The Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL), the first office of its kind, is celebrating 20 years of partnerships and strategic collaborations between the state and philanthropy.
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.
OFL was created in 2003 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 then-newly elected Governor Jennifer Granholm about creating such an office.
“Dave and I drew out a schematic saying, ‘What if we found a way for philanthropy and state government to exchange information when it was in our common interest and fill the gaps around the funds that each had?’” Egner said.
Karen Aldridge-Eason, a loaned executive from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, began her role as the first foundation liaison on April 14, 2003.
“Karen was the perfect person to run OFL with her experience at the state level and municipal level in philanthropy. Watching OFL grow from the early days, it was Karen fielding requests from state departments that were out of sync with philanthropy. It became a two-way street of translation so we could understand the state’s needs and priorities and where the gaps were, and then the other way it became what philanthropy was interested in where the state had a play but could help guide existing resources and funds in a meaningful and effective way,” Egner said.
Over the last two decades, Aldridge-Eason has worked with Michigan's governors, the executive branch of state government, foundations and the nonprofit community to help bring about positive, effective change.
“Public-private partnerships are extremely important, and in fact, the reason this office was originally created. We can’t do this work in addressing the inequities, the safety net concerns, alone. Philanthropy has an opportunity to test different things, to see what works best and share those proven strategies with state government. It’s a leverage opportunity, but it’s also a testing ground and a seeding of innovation that philanthropy can do,” Aldridge-Eason said.
Since it was created in 2003 OFL has worked in close partnership with CMF members to advance Michigan’s economic prosperity through reforms in the areas of P-20 education, the social safety net, workforce and economic development, health and much more.
“I am grateful that Michigan has an OFL. Meaningful collaborations are boosted by our ability to have multi-sector representation gather to achieve common goals. The talent around the table may change depending on the topic, however the OFL remains our convener and guide. Transformative work that spans different administrations is a product of the trust we, and our partners, have for OFL,” Jenee Velasquez, executive director of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation and CMF Trustee said.
This past year, OFL worked closely with CMF members to advance key collaborative efforts, including facilitating the growth of public-private partnerships and strategic discussions to strengthen cross-sector partnerships, convening public and private partners to support projects and initiatives to strengthen Michigan’s investments, educating funding partners about opportunities to leverage resources with the state, and researching and curating timely information about current issues to share with both state and philanthropic partners.
“OFL is so unique in the sense that it brings together philanthropy and state government as equal partners to look at ways we can solve some of the most pressing problems in Michigan. Under Karen Aldridge-Eason’s leadership and in partnership with CMF, OFL leverages collaboration that benefits the people of Michigan,” Neal Hegarty, vice president of programs for the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and chair of the FLAC said.
Navigating partnerships related to Michigan’s opioid settlement is one such recent example of how the office operates. As inequities laid bare by the pandemic continue to impact the health of Michigan’s children, families and communities, OFL has coordinated with CMF members to organize around Michigan’s opioid settlement dollars intended for localities across the state.
OFL hosted strategic conversations to address the information gaps related to the allocation of settlement funds, the state’s priorities and future plans for the state’s centralized fund and is currently helping funders navigate funding opportunities related to technical assistance, evaluation and communications.
“OFL is the first and longest-lasting office of its kind in the country. It has now become a flow where the state is asking for what it needs, but we're not feeding it the other way in the way that we could. So, if there's a hope, it's that foundations will start using OFL more in a meaningful way,” Egner said.
We’re looking forward to celebrating OFL’s 20th anniversary this month and beyond. Save the date for CMF’s 50th anniversary regional celebration in Detroit on June 28, hosted in partnership with OFL. This event in Detroit will be a time to commemorate OFL’s 20th anniversary and will feature a focused conversation with Trista Harris, a nationally known philanthropic futurist, to discuss current trends and how we can build the equitable future we want to see for ourselves, our sectors and our communities.
During the CMF 51st Annual Conference this November, there will also be an opportunity to celebrate OFL with our Michigan community of philanthropy.
Learn more about the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison.
Save the date for CMF’s 50th anniversary regional celebration in Detroit.