Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad, by Jehanne Wake
What would you get if you combined Jane Austen with Niall Ferguson and added a dash of Alexis de Tocqueville? Perhaps something like Wake’s charming biography of the Caton sisters, four granddaughters of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. The sisters rose from Maryland roots to the heights of American wealth and married into British aristocracy, becoming significant philanthropists along the way. Marianne, Bess, and Louisa moved to London in their twenties; Marianne married the Duke of Wellington’s brother and Louisa married the future Duke of Leeds. Emily stayed in North America and married an heir of the fur-trading powerhouse North West Company. The sisters were “unusually competent” money managers, Wake writes; Louisa and Bess profited from savvy investments in railways, and Bess was an aggressive speculator. Their wealth enabled them to make “many large charitable donations.” The sisters spurred the 19th-century resurgence of Roman Catholicism in Britain. Bess helped to create the first Cistercian monastery in England since the Reformation, and Louisa supported the construction of Gothic churches. After Emily was widowed, she entered the Sisters of Mercy (and donated her Baltimore mansion to the order). In her old age, Louisa founded orphanages for impoverished Irish refugee children. “Used to housekeeping on a large scale,” Wake drolly reports, “she ordered a ton of spice so that ‘the Duchess’s cloves’ were still flavoring apple pies forty years later.” Louisa also established the Duchess of Leeds Foundation (to provide scholarships for orphans to Roman Catholic institutions) and the Assumption Fund (to support Catholic education for young women in Yorkshire), both of which are perpetual entities still in existence. Wake’s portrait of the Caton sisters is well worth the time of any reader interested in philanthropic history.
The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving, by Anne D. Neal and Michael B. Poliakoff
Giving to higher education in 2010 came to $28 billion—nearly 10 percent of all philanthropic giving in the United States. More than half of the biggest gifts of 2010 went to colleges and universities. This second edition of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s guide for college donors is therefore timely. Much of Neal and Poliakoff’s advice—defining goals, being realistic, giving while living, and monitoring a gift over its term—is worthwhile for any philanthropist. They also offer more narrow advice for those giving to higher education. For instance, they urge donors to use their money for very specific purposes (such as starting a new program or stipulating that it constitute a net addition to a department’s budget) so that they don’t inadvertently free up money for projects they might oppose. They also suggest finding a “faculty friend”—having a professor on your side can make a plan into a reality and protect your intent, while still respecting the principle of academic freedom. But Neal and Poliakoff’s greatest contribution is probably their collection of college giving case studies. Many are success stories, such as the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton; the Sanford Education Program, which partners with Teach For America at Arizona State; and the clearly articulated Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture at Harvard Law. A few are highly instructive cautionary tales. Throughout, this donor-centric guide offers prudent, practical advice. “Whatever you do, do not just walk away,” Neal and Poliakoff write. “Higher education is too important for that.”
Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China, by Jianying Zha
Combining interviews with her personal experience growing up during the Cultural Revolution, New Yorker contributor Zha writes about a new generation transforming modern China. Her book profiles six successful Chinese entrepreneurs and intellectuals. Zha discusses philanthropy only once in depth, but it is a revealing example. Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi are a multibillionaire couple who created the largest real estate company in Beijing. In 2005, the couple created the SOHO China Foundation. Through their foundation, Zhang and Pan focus primarily on education, especially training teachers and constructing schools, and projects in Gansu, Pan’s home region in northwestern China. It was something of a surprise; as Zha writes, “most of the first-generation Chinese millionaires . . . have not turned to serious philanthropy.” Philanthropy is nevertheless growing in China, trying to keep pace with economic growth and overcome the impoverishment and confiscatory policies of the Maoist regime. Zha reports that there are now more than 600 registered private foundations. There as here, a vibrant private sector generates the wealth that makes philanthropy possible.