Give, Give, Give, for the Home Team
You’re a generous donor to your alma mater, and you’d like to make a lasting and meaningful gift. There are naming opportunities at the new science building and the medical center, there’s that scholarship program the development officer keeps bringing up, and of course you could always fund that endowed chair in gender studies. But somehow, none of those things quite captures what you really care about at the place. Looking ahead to the institution’s future needs though, you do see one glaring weakness that needs addressing—middle linebacker. Yep, the school’s football team has always had trouble against the run, and if there were just some way you could direct your philanthropy toward shoring up that vulnerability, you know you’d be able to provide the school with just the legacy it needs to meet the challenges of the future. Sound farfetched? According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, some universities are now offering donors the opportunity to “endow” specific positions on their sports teams. Penn State, for instance, has 16 endowed positions on its football team. The endowed scholarships “cost” $250,000—a bargain compared to the cost of endowing a chair in some dusty old academic department. After all, when was the last time you got to see highlights from the history department on ESPN?
That Voodoo You Do
Golden Beach, Florida is, according to the Associated Press, one of the wealthiest communities in the state: “a bejeweled ocean town where property values glitter” up into the $2 million range. It’s also been the site of a strange conflux of civic philanthropy, small town politics, and New Age witchcraft. Susan Chorney, a local philanthropist, has taken out a restraining order on the town’s vice mayor, Stanley Feinman, claiming he “yelled profanities” at her and tried to get her kicked off the Golden Beach Improvement Foundation Trust, a foundation that gives to local beautification projects. What inspired this outburst? “A voodoo attack,” says Feinman, referring to the purple plastic hand, dismembered doll’s leg, dead bugs in a jar, and model of a Jeep (the kind of vehicle driven by Feinman) found in a circle of stones on the beach near his house. Chorney calls the voodoo charge “insulting,” insisting that she simply dances and makes “prayer wheels” out of stones on the beach. The rituals are “a healing process,” she adds, noting that “This town is suffering from an abuse of power.”
Thanks, but No Thanks
Who needs a million bucks? Not, apparently, some of Boston’s poorest and most troubled schools, which have turned down an innovative offer by Massachusetts philanthropist Lovett C. “Pete” Peters. Peters made the 22 failing schools a bet: Adopt a charter school program of educational reform, and if after a set period the test scores of the schools’ students did not markedly increase he would give the school $1 million. Sounds pretty straightforward, especially since the 22 schools are among the poorest-performing in the region. But the Boston Globe reports that the offer had “outraged” some educators, who felt that it “questioned their ability to turn around ailing schools,” and the deadline for the schools to apply to the Save A School Foundation came and went without a single one of the schools taking Peters up on the offer. “I’m disappointed; not so much for me as the kids,” says Peters, who attributes the non-response to hostility from the teachers unions. Representatives from school districts in other states have been quick to ask whether Peters will extend his “bet” to their state.
Not a Good Course to Fail
Surely, we have passed some threshold in the business cycle when business schools are offering classes in how to give money away. But starting this fall, the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley is offering classes in “Contemporary Philanthropy.” The first guest speaker this year at the school’s “Philanthropy in Business” forum was Paul Newman. The course’s professor explains that “I’m really trying to give people an idea of what to do if they are suddenly rich.” The school does have reason to believe that its graduates will be making philanthropic decisions shortly: recent graduates have been among the biggest winners in the Bay Area dot-com bonanza, and according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the average starting salary for graduates is approximately $90,000.
Mumia Mania (cont’d)
Charities associated with convicted cop killer Mumia Abu Jamal just can’t seem to get a break these days. First the City of Philadelphia banned the United Black Fund (an umbrella organization that raises money for a number of urban causes) from the city employees’ charitable check-off list. The punishing move (estimated cost: approximately $100,000, or a quarter of the group’s budget) came in response to the Fund’s continued support for a nonprofit working to free Abu Jamal, who is on death row for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Now, despite severing its ties to the pro-Mumia group, it looks like the Fund will be “de-listed” again next year because of financial improprieties. At the same time, the state’s Bureau of Charitable Organizations is threatening to revoke another pro-Mumia nonprofit’s charitable status unless it complies with repeated requests for disputed financial and fundraising information. The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal raised hundreds of thousands of dollars last year without registering as a charity, and has rebuffed state and media requests for financial data. Pam Africa, president of the organization, told a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer that the group’s finances were “none of your business,” and explained that the reason previous deadlines for providing the records to authorities had been missed was that the documents had been “stolen” when someone broke into the group’s offices. No explanation was given for why the thieves stole only the financial records while, according to the Inquirer, “ignoring computers and other equipment.”
