Sunsetting at the Council
Dorothy S. “Dot” Ridings, who has led the Council on Foundations since 1996, is retiring at age 65. Though staying until a replacement is found, she told the Chronicle of Philanthropy she hopes not to remain at her desk past June.
Adam Meyerson, president of The Philanthropy Roundtable, praised Ridings for her leadership of the 2,000 member Council: “The Philanthropy Roundtable and the Council on Foundations do not always agree in our guiding principles or our understanding of excellence in philanthropy. But I have greatly enjoyed working with Dot. She has been consistently gracious and helpful to my Roundtable colleagues and me. And I have been very impressed by her knowledge of the Council’s members and their concerns.”
Spitzer vs. James Beard
Plans to add new board members at the James Beard Foundation have caught the attention of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. In December, Spitzer indicted Beard Foundation chief Leonard F. Pickell for allegedly pilfering more than $1 million from the organization. Now Spitzer apparently worries about adding new trustees who are food professionals because they “would be overseeing annual awards for which they would be eligible,” according to a New York Times report that quoted the chef who is leading efforts to revamp the foundation. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal criticized Spitzer’s move as the product of a “conflict-of-interest obsession [taken] a bit too far,” and asked, “who else should serve on the board of a culinary institute if not experts in food? If the AG really wants to enforce this standard, he’ll next have to banish journalists from the Pulitzer Prize board because they hand out awards to other journalists”—a move that a candidate for governor is unlikely to make, the Journal quipped. (Spitzer’s office has since disputed the Times’ account.)
A judge has ruled that the Barnes Foundation can move its multimillion-dollar art collection to downtown Philadelphia, despite the donor’s clear intent to have it remain in its original location, because the judge hoped the move would improve the museum’s troubled finances. (For more on the Barnes case, see “Donors Held Hostage,” November/December 2003.) The decision drew the ire of NAACP president Julian Bond. His father was a friend of Albert C. Barnes, who endowed the foundation and gathered its now-priceless collection of French Impressionist and African art. “Doesn’t this decision say to every donor that no matter how strong your intentions are, someone with more money and better lawyers can come along some years later and change the gift?” Bond told the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Others, such as Charles W. Collier, Harvard University’s senior philanthropic advisor, had a different reaction. “There’s a lesson for the rest of us,” he claimed. “Because times and circumstances change, we want to avoid rigidity. You shouldn’t have to go to court on every issue large and small pertaining to a donor’s directions, a donor’s intent.”
Soros to give more
After spending $63 million in 2004 to defeat President Bush and strengthen “progressive” grassroots political operations, billionaires George Soros, Herb and Marion Sandler, and Peter Lewis have decided to make major investments in think tanks. According to the Financial Times, the three convened a private meeting in San Francisco in early January to discuss their future role in what one person involved called a “joint investment to build intellectual infrastructure” to counter the “heft of the right-wing think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute.”
Details of their discussion remain “closely held,” though figures close to the group suggest Soros, the Sandlers, and Lewis will spend something on the order of $25 million to $100 million in coming years.