advocacy grants:
- Bolder Advocacy/Alliance for Justice: Advocacy Capacity Tool (ACT!)
- Bolder Advocacy/Alliance for Justice: ACT! Quick
- Bolder Advocacy/Alliance for Justice: Power Check (evaluating community organizing)