President's Corner

Equal Voice for America’s Families Campaign

April 18, 2008

Luz Vega-Marquis
By Luz Vega-Marquis
President and CEO

Now that the Equal Voice campaign is in motion, I feel good about the choices we have made and about the direction of the campaign.

I have a number of reflections to share with you about the progress of the Equal Voice for America’s Families campaign and what comes next. We are in the midst of conducting dozens of townhall meetings across the country, and at each meeting, hundreds of families gather to explore their shared values, concerns and visions for our society. In June, the National Planning Committee meets in Chicago to review the townhall conversations and to synthesize families’ concerns and hopes into the platform for change that will be released at the September 2008 multicity convention.

The Equal Voice campaign is taking place at an opportune moment: People across the country are engaging in electoral politics and community mobilization efforts at unprecedented levels, often supported by the organizations that Marguerite Casey Foundation funds. Families are playing an important leadership and organizing role in a movement for change, and the Equal Voice campaign is a vibrant part of that movement.

Through the campaign, Marguerite Casey Foundation is leading and contributing to a directed discourse to make the public agenda more responsive to the needs of low-wealth families, a distinctive role the Foundation can play in building a movement for change. Foundations are uniquely positioned to tackle sensitive issues of public importance and to focus on long-term solutions other institutions may not have the patience, independence or resources to pursue.

Equal Voice is pushing a dialogue few others will push; yet, we are aware the campaign could get away from us at any moment if we are not disciplined about our message and our actions. I have spent considerable time reflecting on the presentation made by Deepak Bhargava at our last meeting, and on how the lessons learned from the Center for Community Change’s Heartland Presidential Forum and Campaign for Community Values can inform the Equal Voice campaign.

The five key insights from the Center for Community Change were:

  1. People are motivated. People are hungry to have their voices heard and are seeking opportunities to engage in efforts to create change.
  2. Cross-fertilization is vital. The process leading up to an event is essential to promoting cross-fertilization of ideas and to forging relationships that will last long after the events.
  3. Communications play a central role. Communications weave together all of the ideas, participants and efforts.
  4. Synthesizing ideas into an agenda is difficult. It is difficult to hear all the voices present and translate them into an agenda that makes sense.
  5. Message control is essential. Advancing and maintaining a clear and consistent message throughout a campaign is paramount to its success. The Center for Community Change lost control of its message as the event became more about the candidates than about families.

We are drawing on the experience of the Center for Community Change, and, where appropriate, we are doing things differently:

  • We have an incredible group of committed grantees and the leadership of talented individuals.
  • We have built a process that promotes cross-fertilization, leadership development and network building by means of townhall meetings planned and executed at the local level.
  • We keep families at the center of all our efforts: The campaign’s goal is to lift the voice of families, focusing on them as our key informants and our core audience through a comprehensive process of gathering and synthesizing input to inform a cohesive agenda that addresses the issues they face.
  • We are clear about our message, and we are maintaining control of that message. We are aware that the campaign’s message is timely, paralleling a remarkable desire for change and for community power in the country.

Now that the Equal Voice campaign is in motion, I feel good about the choices we have made and about the direction of the campaign. More than 1,200 families participated in campaign events in January, more than 1,500 families participated in February, and the numbers are growing as the campaign holds more townhall meetings for families to join in the dialogue. The events are building momentum for the September multicity convention, for which we will soon hire a coordinator to oversee logistics planning for the three sites and to work with grantees to mobilize and support families. As we prepare for the June meeting of the National Planning Committee to craft the platform, we are also looking ahead to what comes after the conventions and how we will sustain the movement for change.

At the forefront of our campaign management and planning is the central obligation to advance the Foundation’s vision and message, which means staying focused on families as our core constituency during the campaign and the events. We want attention paid to our efforts, but from whom? We want the attention of the media to achieve a broad impact, of course, but, more important, we want the attention of the families we seek to engage over the long term in a movement for change. Ultimately, that will be the key indicator of our success.