Last year Harvard University’s bursting endowment seemed an apt indicator of the go-go stock market and the charitable giving boom. Well, by that measure, the boom’s still booming. Harvard recently announced that its endowment tops $19.2 billion—a 32.2 percent increase over the previous year. According to the Boston Globe, the new figure represents a sum “larger than the annual budgets of 142 countries, including Cuba, Jordan, and Lithuania.” The one-year increase alone is larger than the whole endowments of other prestigious universities like MIT, Dartmouth, and Columbia. When asked what direct effect the increase would have on students, a university spokesman was temperate: “I don’t think this should signal any kind of sea change. A university has to think long term and about the cyclical nature of the economy. We don’t know what our future needs will be. But we’re very appreciative of what the management company has accomplished.”
. . . and Accounts Payable
But all is not sweetness and light for Harvard on the charity front. The U.S. government is suing the school for $120 million, alleging that school officials defrauded a foreign aid program for Russia that the government had contracted with them to run. The suit alleges that Harvard “miserably” failed to oversee the program director, a tenured professor, and their wives, who are accused of diverting money into programs that benefited themselves and their friends. According to U.S. Attorney Donald Stern, “Harvard is responsible for two reasons: It received the money, and like any institution, it has legal responsibility for the acts committed by its agents.”
Restoring Foundation Financial Health
One of the enduring (some might say endless) debates in the philanthropy world concerns the foundation payout rate. In the Tax Reform Act of 1969, Congress set the rate at 6 percent of assets or 100 percent of investment income, whichever was greater. Unfortunately for many foundations, this new rate coincided with the severe economic downturns of the 1970s, resulting in calls for a lower rate as foundation assets eroded. These calls were heeded in the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, which set the current rate of 5 percent. Foundation assets have not exactly been “eroding” since 1981, but a plank of philanthropic conventional wisdom is that older philanthropies (those founded before the 1969 “trauma”) would still feel the sting of their asset diminution and tend to be more parsimonious in their payout rate, while newer foundations (those formed since 1981) would be more likely to pay out at a higher rate since they never suffered the “hit” of the 1970s. A new study argues that the conventional wisdom is wrong. Byron Harrell, president and CEO of Baptist Community Ministries, a private foundation based in New Orleans, has analyzed the data and concludes that, surprisingly, “Younger foundations do not make significantly higher distributions (primarily grants to charities) than the older foundations . . . Younger foundations (post-’81) actually appear to closely adhere to the minimum distribution rules just the same as the older more conservative foundations.” Copies of the study can be ordered by calling Baptist Community Ministries at (504) 593-2323.
Shooting For a Record Donation
Kenneth E. Behring, the colorful entrepreneur-philanthropist who’s behind the Wheelchairs for the World Foundation, has given the Smithsonian Institution $80 million to refurbish the National Museum of American History. Behring hopes the museum will use the money to emphasize the story of the American Dream, telling the Washington Post, “The museum should talk about who we are. Sometimes it is easy to forget how we started, who made this country. I hope we can put something here to inspire people to chase the American dream.” Behring’s name surfaced in a somewhat different philanthropic context with the Smithsonian a year ago, when he was faulted by environmentalists for including, as part of a gift to the National Museum of Natural History, the carcasses of four rare endangered sheep he had shot during a hunting trip in Kazakhstan.
How Low Can You Go?
There they go again. After years’ worth of expensive, high-profile newspaper and television ad campaigns touting their support for hunger charities, American Express is now giving the same treatment to the fight against breast cancer. The fine print in the hunger campaigns revealed a level of giving—two cents per purchase—that was less than met the eye. Now the “Shop for the Cure” campaign in the fight against breast cancer gives one cent per purchase to charity. That’s right, if you do as the advertisements say and shop at participating stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks, Georgette Klinger, or Restoration Hardware you can feel virtuous knowing that all of one penny of your purchase went to help fight breast cancer. That is, provided that American Express has not reached its self-imposed $500,000 limit on contributions.