Blurring of private and public sectors
July 6th, 2007Twenty years ago when I was hired to head this Foundation, there seemed to be a clearer line between governmental services and public financial support and private, nonprofit services and funding that was a mixture of private and public support. It was 1987 and while public/private partnerships were being touted, actual examples were still hard to come by.
So we fast forward to 2007 and the Grand Rapids community has just generously supported a project to open up all the city swimming pools which for the past few years were in peril of being closed due to loss of revenue sharing dollars funneled from the state to the city. Two years ago we hosted a forum of foundation leaders to meet with city leaders to discuss the budget problems and to help in our understanding. At that time, we cautioned the city that foundations may not be the source of revenue to keep all the pools open.
When the list of "pool" supporters was made public recently, there were a number of foundations, corporations, individuals who made the pools a reality for many city families and their children for this summer. A good story - but the story continues and where it goes is anybody's guess.
Just two years ago this Foundation provided more than $345,000 to build, renovate and supply libraries connected to various elementary schools of the Grand Rapids Public Schools. We were happy to do this because the schools are facing so many obstacles to funding and many people supported the libraries because each child deserves the opportunity to learn with materials that are current and resources that help them be able to compete ultimately in a global society . . . well it is a beginning.
What is the point of these examples? It is a discussion that will continue on about the increasing demand on philanthropy to provide financial support to programs and efforts previously considered governmental services funded with taxpayer dollars. This is not necessarily a new development but definitely one in Michigan that will continue to accelerate due to the state budget crisis with the deficit projected to be $2 billion in the next fiscal year starting October 1, 2007.
Any insights on this would be appreciated as it is a growing trend. My thought is that once private dollars replace public dollars even if it couched in all sorts of caveats, contingencies and no "promise" of future support, the die has been cast. One of my colleagues noted "has it done any harm?" I'm not so sure that is the question. Has it done any good and can the private sector continue to support these efforts over the long term even though compelling and laudable? I wonder . . .