March 22, 2007, 12:00 - 2:00 PM - Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters
Transcript Now Available - Click Here!
Thursday, March 22, 2007, Noon to 2:00 p.m.
Program and Panel
Welcome by Hudson Institute's WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
In his introduction to Taking Philanthropy Seriously: Beyond Noble Intentions to Responsible Giving (Indiana University Press, 2006), co-editor William Damon notes that "Philanthropy stands as an exception among the fields of highly consequential work in that it conducts its affairs without reference to common codes that are known throughout the field, learned by all practitioners, widely accepted, and circulated by an authoritative professional association."
This is profoundly unhealthy, he argues. “Philanthropy, like medicine and other professional activities, is a powerful intervention. It can and does change lives.” But because philanthropy is so manifestly well-intentioned, it tends to ignore the fact that, like any effort to change human lives, it can as readily lead to disaster as to improvement. The remedy, in his view, is to pay more attention to the harms that giving can produce, which will in turn evoke a new seriousness within philanthropy about developing its core “domain” – the “base of knowledge, skills, standards, and best practices the field has evolved to date.”
Does modern philanthropy tend to be insufficiently aware of the harms that it can produce, as well as the benefits? Should philanthropy seek to develop a greater sense of moral awareness and professionalism? Would greater professionalism dampen the passionate enthusiasm that often attracts individuals of wealth to philanthropy? How would it affect democratic responsiveness? On March 22, these and other questions were tackled by a panel of experts including editor William Damon of Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, Nonprofit Quarterly editor Ruth McCambridge, Albert Keith Whitaker of Calibre and Boston College, and Stanford University's Rob Reich, who has an essay in Damon's volume. The Bradley Center's William Schambra moderated the discussion.
As moderator, Schambra raised four questions for Damon and his fellow panelists:
In his presentation, William Damon outlined the project from which the book Taking Philanthropy Seriously emerged. Harvard University's GoodWork Project examined the professions of journalism, law, medicine, science, business, and philanthropy in light of the question, how can people accomplish good work under pressures, complexities, and all of the stumbling blocks and obstacles of modern life? "Philanthropy" was included in the study at the urging of the Hewlett Foundation, it should be noted; but what the project discovered about the profession "philanthropy," especially when compared to the professions of law and medicine, raised perhaps more questions than it answered about philanthropy's capacity for good work.
The five year study of philanthropy involved over two hundred interviews with donors, board, executives, staff members, venture philanthropists, grantees, and social entrepreneurs, as well as eight case studies of grants. Damon and his fellow researchers concluded that people in philanthropy have good intentions and are an ethical and hard-working lot. Yet many, among them John Gardner and Peter Drucker, are left to ask why philanthropy fails again and again, especially in light of the quality and sincerity of the people involved. Interviews uncovered several points of criticism of institutional philanthropy, including its inefficient use of time and money, its creation of dependencies, the resentment it often fosters, and its disrupting and even harmful effects it sometimes has. (Damon gave examples of each.) There are some success stories in philanthropy, Damon went on, and as a nod to the event organizers Damon dwelled on one of them: ideational funding such as that done by Olin, Bradley, Smith Richardson, and others. But there are common missteps of foundations, such as having misguided goals, underestimating the problem, under-assessing the outcomes, role confusion, non-transparency, and lack of learning on the part of the individual, organization, and field. Foundations, for example, don't write about their mistakes. "The field is not going to make any progress that way," Damon lamented. "Failure has to be seen as a step toward progress."
"Our recommendation is to open things up and learn from them," he concluded. His more general advice was that philanthropy develop a domain of knowledge, somehow aggregating the lessons foundations have learned and continue to learn with each grant.
Rob Reich (pronounced "Reesh"), the second speaker, wrote a chapter in Taking Philanthropy Seriously entitled "Philanthropy and Its Uneasy Relation to Equality." Reich questions the morality of tax-exemption for charitable giving, which it most cases worsens inequalities in society. In doing so, he also raises the issue of philanthropy's close relationship with liberty in American society, and its rather distant relationship with equality (helping the poor, the "good" that many expect of philanthropy). "Why do we have these tax policies? Why do we have these public policies governing the sector in the way we do?" are the questions with which Reich concluded his presentation.
Ruth McCambridge, editor of the Nonprofit Quarterly, also questioned philanthropy's ability to do good. "For the most part, the decision-making within a philanthropy is done by elites," she observed. "In a lot of cases, their world view does not at all coincide with the world view of the people for whom they are trying to give the money." But nonprofits still line up for grants, often accepting the "advice" of funders over their own knowledge of the needs of a community, thus robbing the community of its only voice. "And that is possible the worst damage that we could do," McCambridge told the audience, and then proceeded to give several examples from personal experience. "The people who are involved [in philanthropy]… would not have a clue how to do [philanthropy] in a reasonably moral way," she concluded. Therefore, the moral next step for philanthropy is not professionalization, which would be too great a leap for foundations. Echoing Bill Schambra's original question, McCambridge suggested instead that foundations democratize their decision-making "so that [they are] at least a little bit more aware of the damage that can be done." The field can't very well work from a body of knowledge that does not include the views of the beneficiaries of philanthropy, she added in response to Damon's remarks.
In his remarks, family philanthropy advisor Keith Whitaker compared philanthropy understood as a profession with philanthropy understood as a virtue. Aristotle defined ethical virtue as an activity of the soul in according with "the noble" or "the beautiful" (to kalon). Yet "beauty" isn't something one usually associates with philanthropy. It should be, Whitaker argues. And it's not something that can be fostered by professional standards or best practices. Virtues such as beautiful, graceful giving are fostered by ethos - character, a stamp, a way of life. To realize more virtuous philanthropy, Whitaker calls for givers to keep an eye out for examples of beautiful giving; to speak more with one another and with their recipients; and to see their giving "as fostering and blossoming in friendship" with the recipient as well as with the giver's own soul.
During the question-and-answer portion of the discussion, Bill Schambra acknowledged James Allen Smith in the audience. Smith also has an essay in Taking Philanthropy Seriously, and added to the discussion his view that the information historians have collected on foundations should be taken into account as part of a body of knowledge. Questions were asked by Rebecca Adamson of First Peoples Worldwide, Georgetown's Pablo Eisenberg, Nina Belyaeva of the Moscow-based Interlegal International Public Foundation, Hudson Institute's Amy Kass, American University's Curtis Gans, Johanna Edens of the Association for Small Foundations, and neighborhood civic leader Dino Drudi.
In response to Drudi's question about the skill set philanthropists might need, Damon and McCambridge emphasized a humble disposition. Damon added to the list the basic skills of inquiry, research, and communication.
Johanna Edens spoke of the fact that in her experience, foundations aren't interested in skills such as inquiry and communication with grantees; they'd much rather learn how to fill out a 990 PF form. Damon responded that it is necessary in every field of education to convince people that they need to know what you're trying to teach - otherwise known as "deficit creation." "This book is one small step in that direction, I hope," he concluded.
A reference to this event transcript was posted on the blog Washington, DistrictofChange.com ("a site for and about nonprofit organizations in Washington, D.C.") on April 2, 2007.
Click here to view the full list of Upcoming Events.
Home | Learn About Hudson | Hudson Scholars | Find an Expert | Support Hudson | Contact Information | Site Map
Policy Centers | Research Areas | Publications & Op-Eds | Hudson Bookstore
Hudson Institute, Inc. 1015 15th Street, N.W. 6th Floor Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202.974.2400 Fax: 202.974.2410 Email the Webmaster
© Copyright 2013 Hudson Institute, Inc.