Our Annual Meeting featured something that was missing from politics this year: civilized high-level debate about the great issues of our time. In this session sponsored by the National Constitution Center, Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School, and David Strauss, professor of law at University of Chicago Law School, offered opposing approaches to constitutional interpretation. Should the Constitution be interpreted based on its original intent and meaning, or should our understanding be informed by the changes of our time? The debate was moderated by NCC CEO Jeffrey Rosen and the panelists not only examined constitutional interpretation, but they also discussed the implications of this debate for philanthropy.
How Three Business Leaders Are Pioneering Inventive K-12 Solutions
Over the past 25 years, business leaders and entrepreneurs have played valuable roles in the K-12 education reform movement. They’ve brought their business acumen and problem-solving skills to lead coalitions, oversee schools and policy organizations, and rally their peers to support laws that lead to the outcomes kids deserve. In this session, attendees heard from three entrepreneurs who have taken meaningful action to advance education. Indiana’s Fred Klipsch (Klipsch Audio) co-led Indiana’s passage of opportunity scholarship legislation, and is currently building a support organization for the state’s charter, district, and parochial schools that prioritize underserved kids. North Carolina’s Bob Luddy (CaptiveAire Systems), who along with transforming the commercial kitchen ventilation industry, founded both a classical charter and a Catholic school, as well as a low-cost network of private schools (Thales Academies). These schools prioritize rigorous academics, character development, and STEM education for kids who otherwise can’t afford expensive private schools. And Ben Navarro (Sherman Financial Group), a former fixture of the New York financial sector who moved to South Carolina, founded Meeting Street Academies, which did such a good job serving low-income kids that local districts are asking them to take over other underserved schools. All three leaders discussed their respective ventures, what led them to education, and their advice for donors who want to bring a deep, entrepreneurial spirit to transforming our nation’s K-12 education system.
Donor Privacy Debate
The privacy of donors to non-profit organizations is under attack. California and New York attorneys general demand donor disclosure for charitable solicitation registration. A major donor to think tanks that question climate change orthodoxy is being called out on the Senate floor and threatened with fraud charges, while the think tanks face subpoenas of their donor lists. Philanthropy critics call for greater transparency around donor-advised funds and gifts to promote public policy change. Anonymous giving, considered virtuous by some, is characterized as “dark money.” This lively debate featured two well-placed non-profit leaders who called attention the key issues surrounding the role of charitable donor privacy in maintaining a vibrant and independent civil society.
The Uses and Limitations of Rigorous Evaluation in Philanthropy
Each year, public programs and private philanthropy spend hundreds of billions of dollars to improve the social, economic, and health status of Americans. The vast majority is spent without ever knowing how effective different programs or interventions are. And even when programs do undergo rigorous evaluation, 80 to 90 percent show little or no meaningful improvement over the status quo. This session explored why evaluation is important in philanthropy, and what its limitations are. Speakers also discussed very practical challenges donors face, like what different levels of evaluation and tools exist, what rigorous evaluations cost, and how to find an appropriate evaluator.
Luncheon: William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership
Bruce and Suzie Kovner were honored with the 2016 William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. “I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to meet Bill Simon years ago when he was in the Nixon administration,” says Mr. Kovner. “We have long been admirers of his work in government, business, and philanthropy. We feel particularly honored by the prize because of our strong connection to the principles he worked for throughout his life: free enterprise, individual freedom, and helping those who want to help themselves.” Since 2001, Mr. Kovner has served as the chairman of the Juilliard School and also serves as vice chairman of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. He serves on the boards of the Metropolitan Opera and American Enterprise Institute (where he was formerly chairman) and was formerly on the board of the New York Philharmonic. Mrs. Kovner is a director of Success Academy Charter Schools and Thanks USA, a trustee of Carnegie Hall, and leader of the advocacy group for Ensemble ACJW, a Carnegie Hall and Juilliard School effort that supports young professional musicians as they build their careers. The Kovners’ philanthropic leadership in education reform, reducing poverty through strong economic growth, and supporting innovative public policy research
Labor Reform Strategies that Protect Workers, Taxpayers, and the Public Interest
Public sector unions enjoy special legal privileges denied to other institutions. Yet proposed labor reform efforts–to level the playing field and provide equal rights to all workers–are typically portrayed as hostile threats to worker rights. Unions have become some of the biggest spenders in political campaigns, creating cozy, symbiotic relationships with political leaders. As politicians increasingly depend on unions for support, they will predictably continue to bestow union favors at taxpayers’ expense. What can donors do to break the public sector stranglehold on the American economy and political process? It starts by reframing the purpose of unions and their methods, and attacking the problems at their weakest points.
