A mid-year collection of interesting and insightful thinking about grantmaking and giving.
Joshua Mitchell on payment and gifts, and inglorious real work
“Social justice is a political project. It’s a project of establishing who owes who what. This is the essence of identity politics. The purpose is not to accomplish things. The purpose is to call out groups and establish your debt and innocence points. To move philanthropy to social justice is to completely misunderstand the relationship between the world of payment and the world of gifts.”
“You go into the communities that are in distress and you find the people who, by grace and good fortune, are the pillars of the community. [They] might not be the ones on the organizational chart, but they are the people that those in trouble go to. And you ask them the question: how can we help?
“If you are in a position where you can help, and so many of us are, why don’t we start by looking at our neighbors and our neighborhood and our local communities? It’s not grand and glorious. But that’s where the real work will get done.”
Steven M. Teles on movement philanthropy’s most-pivotal role
“[P]hilanthropy often plays its most pivotal role” at the early stage of a movement—“that stage of getting things going. … [O]nce you do that, philanthropy often plays a less important role, but it plays a very important role at that early stage.”
Henry Olsen on a way forward for post-Trump conservative philanthropy
“Historically, conservative philanthropists have not been interested in speaking to” those who voted for Obama and Trump. Conservative philanthropists “tend to be much more conventionally conservative. If anything, the donor class tends to lean farther in the anti-government direction than the voters within the Republican party as a whole, so they push in the opposite direction as a whole ….”
Looking forward, “what will be interesting is to see whether or not those donors will revert to their pre-Trump interest and be people who will be pushing the Republican coalition more in a small-government, low-taxes direction or whether they will have seen what Trump brought and say, well, maybe we need to move in a direction that finds the sweet spot between the populist voters who don't like conventional Republican and conservative policies and those who do. That would be a welcome development ….”
“I don’t want to be overly critical, because I do have support from many people who are in the conservative donor class who see value in my work personally. What I say to them is to be broad-minded about other people who are doing similar work and saying that this should be a broader part of our investment. I do not favor, nor do I think it is politically tangible, to have a purely populist party as a political movement in the United States of America. What is needed is a symmetry, an alliance, between elements of traditional conservatism and elements of what we, I think, can call populism.”
Such a symmetry or alliance would, would simply be “an adaptation of what Ronald Reagan said in his 1977 address to the CPAC [Conservative Political Action Conference] meeting, entitled ‘A New Republican Party,’ where he spoke of different types of conservatism that did not agree on everything.” These various types “both unite against a common enemy and, more importantly, have core values in common that are rooted more in the question of what it means to be an American, as opposed to what should America do with respect to” the economy.
“If you simply take that 1977 speech and update it for the issues of our day, you have the way forward ….”
Eugene B. Meyer on the constant pressure between today and tomorrow
Ideas “are more difficult to fund and support. It is easier, relatively speaking—it’s never easy, but it's easier—to get support for political ideas.” In the long term, however, “ideas are even more important, although I certainly would say short-term ideas matter, too. …
“There is always pressure for any philanthropist, it doesn't have to be a conservative one,” having to deal with the objection, “‘Well, well, that's all very nice, but X is happening today.’ Yeah, X happened today—and Y will happen tomorrow, and both matter …. I think that's a constant pressure.”
Chester E. Finn, Jr., on straightening up and flying right
“Think if Irving Kristol were alive today. He would say, Let’s straighten up and fly right, conservative philanthropy. The battles that you were waging 10 and 20 years ago, progress was made, but the battlefield is not being abandoned by the other side …. Progressivism is alive and well and kicking hard, and conservatism, if there is such a thing today, needs to push at least to start in the other direction.”
Marc Gunther on a harm of Bloomberg’s power, and individual agency and responsibility
“[B]illionaire philanthropy does not deserve our automatic gratitude. It’s an expression of power. And therefore, it really should be looked at in terms of what its impact is. How is that power being thrown around?
“[W]hen applied to Bloomberg and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which is its biggest grantee and by far the dominant organization in the anti-tobacco movement, I think there’s a significant risk that this campaign will do more harm than good. It’s quite misguided. It’s not based on science. …
“[T]he whole role of personal responsibility, the whole question of what people are responsible for doing for themselves, is rarely something that is considered or debated in philanthropy when we talk about structural and systemic forces. We often forget that we are all individuals. This may be a very backward or white-privilege point of view, but I do believe we are individuals who have choices and can make choices ….”
“I worry that if we focus too much on the structures and systems, we’re condescending in some ways to the people we say we want to help and we’re also not giving them the agency to make individual decisions and choices to improve their lives. Maybe one question for philanthropy is, how do we encourage that sense of individual and family responsibility?”
John H. Cochrane on the politicization of nonprofitdom, and freedom and subsidization
“Many nonprofits do good work, but even things organized as profit-making companies can do good work. The issue at hand is the tax and other protections for nonprofits. If you just look out the window, you can see that many nonprofits have been misused for political purposes. The nonprofit structure allows you to give money, tax-deductible, to organizations whose primary purpose is partisan political advocacy, buttressing political candidates from one side or another.
