Why infrastructure matters

There are many reasons why supporting philanthropic infrastructure is an essential part of the Mott Foundation’s work.

This feature first appeared in Alliance Magazine.

There are many reasons why supporting philanthropic infrastructure is an essential part of the Mott Foundation’s work. Here are three:

The first goes to the heart of our existence. Philanthropies cannot take for granted our right to exist, the ability to do the work we do or the kind of trust we want others to invest in us. Through our work in Central and Eastern Europe, we have seen governments suppress civic engagement by creating laws which make it impossible for the independent sector to have an independent voice. In the U.S., infrastructure organizations have defended us against burdensome changes in the tax code. They have also resisted special interest groups who tried to strip prohibitions barring political activity, which would have destroyed trust in the charitable sector.

Secondly, infrastructure organizations nurture the philanthropic sector and charitable organizations, helping us to improve our work, build capacity and share knowledge with one another. In doing so, they equip the sector to respond to the most serious challenges of our times — both those we see coming and those that take us by surprise.

And that leads me to the third reason: all of us count on the wider charitable sector to respond when government and the private sector fail to protect people. Our foundation witnessed the importance of this role in our hometown of Flint, Michigan. We saw the value of strong nonprofits working collaboratively during the darkest days of the city’s water crisis. Nonprofit leaders were the first to discover elevated lead levels in our city’s children, and they also were the first to help while government officials were still pointing fingers. Three years later, they continue their efforts to help the city recover and rise.

As trusted members of the local community, Flint nonprofits serve as a vital link between policymakers and the public. This trust comes when organizations function well, are governed well and are in tune with the people they serve. Infrastructure organizations help make that possible.

Flint nonprofits were ready to help when crisis hit, due in part to long-term support from regional and national infrastructure organizations. For Mott, this example also rings true across our national and international work — from Flint to the Amazon, Central and Eastern Europe, and South Africa.

Creating and maintaining a robust infrastructure isn’t a problem to be solved. It’s a never-ending process that is essential to nurturing and sustaining a strong philanthropic and nonprofit sector and a vibrant civil society. The Mott Foundation would never want to see a world where civil society fades away because we didn’t do all we could to sustain and protect it.

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