A conversation with symposium contributor Joanne Florino

Feb 20, 2023

The Philanthropy Roundtable’s Adam Meyerson Distinguished Fellow in Philanthropic Excellence talks to Michael E. Hartmann about her article and some of the others in the “Conservatism and the Future of Tax-Incentivized Big Philanthropy” symposium.

Joanne Florino is the Adam Meyerson Distinguished Fellow in Philanthropic Excellence at the Philanthropy Roundtable. Last month, she contributed to The Giving Review symposium of articles about “Conservatism and the Future of Tax-Incentivized Big Philanthropy.”

In her contribution, “Forgo mandates and work to change philanthropy through excellent grantmaking,” Florino argues that the best way for conservative grantmakers to pursue their core values is to use their giving to improve lives, grow and strengthen civil society, and demonstrate the power of private giving.

Florino was kind enough to join me for a recorded conversation last week. In the almost 17-and-a-half-minute video below, we talk about her career in philanthropy, the historical roots and present threats of a desire to regulate private foundations, the reasons for philanthropy’s tax status, and great philanthropy’s role in preserving and protecting civil society—and a little about the Cornell University hockey team.

Florino and Hartmann

“What I wanted to emphasize in this piece was that criticism of philanthropy may be harsher than it has ever been before, but it’s certainly not new,” Florino told me.

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 said she “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.”

She acknowledged that “there are bad actors in every profession, every industry, every sector—but to actually focus on that, I think, is wrong. People who start private foundations are made aware very quickly of how much compliance is involved in a private foundation.”

In response to some conservative criticisms of philanthropy and proposals to reform it, Florino said “I really don’t understand how people who are critical of the way Congress is currently spending tax revenue think it’s going to get any better if all the money that’s currently tax-exempt suddenly flows into Congress.”