Thoughts on philanthropy from The Giving Review’s “Conversations” in first half of 2023

Jul 5, 2023

A mid-year collection of interesting and insightful thinking about grantmaking and giving.

Criticism of philanthropy not new, but harsher

“[C]riticism of philanthropy may be harsher than it has ever been before, but it’s certainly not new. You just have to go back to see what John D. Rockefeller faced when he tried to get a federal charter for the Rockefeller Foundation and the kinds of things that were said at that time.

“I would say the critics now, in many cases, are calling for the end of private philanthropy … basically an extinction event, I think, is what they’re calling for.”

Florino “wanted to remind people that great philanthropy happens every day across this country and that we should work to make more of that—that if we have lost hope in our ability to use civil society for change, then we are indeed in a very, very bad space.”

—         “A conversation with symposium contributor Joanne Florino,” February 20, 2023


A growing convergence, which philanthropy will try to prevent

“I think one of the most-exciting potential developments in America, and which the philanthropic community will do everything it can to prevent in most cases, … is this growing convergence between, you could say, the Bernie Sanders left and the populist right. There are series of issues on which there is fairly broad agreement that we need to have a very different direction.”

—         “A conversation with symposium contributor Joel Kotkin,” February 27, 2023


Disarray and directionlessness in conservative philanthropy

Conservatism “seems to be in a state of intellectual and policy disarray. … I think you have to attribute some of the blame for that to the kind of directionless nature of conservative philanthropy for the last few years, maybe decades.

“On the one hand, conservative donors seem to know what they want, but they can’t admit it. In another respect, they don’t really know what they want, and that’s particularly true with respect to cultural-agenda items.”

On the right, “people seem very interested in the branding and this kind of general sort of ‘Are we conservative? What is conservatism?’ question—much less interested in actually formulating or implementing a serious policy agenda.”

—         “A conversation with symposium contributor Julius Krein,” March 3, 2023


Other philanthropic vehicles

“We are seeing a lot of philanthropy be conducted not through private foundations” and “we at least have to think of other vehicles, besides private foundations, when we look at these issues.

“I do think we pay a lot of attention to the income tax deduction, which doesn’t necessarily motivate. There are a couple other things we need to think about,” including the donation of appreciated assets and the estate tax. “We need to think about all the taxes and not just the income tax.”

—         “A conversation with Loyola Law School’s Ellen P. Aprill (Part 2 of 2),” March 9, 2023


David Rubenstein’s “patriotic philanthropy”

“I guess in many respects, you could say all philanthropy is patriotic because you’re trying to give back to the country.” The term “patriotic philanthropy” tries “to describe some of the type of philanthropy I’ve been doing, and that is to remind people of the history and heritage of our country. 

“My theory has been that people should know more about our history and heritage. Our representative democracy is premised on an informed citizenry and if we don’t have informed citizens—if people don’t know how our government works, know about our history—we’re not going to have as good a democracy as we should like.”

—         “A conversation with billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein (Part 1 of 2),” April 17, 2023


Capitalism and Catholicism, virtues and graces

“If you look at America and Fortune 500 companies, a disproportionate amount of the CEOs are Catholic. It’s sort of unusual to think about it, but it’s because the capitalist culture is consistent with the virtues of Catholicism, though we don’t really label it that.

“Catholics are not perfect. They were born with original sin, just like everybody else, right? They have a structure, but so do other faiths. I tell people in business, we’re going to be tempted more than ever. We need grace, and the sacraments, and you believe that or you don’t. These graces are what you need in order to pursue your career, your vocation as a businessperson.

“I think it’s that simple. We don’t have to be theologians. It’s those graces that protect us from making the wrong decisions in our lives.”

—         “A conversation with Catholic philanthropist Timothy R. Busch,” April 24, 2023


Populism, perpetuity, scrutiny, and civility

“We’re affected by the same forces impacting the rest of society. The rise of populism is intensifying all kinds of suspicions of the motives of the wealthy” and “a general distrust in institutions of all kinds.

“One thing that the Council will always be in support of is that some foundations are able to exist in perpetuity. We could absolutely be in favor of figuring out how to how to tighten up the regulations around private-foundation use of donor-advised funds and how it applies to payout, But what we wouldn’t be interested in is for that channel to be closed off entirely.

“[S]crutiny and regulation are a public good. And we need to invest in it, and neither the states’ AGs or the IRS have had the capacity.

The six-author Chronicle of Philanthropy op-ed about pluralism, civility, and donor freedom “brought out some passionate responses, and they were on a wide spectrum. I think it shows the need to have conversations, We’re working on … difficult challenges in philanthropy” and trying to meet “them could benefit from our collective wisdom. And so in this pursuit, it should be okay to disagree.”

—         “A conversation with Council on Foundations president Kathleen P. Enright (Part 1 of 2),” June 14, 2023, and “A conversation with Council on Foundations president Kathleen P. Enright (Part 2 of 2),” June 15, 2023

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