Understanding Your Grantees' Financial Statements
Financial statements tell an important story about how a current or potential grantee is operating and show a funder where the money came from, where it is now, and where it’s going. Attendees came away with confidence to look past the numbers and with insight to help with grantmaking decisions.
Clear Thinking About Foundation Transparency
We hear many calls for greater transparency in philanthropy, but what does that really mean? Do funders have a responsibility for openness beyond legal compliance? How should the benefits and downsides of transparency be measured? Is there such a thing as “too much” transparency? Should government mandate increased disclosure about foundation operations and grantmaking decisions? And what impact does “big data” have on decisions about transparency and privacy? Our panel includes foundation representatives and others who are themselves wrestling with “openness” and/or studying and disseminating information about transparency in philanthropy. Attendees left this session with a better understanding of the different rationales for transparency and some sound ideas about how to evaluate the value of transparency for their philanthropy.
Breaking the Textbook Monopoly: The Coming Revolution in K-12 Content Delivery
The current textbook adoption and procurement cycle in K-12 education is a tangled web of bureaucratic approval processes, drawn-out adoption cycles, buying protocol, and influence from lobbyists and politicians. The status quo dissuades new content providers from equipping teachers with fresh resources and liberating them from reliance on antiquated material, and costs districts hundreds of millions of dollars per year. However, there have been recent breakthroughs in brain science and open education resources (OER), coupled with savvy donors seeking to disrupt the traditional textbook marketplace. How will electronic, interactive textbooks increase access and quality for marginalized students? How can donors make smart investments to ensure high-quality content? David Bobb, president of the Bill of Rights Institute, explained the challenges of whole-course textbook approval processes and his organization’s evolution from providing supplemental tools to whole-course civic education texts. Rich Baraniuk, a professor at Rice University and co-founder of the open source content platform OpenStax, explained how they saved college students tens of millions of dollars in textbook costs and are aiming to do the same for high school classrooms. Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds, vice president for policy at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, drew from her time as a high-ranking official within the Texas Education Agency and gave an insider’s view of textbook adoption and what it will take to create new pathways for high-quality content delivery.
Is Spending Down the Right Decision for Your Foundation?
Whether they want to protect donor intent and avoid mission drift, limit the stagnation of bureaucracy, magnify impact with outsize grants, minimize family conflict, or simply see results with their own eyes, donors may choose to “sunset” their philanthropy. But questions abound about how best to reach and communicate that decision and what practical challenges such a plan entails. With foundations of all shapes and sizes now in the midst of disbursing all of their assets, three foundation leaders who are currently spending down or who have already completed the process shared their experience and lessons learned.
Training the Next Generation of National Security Leaders
This session explored the role of philanthropy in preparing students and professionals to serve in our military, intelligence agencies, and other organizations that contribute to our national security. The government pours billions into education programs for these men and women, but often falls short with training that is impractical or out of date. Some of the best contributions in this field have come from private philanthropy. Our speakers made the case for why these investments are critical, explained why they accomplish what government cannot, and illustrated some promising examples.
Beyond the Lemondade Stand: Children's Business Fair
The Acton Children’s Business Fair challenges children to channel their inner entrepreneur. Launched by serial entrepreneurs and life-long educators Jeff and Laura Sandefer, these one-day community fairs showcase businesses created and launched by kid entrepreneurs. The Acton Children’s Business Fair is now the largest entrepreneurship event for kids in North America and has expanded internationally. The Sandefers described their founding vision for the original fair, detailed how others could launch children’s business fairs in their communities, and shared advice for donors who would like to launch such a fair in their communities.
Leading from the Heart: Storytelling in a Free Society
Storytelling is a powerful way to reach and engage your target audience. It helps people care about an issue or idea because it builds a human connection. Lee Habeeb, a top American talk radio executive and producer, and John Papola, co-founder and CEO of a fast-growing video production company, shared their approaches—as well as powerful examples—to great storytelling. Attendees learned from two experts in their respective fields about how they reach, engage, and grow audiences through a storytelling framework. Listen to how these idea entrepreneurs maximize connections with their audience and advance a free society through storytelling.
The 25th Anniversary Gala: What Comes Next? How Private Givers Can Rescue America in an Era of Politcal Frustration
Social disorders are increasing. We’re economically divided. Our political process is a blood sport. Two thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Public-spirited philanthropists are eager to repair some of these problems. Can the Roundtable offer a roadmap? We can! Go time-traveling with Karl Zinsmeister. You will be very surprised—and encouraged—by where you end up. Powerful culture change is within our grasp.