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Fifteen years after publication of his book on the John M. Olin Foundation, its author talks to Michael E. Hartmann and Daniel P. Schmidt about Olin himself, his decision to “sunset” the foundation, the reasons for its success, and whether—and if so, how—other conservative givers could replicate that success now and in the future.

John J. Miller is a storehouse of knowledge—which he’s good at, and always enjoyably good-natured about, sharing. Miller directs the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he’s from and for whose teams he proudly and passionately cheers. He also founded the Student Free Press Association, which publishes The College Fix.

Miller is national correspondent for National Review and regularly contributes to The Wall Street Journal. He hosts two National Review podcasts, The Great Books and The Bookmonger.

Miller’s many books include two on philanthropy. His 2003 Strategic Investment in Ideas: How Two Foundations Shaped America, from the Philanthropy Roundtable, described the grantmaking strategies and tactics of the conservative John M. Olin and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundations.

And in 2006, his A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America, from Encounter Books, marked the Olin Foundation’s spendout of its assets the year prior. A Gift of Freedom examines the Olin Foundation’s activities and the way it worked in depth.

Miller also serves on the Apgar Foundation’s board of directors.

He was kind enough to speak with us late last month. In the first part of our two-part conversation, which is here, we talk about his editorship of The Michigan Review, philanthropic support for conservative campus journalism, and the benefits of a long-term outlook on the part of grantmakers in pursuit of ambitious projects like transforming the media.

The almost 19-minute video below is the second part of our discussion, in which we cover Olin himself, his decision to “sunset” the Olin Foundation, the reasons for its success, and whether—and if so, how—other conservative givers could replicate that success now and in the future.

Miller and Hartmann (top row) and Schmidt (bottom row)

The Olin Foundation, “was really playing a long game,” Miller tell us.

It was trying to figure out how to win a battle of ideas—not how to how to win the next congressional election or the next presidential election, but how are we going to secure an idea in the public mind and in public policy over the next generation?

Its legacy is not that Ronald Reagan was elected president, or George W. Bush, or whatever you want to say. Its legacy is today, there's a Federalist Society. Or today, there is a network of right-of-center student publications on major campuses around the country, or that [the Law and Economics school of thought] is firmly established in law schools around America, things like that. Those are the legacies of the Olin Foundation, not who voted how in whatever year.

There’s also some talk of Hillsdale College athletics, including onetime Detroit Red Wings forward Ted Lindsay’s brief stint as the Chargers’ hockey coach.

1 thought on “A conversation with journalist and author John J. Miller (Part 2 of 2)”

  1. Drew Anderson says:

    It is important to learn about the philosophy and impact of the Olin Foundation. It was consequential.
    I noted the donor was clear in his objectives and made sure good, compatible board members and key staff were hired. Henry Ford did not do either when his foundation was set up by his will.

    I agree a term limit can be beneficial if the donor considers it necessary. But with care, perpetuity can be a good choice to carry out thoughtful goals. I would suggest the Bradley Foundation is a good example( unless it has a sunset provision).

    Some foundations know what they want to do, select good board members and staff and invest wisely to maintain the purchasing power of their grantmaking abilities, They assume new problems and needs will arise so that they will have a ready field of competitive grant applications that fit their objectives. I know one thoughtful conservative foundation that was slightly larger than Olin in the 1970’s and it now 10 times larger while normally exceeding its mandatory payout requirements. It could be a different model than Olin.

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