The Equal Voice campaign is a massive undertaking, but it was simplified for me recently by Jennifer Arwade of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Jennifer is a member of the Equal Voice National Planning Committee, and following the Springfield, Illinois, townhall meeting, she wrote to us:

The power of the connections created is so great that one participant [in the Springfield, Illinois, townhall meeting] wrote, “I felt my voice was spoken even when I wasn’t speaking.” We want to thank you again for the Foundation’s leadership in this campaign, … [we] truly believe this work will transform our communities’ ability to make change and to unite around one common agenda across race and class.

In the end, that is what Equal Voice is all about — giving a voice to families, transforming communities, and uniting people across differences. Marguerite Casey Foundation is providing families with the space and the opportunity to voice their concerns in a rich dialogue that will lead to tangible change in their lives and in their communities. In the coming months, I will keep you informed of our progress and the plans for the multicity convention in September.

Close-out Reports

I am pleased to present Marguerite Casey Foundation’s fifth formal cycle of close-out reports, this one for grants that ended between June 2007 and August 2007. The 10 grantees include long-term grantee partners such as Federation of Child Care Centers of Alabama (FOCAL) and People Improving Communities Through Organizing (PJCO). The policy impacts the grantees achieved range from changes in police department policies in Texas to industry-wide changes in fast food chains. With each cohort of close-out reports, we see the continued maturation of the Foundation’s grantmaking portfolios, as reflected in the grantees in the current cycle.

Home State Fund Policy Changes

You may recall that one of the items for consideration at the board’s annual retreat in Albuquerque was the Grantees’ Perception Report. That report contains data provided by our grantees in the Home State Fund, some of which we felt warranted further inquiry.

Alice Ito, the program officer for the region, delved into the creation of the fund, the grantee data, and the experience of the Foundation on its own and as part of joint efforts with Casey Family Programs. An ad hoc committee — Joan Poliak, William Bell, Kelly Brown, Alice Ito and I reviewed this paper and shaped the recommendations in policy we now put forth for your deliberation and approval. The paper appears behind the president’s report.

Personnel

I anticipate that, by April, the Foundation will have hired a program officer for evaluation, director of public policy, and chief financial officer. We are approaching the respective selection processes with care and patience, and I will keep you informed of our progress. I will provide an update at the board meeting.

Finance and Investment

During the first two months of 2008, in a difficult period for the capital markets, the Foundation’s investment portfolio declined 5.4 percent. However, the Foundation’s performance was favorable on a relative basis, as the portfolio outperformed its benchmark by 0.3 of a percentage point. The Foundation’s portfolio was valued at $691.1 million as of February 29, 2008. The portfolio’s asset allocation was closely in line with the interim policy targets.

In January, the Foundation made its first capital contributions to three private equity investments managed by Adams Street Partners — the Direct Fund 2008, the U.S. Fund 2008, and the non-U.S. Fund 2008 — to which commitments were made in 2007. The Foundation is making progress toward funding its real estate and private equity allocations and in achieving its long-term asset allocation. Through the end of March 2008, the Foundation will have met capital calls amounting to $1.7 million relating to its private equity commitments and $0.9 million toward its real estate commitments.

External Relations

I am pleased to report that the Council on Foundations’ summit planning committee has been quite productive. I hope the field will participate in the council’s upcoming conference – “Philanthropy’s Vision: A Leadership Summit” — to be held in the Washington D.C. area, May 4-7, 2008. I continue to chair the Public Policy Committee for the Independent Sector; the committee has focused on California Assembly Bill 624 (The Foundation Diversity and Transparency Act}, which, if passed, would require specified private Foundations to collect ethnic- and gender-related data and to publish that information on the Foundations’ Web sites and in their annual reports.

Questions

In closing, I ask you to consider the following questions:

  1. Now that the Equal Voice campaign is in progress, how do you feel about its strategies and direction?
  2. What more do you need to know as we prepare for the September Equal Voice multicity convention?
  3. As Marguerite Casey Foundation’s grantmaking matures, what are your views of the grantmaking portfolios and strategies?

Equal Voice for America’s Families Campaign

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