I’ve used this space in the past to take a critical look at philanthropic practice and what foundations can do better. Well, hold on to your hats…today I’m writing about something they’ve done well.
A couple months ago, shortly after the shellacking President Obama took in the polls, I was watching television and came across a familiar face: Oprah’s B.F.F. Dr. Mehmet Oz. Although he was a well known guest on the “Queen of Talk’s” show and now hosts a popular show of his own, in this advertisement he takes on a new role speaking about the imperative for all Californians to learn about the new health care reform law. It was brilliant to see Dr. Oz leave a patriotic, balloon-filled room and float through a hospital corridor, all the while delivering a message about Californians’ responsibility to learn about upcoming health care changes. But what really blew my mind was this—the ad ends with, “paid for by The California Endowment” and a proudly emblazoned logo.
Foundations are usually reticent to become involved in policy issues for fear that it will jeopardize their privileged tax status. What struck me as extraordinary was the Endowment’s willingness to take a stand on a live and contentious topic, especially since the aforementioned shellacking suggested that not everyone is enamored with the new law. The Endowment’s support for this advertisement and the Get Covered California campaign carries out a philanthropic mandate to inform and educate the public about issues that are timely and that matter. That they used a well-recognized, pop culture figure to do so—well, that was the icing on the cake. What the Endowment really did was exhibit true leadership. Kudos to them.
My greatest hope that is that other foundations will think about following their example.