Influencing Policy at the Federal Level

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Gaye Smith, our executive director, was quoted in an article that ran in the fall issue of Insight, Grantmakers for Children, Youth & Families’ (GCYF) quarterly magazine. The story, “Influencing Policy at the Federal Level,” tells how The Tow Foundation set a goal in 1999 to help adolescents in Connecticut caught up in the justice system get a second chance.

Recognizing that making direct service grants “can only go so far and impact so few,” the foundation invested in system reform to alter the trajectory of thousands of high-risk youth in Connecticut. Emily Tow Jackson, executive director of the Tow Foundation, wrote that they knew real policy change could only happen through informed advocacy and close working relationships with the public partners responsible for these youth. The challenges:

  • help advocates put aside their personal agendas and work toward common goals,
  • convince legislators and policymakers that court-involved youth are worth investing in,
  • find legislative champions, and
  • document that reform truly saves taxpayer dollars while protecting public safety and improving outcomes for youth.

A decade later The Tow Foundation’s and other financial investments have increased 10-fold, court referrals have dropped by 40 percent, and only 164 youths were imprisoned in 2009—one third the number in 2000.

Gaye’s quote restated what we at Georgia Family Connection have been practicing for 20 years: “The most appropriate and strategic policy decisions are best made when decisionmakers have access to reliable data, sound research, best practice, and diverse perspectives and expertise from the field. Access to these tools must come from the knowledge and experience of both the public and the philanthropic sectors. The flexibility and leveraging ability of the philanthropic community bring particular value to policy discussions so it is incumbent upon them to take a strong role in influencing public policy if they are to be true to their missions of investments in the betterment for the public good.”

GCYF engages funders across all sectors to continually improve their grantmaking on behalf of children, youth, and families.