“There’s a difference between freedom and tax deduction. Thank you for mentioning that. In my world, you will be perfectly free to give to any cause you want as you are now perfectly free to give to a political candidate, which is not tax-deductible. We just aren’t going to subsidize your freedom to give to particular things or other things.”
Michael Lind on philanthropy’s overwhelmingly leftward tilt, and what to do about it
Conservative philanthropy “played a terrific role in promoting intellectual discourse and debate in the U.S. These fairly small foundations, like the Bradley Foundation, they were dwarfed by the size of Ford and Rockefeller and these huge liberal foundations, [but] they really provided an alternative to the center-left conventional wisdom of the day.
“My general view of philanthropy is the longer leash, particularly when you have intellectuals, the better. One of the problems is that there’s less and less general support of the kind that the Bradley Foundation gave very generously to neoconservative publications and think tanks and institutions.”
“Now, as in the past, the philanthropic money goes overwhelmingly to the left. That’s just always been the case. At this stage, what was called the ‘adversary culture’ has become a monoculture.”
In the right’s response, “there’s a trade-off between agenda-promoting and institution-building,” and both are needed. There’s a long-term game and a short-term game. For short-term agenda-promoting, “that’s why we have political parties.”
For long-term institution-building, “I think the nonprofit sector can play a role there. The political parties cannot. The parties have to win the next election. That’s what they’re focused on. They’re not thinking about higher education in 2035 or the basic family policies in the welfare state that you want in the 2040s and 2050s.
“At this point, the enemies of conservatism own every institution in society. … The only institution in which conservatives have some voice are in legislatures—state legislatures and the Congress. …
“I always feel like I’m contradicting myself saying we shouldn’t be too partisan, but you should build institutions. Historically, movements succeed with what Bernard Crick—the great British political philosopher—called ‘extra-parliamentary institutions.’
“Separate and apart from political parties, extra-parliamentary institutions help mobilize citizens in opposition to or support of public or social ideals.
“The reason these extra-parliamentary institutions are important is because” they’re “playing the long game. … If they lose, they’re not going to change their tune.
“[T]he disempowerment of much of the working class in the U.S. comes from the disintegration of these intermediate organizations—some of which conservatives like, like churches, and some of which they don’t necessarily like, like trade unions.”
Conservatives and conservative philanthropy “can still try to influence debate,” he concludes, but they “need to build up particularly city-level or neighborhood-level organizations” that try to solve problems like these groups do.
Ryan Streeter on propinquity and philanthropy
“[W]hen people are close to each other, but also close to the kinds of institutions at the neighborhood level that bring them together, whether formally or informally, good things just happen as a result of that.”
To be an effective giver, “[y]ou have to have some knowledge of the community or at least know people who do.” As long as “people are motivated and they have a vision of what they want to achieve, making it possible for them to do what they need to do is sometimes a question of resources. That’s where social entrepreneurs and people with money to give can actually make a real difference, by bringing those people together and just letting them do what they’ll do.”
Fred Smith on learning in the context of a relationship, and religion and philanthropy
When The Gathering incorporated as its own nonprofit organization in 1996, it “was basically people who didn’t have peers, or felt they didn't have peers, coming together to talk to each other. It was very informal. Once we got into it, I mean it became an annual conference … but the original group was just very casual, informal, no agenda.” It was “people who wanted to educate each other, what we call learning in the context of a relationship. And that’s basically what it’s remained over the years.” While it now includes hundreds, “it’s still a place where people come to learn in the context of a relationship.
“I think one of the roles that The Gathering played was giving people a place to stretch. In fact, that was part of the mission statement … to stretch people, not to harm them, not to frighten them .… I'm an old schoolteacher, and so that’s the kind of environment that I really wanted to create.”
“I think you could almost prove that philanthropy comes out of religion. If you look at the formation of the institutions that were created to do philanthropy—I mean, the early hospitals, universities—so much has come out of our religious roots.
“The word philos, from which philanthropy comes, is a Greek word and it means two people who have something in common. It doesn’t mean the love of a person. It means having something in common that you both love. One of my concerns about large philanthropy is it’s almost impossible for large things to feel like they have something in common with the people that they’re working with …. [O]ne of the advantages of religious philanthropy” is the better possibility of finding that commonality.
Michael Mechanic on politics and charity
“[N]onprofits are not supposed to be overtly political. ... They’re doing a lot of sort of political manipulation and spreading political ideology. I mean, it’s free speech. I guess you can do that. But, you know, I kind of wonder whether such things should be subsidized by the public.
“I think government has to get interested in this because you have to lay down some ground rules for what constitutes a charity. … These things should be really thought through and debated,” though “it would be hard to do in this partisan atmosphere, too big a thing.”
Brent Haglund on environmental philanthropy and actual solutions
“There's a risk of things that are associated with climate change sucking all of the oxygen out of the room for environmental philanthropy. That could be directed to actual solutions, some of which are related to climate change.”