Jeff files this post from Anchorage where he is catching up with Philanthropy Northwest members and the Alaska Funders Group. He then travels to Gig Harbor, WA and Missoula, MT before joining the Philanthropy Northwest Foundations on the Hill delegation in Washington, D.C.
In the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to listen in on two thoughtful conversations about philanthropy’s social compact and what’s needed to sustain it. They remind me how fortunate we are to live in a society that values open and transparent debate about what we believe. One of the hallmarks of our sector is philanthropic freedom which allows donors to make their own charitable decisions free of onerous regulation and invites them to pursue diverse approaches to strengthen community resilience. That diversity, rooted in different values, inevitably leads to ongoing healthy debate that reflects the tension found in society generally. These two conversations are good illustrations of that debate.
Recently, colleague Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), introduced NCRP’s recommendations for good practice in philanthropy to members of another regional philanthropy community. That practice, as encapsulated in NCRP’s three year old voluntary initiative “Philanthropy’s Promise,” prescribes that a foundation commit at least 50% of its grantmaking to explicitly benefit at least one underserved community plus another 25% to nonprofit advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement. To date, 170 foundations (15 from the Pacific Northwest) representing $3.8 billion in annual grantmaking have signed on. Aaron has crafted a growing sector initiative that seems similar to the type of community-based movements often capitalized and celebrated by philanthropy across the country. He prefaced the voluntary nature of the initiative in the following manner:
“It should be no secret to anyone on this webinar today that private philanthropy isn’t all that private anymore. To the extent that those that don’t work in our sector think about foundations at all, many of them feel as though foundations are just a bunch of rich folks with special tax privileges who don’t want to help people who need it most. Members of Congress are paying attention to foundations and asking more questions than they used to. The Senate Finance Committee is considering fundamental tax reform and is asking every industry that gets preferential tax treatment to justify itself. State legislatures and attorneys general…are looking more closely at charities and foundations… And so the public and many lawmakers want to have a say in private philanthropy…. We’re going to explore what foundations can do to improve how they operate…
Responding early last week, colleague Adam Meyerson, president of The Philanthropy Roundtable, penned an open letter entitled “America’s Philanthropic Spirit Thrives on Freedom, Not Mandates” in which he reminded us that while philanthropic freedom and “voluntary” are consistent, “activist groups using the threat of legislation to impose their own charitable preferences” places that freedom in jeopardy.