In 2003, the Roundtable embarked on a new strategy designed to provide philanthropists with more in-depth service and greater opportunities for strategic collaboration. We launched specialized programs in fields where donors have the potential to achieve dramatic breakthroughs. Each of these breakthrough groups, as we call them, will have its own meetings, publications, section of our web site, and customized programs for individual donors.
Our first, and by far our most developed, breakthrough group is our K-12 program, run by Stephanie Saroki. Its mission is to help donors to achieve dramatic breakthroughs in the improvement of K-12 education, especially for low-income children. We have also launched breakthrough groups in environmental conservation and national security, and early this year we started one on higher education.
The breakthrough-group strategy was made possible by a one-time $900,000 spend-down grant from the W.H. Brady Foundation. Our financial objective is to ensure that, within three years of formation, each breakthrough group receives enough in contributions of its own to become self-sustaining.
Last year 500 donors participated in seven Roundtable K-12 programs. These participants included more than 20 high net-worth families with the potential to be very significant new contributors to K-12 education reform. The Roundtable takes our message of school choice, competition, and a culture of achievement in public schools not only to our own conferences but also to other gatherings of philanthropists. We have run K-12 programs at the annual meetings of Grantmakers for Education, the Association of Small Foundations, and The Gathering.
There is no better testament to the high respect philanthropists have for the work of Stephanie Saroki and the Roundtable in K-12 education than the requests we receive from some of the nation’s largest and most innovative funders to arrange private meetings for them with their peers to discuss strategy. The Roundtable is always happy to provide customized private meetings for funders, either with their peers or with leading grantees in their fields of interest.
In 2006, the Roundtable is hosting K-12 conferences on excellence in Hispanic education (Los Angeles), school choice (Milwaukee), urban school reform (Memphis), math and science education (location to be determined), and how philanthropists can dramatically improve Philadelphia schools. We are co-hosting our third annual introduction to K-12 education reform with the Jackson Hole Institute, and running a K-12 site visit at the annual meeting of the Association of Small Foundations.
The Roundtable has published guidebooks on how donors can promote charter schools and school choice, and we are currently seeking funding for a similar guidebook on how donors can advance teacher and principal quality.
The mission of the conservation breakthrough group is to expand the quantity and to improve the quality of environmental philanthropy. We aim to build a critical mass of donors who seek solutions to environmental problems, who take science seriously, and who are committed to robust debate about the political economy of environmental quality. The breakthrough group is run on a part-time consulting basis by Alex Echols, formerly acting executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
In July 2005, the Roundtable convened a two-day conference on “The Role of Markets, Property Rights, and Ecosystem Services in Environmental Improvement” in Big Sky, Montana. An ideologically diverse group of 55 donors attended. A highlight was a barbecue at the Montana ranch of Ted Turner, America’s largest private landowner, who described his amazing success in restoring endangered and threatened species on his own property.
The Roundtable is planning two major conservation meetings in 2006. On June 7, in San Francisco, we are convening a daylong conference on “Markets, Access Privileges, and Property-Rights-Based Solutions for the Crisis in Pacific Fisheries.” We are also planning a fall conference in New York on great debates in environmental policy and philanthropy. We will have debates on the science of global warming, whether environmental markets require regulatory caps, the environmental benefits of private vs. public lands, what environmental policies should be followed by India and China as they grow, and which energy path is greenest—nuclear, biofuels, or oil and gas?
In addition, we hope to convene a conference in New Orleans on restoring Gulf of Mexico fisheries and coastal resources.
Meetings of our conservation breakthrough group are open to donors who give, or are planning to give, at least $100,000 per year for environmental purposes.
The mission of our national security breakthrough group is to help donors make indispensable contributions to victory over terrorism. This includes the sponsorship of independent research, the support of education and outreach organizations that will make the case for effective counter-terrorist strategies, and the support of public diplomacy efforts to strengthen freedom-loving individuals and institutions in the Muslim world.
The national security breakthrough group was run on a part-time consulting basis until August 2005 by Samantha Ravich. Ravich later returned to the White House as a top national security aide for Vice President Cheney. The Roundtable is currently seeking a full-time director.
General David Grange, president of the McCormick-Tribune Foundation of Chicago, chairs the advisory council for the national security breakthrough group. One of his priorities is to encourage cooperation among donors interested in improving homeland security and disaster preparedness in major metropolitan areas.
The Roundtable launched its higher education breakthrough group this year, and hired Frederic Fransen as its director. Fred was formerly senior fellow at the Liberty Fund and director of grants for the Pierre F. and Enid Goodrich Foundation, both of Indianapolis.
The new group is planning three higher education conferences this year, including a daylong pre-conference immediately before our annual meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Our programs will be based on the following principles:
1. We are committed to the ideals of liberal education and to teaching and research that advance understanding of the great issues of human life and civilization.
2. We believe that excellence in teaching and scholarship depends upon intellectual pluralism, open debate, the clash of ideas and ideals, and academic freedom for faculty and students.
3. We believe in academic culture where creativity, innovation, and the pursuit of truth can flourish.
4. We believe that colleges and universities must prepare their students for future roles as citizens and leaders in a free society through rigorous programs in science and the liberal arts. This includes an appreciation of the creativity and prosperity made possible by free institutions, and an understanding of the principles of the American political tradition.
5. We believe that controversial questions can, and must, be addressed on campus on the basis of rational inquiry based on facts and the open, civil exchange of competing views.
Other Breakthrough Groups
The Roundtable is open to starting additional breakthrough groups. We use four criteria for determining whether to start one.
Is this a field where philanthropists have the potential to achieve dramatic breakthroughs?
Is this a field where The Philanthropy Roundtable can offer a distinctive perspective not already offered by other philanthropic service organizations?
Is there sufficient interest among Roundtable members, or prospective members, to start such a group?
Do we have a reasonable expectation that the breakthrough group would secure funding on a self-sustaining basis within three years?
Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.