Archive for July 10th, 2012
In my capacity as president of my family’s Foundation I am charged with reviewing dozens of LOIs (letter of intent) and Full proposals each fiscal year (which, for us, ends on July 31st). Probably the most used phrase I encounter in these LOIs and Full Proposals is “to do good” or one of its variants, such as “provide aid,” “increase capacity,” “reduce suffering,” etc. Up to about the late 1990s, our Foundation had no problem with these “do good” phrases when we encountered them in LOIs and Full Proposals. We would argue, “Do good … everyone knows what that means. That’s what philanthropists and non-profits do.” Well, all of that changed as a result of two events.
The first event was an in-service presentation and workshop by Curtis Meadows of the Meadows Foundation (based in Dallas). During his presentation, Curtis simply said something like, “For a foundation to be effective, it needs a philosophy or theory of giving, of social change.” Curtis told us that the days of writing checks for charities willy nilly are quickly coming to a close. He went on to tell our board and staff that all foundations make a covenant with the federal government (in the form of their IRS Ruling Letter) whereby foundations agree to administer the tax revenue they keep (because of the non-tax status they receive) in ways that go beyond where the government could possibly go. Curtis gave us a bottom line that went something like, “During an audit, the IRS will ask one simple question: ‘by what plan or model or philosophy were you able to do good that goes beyond where the government could have gone?’ ” Curtis recommended that all philanthropists should keep this question in the back of their minds as they review and administer grants. Curtis’ presentation really left an impression on me, and, I would say, our whole Foundation. We spent the better part of the workshop looking at ways of coming up with a philosophy or theory of giving. It wasn’t long after Curtis’ in-service that we began looking at theories of social change, Bowlbian attachment theory chief among them.