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Advancing Public-Private Partnerships: 20 Years of the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison

Karen Aldridge-Eason, the first foundation liaison, reflects on the power of collaboration and the last two decades of brokering innovative funding partnerships between the state and philanthropy.


The Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL), the first office of its kind in the nation, has supported partnerships and strategic collaborations between the executive branch of state government and Michigan philanthropy for the last 20 years.

OFL operates in a nonpartisan position in the governor’s administrative offices and works to identify and broker innovative partnerships between philanthropy and the executive branch of state government to create better outcomes for Michigan’s children, families and residents, particularly those most marginalized.

“It’s a multi-faceted role,” Karen Aldridge-Eason, Foundation Liaison, said. “We see our role first as a listener and observer, then as a counselor, convenor and facilitator. We network and bring together what is sometimes unexpected and different potential partners to the table. It is all with a focus on how philanthropy and state government can work more effectively with their nonprofit partners and others to serve Michigan families and children better.”

Office of Foundation Liaison

OFL was created at the suggestion of Michigan philanthropic leaders. The late David Campbell, former president and CEO of the McGregor Fund, and David Egner, president and CEO, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, CMF trustee and founding Chair of the OFL Advisory Committee (FLAC), approached the then-newly elected Governor Jennifer Granholm about creating such an office.

In 2003, Aldridge-Eason transitioned from director of Flint programs at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to serve as a loaned executive to the state of Michigan, where she has continued working through three administrations.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started in this role. I did a lot of listening and learning. I had been a state employee in a previous life, I understood their struggle. I was trying to hone in on their priorities, and I knew that coming in, we would have to match up. What was philanthropy interested in that the Governor was also interested in?” Aldridge-Eason said.

Aldridge-Eason shared that OFL has navigated administration transitions of three governors with the support of Michigan foundations and the FLAC.

It has been with the support of the FLAC, CMF and the leadership of the OFL team that the OFL has become a model across the country, with other states sharing an interest in creating their own.

OFL recently shared Foundation-Government Liaison Offices: Why and How of Michigan Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison, highlighting learnings about the key considerations in starting and operating a liaison office successfully.

Aldridge-Eason shares that at the heart of this work has been the shared efforts to deepen and advance effective public-private partnerships and collaboration.

Office of Foundation Liaison

“Leading doesn’t always have to come from philanthropy, it can come from government or community. It’s important to be open to that,” Aldridge-Eason said. “It’s also not about the money always. Sometimes, it’s about the transfer and sharing of knowledge or that willingness to think and work together to solve the problem. That is often how we approach it.”

Aldridge-Eason shared that over the years, there has been more public awareness of the importance of equity, creating greater partnership opportunities between the state government and philanthropy.

“There’s a great opportunity to help state government understand what a commitment to equity could look like and what that means. How do we train to think differently about the impact and not that we’re just implementing a policy?” Aldridge-Eason said. “There’s a lot of room between the laws that get passed and how policy gets implemented. How can philanthropy think about using its voice and its resources to help government and government civil servants see themselves as servants to all people? That’s an opportunity I hope we don’t miss.”

Aldridge-Eason shared that she would love for Michigan to be the first state to look at its policies and procedures through an equity lens in a comprehensive way and that philanthropy works with them, while also doing it for the sector.

“Rather than moving on once policies are implemented, really saying ‘we’re not going to move on, we’re going to look at who’s getting quality childcare, housing needs in community, immigration issues, and are we being supportive?’ If we get equity right, everything else will fall into place. If we get it right, those working on early childhood will do it in a way for all people. If we get it right, kids won’t be as at-risk in the education system because we will handle that and give them what they need,” Aldridge-Eason said.

Want more?

Learn more about the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison.

During the CMF 51st Annual Conference in November, our Michigan community of philanthropy celebrated OFL and was joined by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on the conference's main stage. Whitmer spoke to the power of effective and innovative public-private partnerships and offered insights on the important collaboration of Michigan philanthropy and state government to serve the children and families of our state. Watch Here.

David Campbell, former president and CEO of the McGregor Fund, and David Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation shares more on the history of OFL. Watch Here.