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Summer of Service: During the summer of 2014 the IOP is proud to sponsor and work with over 150 students who are spending their summers in politics and public service around the world. Learn more about this program.

Authored by IOP Director's Intern with The Council on Foundations Jack Smith '15.

This summer, I’m working in D.C. with the Council on Foundations, which is a member organization comprised of roughly 2,000 family, community, and private philanthropic foundations that advocates for and produces programming for the philanthropic sector. I looked into working with the Council because I am keenly interested in the nonprofit sector, and, after having taken a class at the Kennedy School this past semester on the subject, in philanthropy in particular. I’m excited by the field’s possibilities for social change in environments unfavorable to the private sector, and its ability to be bold and innovative where public sector programs can’t be.

This past year, Americans gave over $335 billion to causes they cared about—and, according to Giving USA’s Annual Report, that number is on the rise. That giving goes to a wide array of subject areas, from religious and educational institutions, to global health and economic development organizations, and even to arts and culture organizations.  

While individual gifts make up the largest portion of that figure, foundation giving accounts for about 15% of all giving (more than $50 billion)—and that’s where the Council comes in. We provide services and programs for foundation leaders, like our major Annual Conference and varied workshops, our online webinars and knowledge-sharing platform, and various research reports and documents. In addition, the Council on Foundations has a public policy arm that advocates for tax policy favorable to giving.

With the Council, I am working on the communications team. While at first I was a bit apprehensive about the position, having never worked in comms before, I quickly discovered just how expansive and dynamic this work is.

Much more than just writing copy for external messaging (which we certainly do), the Communications team here plays a larger strategic role—shaping the direction and image of the Council, both with our members and our external partners in the sector. We really do have a hand in every product and event that the Council puts out, and are kept quite busy by staying on the pulse of the organization!

While to this point my work has largely consisted of getting up to speed on the many services and products the Council distributes, I hope to take on a larger project soon, developing a new product of my own: A Media Guide to Philanthropy. This will (hopefully) be a useful tool in helping members of the media understand this diverse and ever-changing sector—one which often draws its fair share of news!

Working with the Council has exposed me to both the exciting work of communications and the broad field of philanthropic organizations. While I’m still sorting out what exactly I want to do post-graduation, I know that it will be something in public service, and I can now add philanthropy to an already long list of potential avenues! Moreover, I feel that the skills I’m learning here can translate well to just about any field, as every large organization needs to be thinking strategically about its communications in order to deliver a coherent, unified message to the public and empower its brand.

If you want to learn a bit more about what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis, you can check out This Week at the Council, a weekly bulletin I’ve recently been contributing to.