An end-of-year collection of interesting and insightful thinking about grantmaking and giving.
Push and shove, finances and programming
“[T]here’s a tension between accomplishing your mission and being financially viable. We have a tendency in our organizations to really silo those conversations and not talk about them. Instead, I think the ‘sustainability mindset’ is about embracing that interconnectedness, and understanding, and trying to bring others along in understanding, that every single decision we make affects both of those.
“You can run an organization with a poor program. It’s hard to run an organization with no finances. So as a result, when push comes to shove, the finance tends to take over and I will tell you, as somebody who was a CFO in a nonprofit where I didn’t understand the programs, that’s not a great model for impact.”
Purpose and participation, payout and perpetuity
Philanthropy “is the ability to take lots of money out of the circulation of the economy and sheltered from taxes, and then spend it any old way you want, with a requirement that you spend five percent of the corpus yearly, but the five percent includes expenses. So it could include a retreat for their staff to Cabo San Lucas, maybe two, maybe three, right? It means building what Gates has built—an entire complex of buildings. And that’s all included in the five percent … Building buildings is not a philanthropic activity.
“Foundations are supposed to use this money for good purposes for the commonweal. That’s why they’re excused for not participating monetarily in the economy, right? … They don’t do anything innovative, ever. Ever.
“We have to make the payout 10% without expenses being allowed [and] the foundation should sunset. There’s no reason why they should go on in perpetuity.”
A broad principle
“I think it’s both a conservative and a broad principle that we have this vibrant, non-governmental, private sector—that a lot of important work happens in our society in that, and it should be broadly supported. We shouldn’t have institutions that get tax incentives to just sort of warehouse treasure …. I think there’s a bunch of points of our agenda, and that’s what would be fun to figure out, where we can we work together, lean on the wheel here, and where we can’t. But I think this whole idea that we, as a society, reduce some people’s taxes in order to make good civic work happen—that’s a pretty broad, American principle. Then how do we do that?
“In a way, it kind of looks like the ultra-wealthy of the left and the ultra-wealthy on the right are kind of duking it out and leaving the rest of us out of the conversation. We start to lose trust. You can see that on the left and the right.”
Complementing or substituting for philanthropy professionals
“There’s a very open question in the empirical literature—that I actively contribute to, do research on, and publish on—about the complementarity versus the substitutability of new technological innovations.” Blockchain-based decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) “will enhance the capabilities of many people already in philanthropy and allow individuals to outsource tasks … that they didn’t love doing.”
Catholic money-raising in the current moment
“In the current moment, it’s easier to raise money for charter schools than it is to raise money for Catholic schools. The reason is, to be Catholic today … requires a certain amount of bravery given what the modern culture looks like, and people in corporate America are generally not particularly brave in terms of controversy. …
“When I converted” 20 years ago, “most of the major propositions of the Catholic Church were not particularly controversial—God created men and women, for example. … As the culture has changed, particularly on social issues, … there are certain companies and certain individuals that have kind of pulled back. … The people here are extremely generous, but there are specific companies that no longer will give money directly to the Catholic Church, and part of the reason so many people give money to the scholarship fund is its independent of the Catholic Church.”