PACE 2019: Our Year in Review
There is no shortage of perspectives, commentary, debate, and analysis — both in the media and across public discourse — on the challenges facing our republic and the toxic polarization Americans are grappling with. 2020 is a pivotal year for American democracy, and the country is poised to spend the year hearing reflections, opinions, and suggestions for tackling the most critical issues of our time — much of which will happen against a divisive and contentious backdrop. How we engage — with institutions and each other — will have long-lasting consequences for our American experiment in self-governance.
“American democracy, which has never been without profound flaws, cannot be taken for granted.” — The Editors at The New Yorker
With so much at stake, it is only appropriate we kick off our new year with a new strategic direction for Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) — recommitting to a vision where Americans are informed and empowered to contribute to the health and vibrancy of the country’s democracy and civic life.
But before I elaborate and share the details of our new strategic direction, I want to take a moment to articulate PACE’s 2019 accomplishments because they inform how we move forward from here to strive toward this ambitious vision.
Where we’ve been
2019 helped solidify PACE’s role in the field of civic philanthropy and positioned us to work toward our new vision for 2020 and beyond. You can find a quick summary of 2019 in the compilation our team put together on Twitter — #PACEMoments2019 — where we took a look back at what PACE accomplished, learned, and shared with our community throughout 2019.
This past year has served as the culmination of our three-year exploration into three strategic questions:
- How can philanthropy create spaces for people to come together around complex and divisive issues?
- How can investments in civic engagement increase health and safety outcomes for communities?
- How can philanthropy invest in information and education that prepares people for active civic participation?
We’ve been working toward these questions since 2017 (see our 2017 and 2018 reflections to look back on the journey). In 2019, we culminated our explorations by releasing projects, data sets, reports, and essays that both aimed to address each of these questions and also shared findings and reflections from our members and partners in the field on how philanthropy can strengthen democracy and civic life.
Each of the strategic questions was complex in its own right. They offered us an opportunity to engage with a wide range of PACE members and work closely with philanthropists, private sector leaders, and thought leaders through the work we undertook to address each question.
PACE Fellow Decker Ngongang spent over a year exploring what contribution PACE could make to helping people come together across complex and divisive issues. Civility — and the need for more of it — emerged as a prevalent theme across the conversations. Late in 2019, Decker published the culmination of his work: “Bridging Civic Divides: An Exploration and Essay Series.” Literally defined, “civility” means “befitting a citizen.” How might our collective work shift if we embraced this framing and worked toward demonstrating leadership and behavior that reflects the integrity of our citizenship and honors the dignity of others’ citizenship as well?
Throughout 2019, we also took a look into the language our field uses to describe work in civic engagement and democracy, and how they resonate (or don’t) and carry political or politicized connotations. We released our Language Perceptions Project with focus groups and surveys, and we made the data publicly available to further democratize the research process. One thing we heard through this project, which has broad implications across our work and for the field, is that most Americans struggle to articulate a vision and aspiration for what a strong democracy can look like. We believe the process of engaging people in envisioning the future they want to be part of, and working together to achieve it, is one with huge potential for our field, and potentially for our society.
For about 18 months, we’ve hosted a working group to explore the impact of youth civic engagement on health, safety, and equity of US communities. This work culminated in 2019 with the release of our multi-pronged “Youth Civic Engagement, Health, and Safety” project, which included a literature review, paper, and a series of essays from a diverse set of contributors, including young people themselves. Additionally, PACE fellow Marian Mulkey authored a piece in Health Affairs, calling for fresh thinking around health and safety outcomes for communities and individuals, and encouraging funders and practitioners to engage youth as allies to advance community health, equity, and safety. This project was integral to PACE’s core belief — that America will be healthier, more successful, resilient, and productive if democracy is strong and the office of citizen is treated as central to how it functions . We believe that civic engagement, while a worthy end in itself, is also a critical means to advance outcomes that matter to all Americans.
We continued to engage PACE’s Civic Learning Affinity Group over the course of 2019, sharing recommended readings on advances in civics education and opinions on improving civic learning, and participating in partnerships and discussions that highlight the importance of investing in high-quality civics education. At PACE, we believe engagement in our republic is essential to making sure our communities and country thrive; and that belief can only be fully realized if people are informed and educated about how our representative democracy works, and how to productively and effectively engage within it. This type of learning and education can happen in many contexts (including schools, families, workplaces, and online), and should be continuous across all stages of life.
We also added new voices — from VolunteerMatch, Hearken, the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas Austin, Southern California Public Radio, and more — to our commentary on the intersection of news, technology, and democracy through our Infogagement publication, which was released in 2018 but we continued to update through 2019. And a “sequel” to Infogagement released this year has us continuing to think about the collision course these fields are on, and how that influences our lives and interactions, both consciously and subconsciously.
Growing the Field
Over the last few years, as interest in civic engagement and democracy has increased across the field of philanthropy, we’ve also sought ways to support funders seeking to come into this work, as well as help funders already in the work explore it through new lenses and angles. That has taken a few different forms.
- We welcomed 8 new foundation members into our network, bringing us to nearly 60 — the largest and most diverse membership in our organization’s history.
- We expanded our suite of primer resources with a Democracy Primer to visualize the components of democracy. It was released at the Funders Summit on Democracy and Civic Life, which we co-hosted with our friends at the Democracy Funders Network in April.
- We teamed up with PACE member, the New Economy Initiative, to explore the reciprocal relationship between entrepreneurs and the communities that support them in our new paper, “Entrepreneurial Reciprocity: The Case for Entrepreneurs’ Engagement in the Community.” The paper seeks to understand and share the philosophies, attitudes, and activities of entrepreneurs related to their communities.
- We announced Faith In/And Democracy — our first-ever pilot pooled funding and learning initiative to explore the ways faith and faith communities can support democracy and civic life. Following a nationwide RFP, the Faith In/And Democracy initiative selected five grantees from a diverse and competitive pool. We are also intrigued by what the potential of pooled funds may represent for PACE in the future.
Where we go from here
PACE is thrilled to be kicking off 2020 with a new strategic vision and role that will guide our work from 2020–2022. Under the newly approved plan, PACE’s mission is to serve as “a philanthropic laboratory for funders seeking to maximize their individual and collective impact on democracy and civic life in America.”
The PACE community achieves this through learning, experimenting, collaborating, and modeling vibrant civic space. Download a summary of our new strategic direction here.
The past 3 years of our previous strategic plan focused on exploring strategic questions and sharing the findings from that work with the wider field of civic philanthropy. The next three years will build on our strong tradition of cultivating fellowship and learning, and deepen it by facilitating collaborations that make our learning an active, participatory, and actionable process. We will engage our members and the overall field in experiments and learning opportunities that stretch the typical boundaries of philanthropic work. By “learning outside the bubble,” addressing typical power imbalances that exist in philanthropy, populating our work with a diversity of voices, and fostering a culture of continual learning, we can support funders in efforts that maximize their impact on democracy and civic life.
We look forward to engaging with you this year on our new strategic direction. In the meantime, we encourage you to subscribe to our newsletters, and follow us on Twitter and our Medium channel Office of Citizen for regular updates from our members and the wider field of civic philanthropy. And if you really want to work with us, we have begun a search for two new PACE staff members, as well as released an RFP for an evaluation consultant.
We are grateful for all you do to advance our shared democracy and strengthen civic life in America. PACE looks forward to working with you in 2020 and beyond.
Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE)