A mid-year collection of interesting and insightful thinking about grantmaking and giving.
Building a lasting infrastructure
Good giving should be “about building a lasting infrastructure for grassroots organizing, because a lasting infrastructure means better skills. If your movement is based on energy, when that energy dissipates, if there isn’t an infrastructure that preserves the lessons learned and preserves a foothold for the next generation, when a new grassroots movement emerges, it has to learn the same lessons all over again. I think this is why a lot of righty grassroots movements start out very energetic, but in the end, mostly fail.”
Small donors and local organizations
“My interest lies more in what the millions of small donors are doing, and I don’t want them to be discouraged from finding, and supporting, and volunteering in their own local organizations. Look, I’m an active, conservative person, writing on conservative themes, and so I’m glad that the major conservative foundations exist, and I hope that they can influence the universities and all of that. But I think that’s distinct from Americans of all walks being involved in their own communities in ways outside the government, and I view that as an end in itself that we need to celebrate and protect.”
“[W]e could see that again”
Asked whether we could perhaps see cross-ideological overlap in the critique of philanthropy in the coming years, University of Notre Dame Law School professor Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer answers, “We certainly could. … Private foundations, over 50 years ago, were in the crosshairs of exactly that sort of alliance of concerns that wealthy individuals, oligarchs, through primarily private foundations were influencing politics, among other things, and doing other things that were of concern to Congress. That eventually led to much-tighter restrictions applied to foundations in terms of what they can do, particularly when it comes to politics, tighter than charities generally face under the Internal Revenue Code. So we could see that again.”
Time to look around and assess
“The money, the philanthropy that’s been supporting what some people have called ‘Conservative, Inc.,’ I think they’re going to have to re-examine where they’re putting their money ….
“The old game has been changed substantially. It’s a different world right now. … It’s a time for philanthropists to realize that, to recognize that. If the goal of this is actually to show your best love of mankind, you might want to kind of look around and assess. Is this the best way to bring a philanthropic bang for your buck?”
Potential strange bedfellows
“If you took a look at the top 25 funders of public policy—again there, broadly construed—I think you can easily say that the majority of those funders are what I would call either kind of centrist, pragmatic funders or center-left or progressive. There are a handful of conservative, but I think that’s right, I think big philanthropy tilts left. …
“[T]his could be one of those rare moments in politics where we do have strange bedfellows. On the left, there’s a concern that efforts to become a more-inclusive, egalitarian, multiracial democracy—that those efforts have stalled, and in fact that we may be experiencing a backlash. I think that on the right, you have a kind of a similar concern, and that’s that the liberals, progressives, have kind of colonized all the big institutions of society …. Philanthropy is already starting to get caught up in that debate.”
— “A conversation with Duke University’s Kristin Goss (Part 2 of 2),” March 30, 2022
Flat-footedness and chafing
“Clearly,” conservative philanthropy was “caught flat-footed by the rise of Trump. I know you agree with that. In a way, Trump had neither the backing of, nor was he sort of informed by, Conservative, Inc. In some ways, [he] ran against conservatives. I remember watching the debates in 2015, 2016, and just and finding it actually thrilling. I’m sure you found it maybe more concerning … Conservative philanthropy has been sort of catching up” ever since.
“Certainly,” among many progressives, “there’s some chafing at the sort of nonprofit left, which is overly professionalized. They go to the same wealthy universities and then [we] end up with a bunch of people speaking the same language that’s alienating to the base Democratic voter, not to mention Republican voter. So I think there’s a backlash to that in the Democratic party, too, yeah, but I don’t know if that translates into a hostility to philanthropy as such.”
Arrogance and learning
“One of the things that I’ve noticed is that people in many places in philanthropy are less inclined for collaboration. They like to tell nonprofits to collaborate, but they really like to just do their own thing and just tell people what to do. I think there’s a certain arrogance in philanthropy at times that’s hard for nonprofits to overcome and it’s too bad because I think we have a lot to learn. And I think that we need to approach things as much as we can as really equal partners and learners.”
The long view, and a proper pace
“One of the opportunities of foundations or a philanthropy is to take a longer view, but it’s important to have a point of view and it’s important not to accept a pace that is so slow as to underutilize the assets ….”
— “A conversation with Terry Considine (Part 1 of 2),” June 27, 2022