A year-end collection of interesting and insightful quotes.
“The job description for the search was in line with leading further grantmaking against John Emory Andrus’ intent.”
— Carolyn Jones, descendant of John Emory Andrus, describing the search for a new president to lead the Surdna Foundation founded by Andrus
“Entire critiques of philanthropy are being written without any discussion—literally, no discussion—of nonprofit organizations that are supported by philanthropy. ...
“We can talk about what the capital-gains tax rate should be, and we should talk about that, but that isn’t going to affect people who already have their wealth. I think we should be able to kind of have both conversations at once, and I think there’s been kind of an odd conflation of frustration with inequality, and with our approach to taxation, with a sort of broadside against philanthropy.”
“A lot of philanthropy today, in my opinion, is looking for the safe places to be—rather than to be what they were supposed to be.”
— Howard Fuller, civil-rights and parent-choice activist
“I think foundations now all want to have plans, and they all want to have milestones and benchmarks. Business consultants have identified foundations as a lucrative client base. Many foundation executives and many trustees are not fluent in business thinking. The idea of measuring the impact of their grantmaking seems like such a good idea. They have been sold on the idea, from business, that they can follow ‘best practices.’
“I find this kind of thinking fundamentally opposed to the innovative thinking that should characterize foundation leadership. In fact, the noting of using ‘best practices’ in business is questionable—it implicitly suggests looking for the common denominator. It has no place in philanthropy. It is akin to the foundations that hire consultants to help them devise a strategy. Just as in business, if the CEO and his or her team can’t determine the organization’s future path, they should be fired.”
— Carl Schramm, Syracuse University professor and former Ewing Marion Kaufmann Foundation president
“[I]t’s not bad to do your philanthropy quietly, especially if you’re trying to understand problems as opposed to promoting solutions. Another reason that you see so many of these modern donors be so PR-focused is they are promoting the solution, they’re not trying to understand the problem. To them, it is how do we get out there and really get attention from people?”
— Craig Kennedy, former German Marshall Fund president and former Joyce Foundation president
“Most things are going to fail. Education reform is really hard. Philanthropy is really hard. Most things are going to fail. Everyone should be comfortable with that reality. It’s really important to learn from that failure, and I think philanthropies have not been set up as learning organizations, especially when they’re part of a very insular and driven worldview that cannot falsify itself.”
— Jay Greene, University of Arkansas professor and Department of Education Reform chair
“By law and by spirit, our work should not be about reinforcing our political divisions. We absolutely need political parties and candidates to fight it out. That’s why we have elections and politics. That’s not a bad thing. But if philanthropy finds itself pulled and locked into those camps, then we become a support function for politics instead of serving as entities that are supporting the broader health of our society for the longer term.”
— Daniel Stid, director of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Madison Initiative
“I think one of the problems that we suffer from in 2019 is gigantism. Conservatives have always been worried about gigantic government and the tendency of the bureaucratic, administrative state to swallow all social functions into itself. But at the same time, we should be worried about other kinds of gigantism, other concentrations of power.
“One that worries me is the tremendous concentration of wealth over the last generation. ... One of my worries is that there’ll be an overconcentration of philanthropic activity among a very few, very, very, very few wealthy foundations. That’ll undermine the variety and the local focus of a healthy philanthropic culture.
“So I proposed the billion-dollar lifetime cap. Well, maybe that’s not the right way to go. Maybe we should say that you lose your charitable deduction if you give more than a billion dollars to any one charity or related charity. … That would probably be good for our philanthropic ecosystem.”
— R. R. Reno, First Things editor and author of Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West