On the Money Trail
PBS’s ubiquitous Bill Moyers found himself on the receiving end of a torrent of criticism last fall when it was revealed that many of the “experts” he had been interviewing for his public television documentaries on the role of money in politics were actually (unbeknownst to viewers) grantees of a foundation of which he is president. But if money is a corrosive influence in politics, money in support of policy goals is apparently not always bad—indeed, it is starting to look like a Moyers family tradition. Consider a series of prominent advertisements that has been running in the New York Times attacking the alleged “bigotry” of popular radio personalities Don Imus and Dr. Laura (the latter described as the “Queen of Hate Radio”). The ads direct readers to a Web site, TomPaine.com where they can peruse longer fulminations against the aforementioned talking heads, as well as a variety of other opinion pieces. The ads have resulted in a Web traffic-generating wave of stories in a number of major newspapers, including the Washington Post. But how does an upstart Web site afford dozens of pricey ads ($20,000 per quarter page) in the New York Times? It turns out that the site is funded with charitable dollars, specifically those of the Washington, D.C.-based Florence Fund. The Fund is a project of the Florence and John Schumann Foundation. John Moyers, publisher of TomPaine.com, is also the executive director of the Florence Fund—and son of Schumann Foundation president Bill Moyers.
Heroes of Tiny Town
Talk about small town values. Gilmore and Goldie Reynolds lived modestly in a simple stucco home in tiny Osgood, Indiana (population: 1,688). After 62 years of marriage, Gilmore died in 1990 and Goldie followed in 1998. Their neighbors remembered the childless couple’s passion for the stock market and their shared hobby of reading the Wall Street Journal. Their friend and attorney Neil Comer told the Associated Press that “From daylight to dusk they’d be studying stocks and they loved every minute of it. They thought of these stocks almost like their offspring. They would watch over them, see how they were growing. It was a little strange—but then, maybe not.” It seems reasonable to expect that most residents of Osgood would now be inclined to come down squarely on the “maybe not” side. The couple left their entire $23 million estate to go towards the betterment of the 2.1 square mile town of Osgood. While they had quietly given to local causes for years, always with the condition that there be no publicity or public mention of their gifts, most people in the town were stunned by their generosity. The first grants from the foundation have gone to “nuts and bolts” projects like a fire department van and a running track for the local school, and other grants are targeted for such things as water line repairs, new park benches, and a fiber optic network. The foundation’s managers say that the plan is to make about $1 million a year in grants, and that each time a new project is considered, they will “wonder what the benefactors would think.” Adds the Associated Press, “One thing is near certain: They would scoff at any memorial in their name.”
Just (Don’t ) Do It
In what must be every university president’s nightmare, The Oregonian has been reporting on the strange tale of a major donor pushed too far—with calamitous consequences. It started off with student activists and faculty members at the University of Oregon pressuring the school’s administration to join the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC), a newly formed activist labor group that monitors workplace conditions at manufacturers’ overseas facilities and campaigns against “sweatshop” working environments. Most schools belong to the less activist Fair Labor Association (FLA), but the more aggressive WRC has been getting attention through its connection to anti-WTO protests in Seattle and Washington, D.C. One of the chief corporate targets of the WRC’s ire is Nike, and Nike CEO Phil Knight just happens to be the University of Oregon’s single largest donor. Make that “former” donor. Knight, a graduate of the school who over the years has contributed approximately $50 million to many of their projects and programs, was furious to hear that the university had decided to join the WRC. Knight withdrew a hoped-for $30 million pledge towards the university’s new athletic center, and even more ominously, vowed never to donate to the school again. Knight also lamented that president Dave Frohnmayer’s decision to join the WRC had “shredded the bonds of trust” between him and the university. Frohnmeyer responded that while Knight’s break with the school is “a tragedy,” he would not withdraw the school from the WRC.
What did you do this summer, Jimmy? Well if Jimmy is one of the students in a new summer program at Atlanta’s prestigious Westminster School, the answer is less likely to be “hung out at the mall” than “hung out with poor kids, homeless people, and community organizers—and learned something in the process.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes a new program calculated to teach rising high school seniors about the nonprofit world. The program differs from the usual “community service” initiatives in that these kids aren’t going to be giving nonprofits their time—they’re going to be giving them money. A donor to the school, who is also a parent and wishes to remain anonymous, is footing the bill for $1,200 stipends that each student will receive. The stipends come with a proviso: each student “must give at least $500 of it away—wisely.” Program organizers explain that the students are allowed to keep the rest of the money to make up for the foregone wages of whatever summer job they would otherwise have taken. Participants in the program are expected to attend lectures, make site visits, and learn about what other donors have done. One student at the school, which is one of the tiniest in Atlanta, charging $12,000 tuition and boasting an average SAT score of 1300, sees the $500 as “just a start. When I grow up and have my own money, I definitely want to stay involved.”
Charity Numbers Keep on Rolling
At the risk of sounding like a broken record . . . it’s been another record-breaking year for philanthropy. The AAFRC’s Trust for Philanthropy has released its estimates for charitable giving in 1999, which shows overall charitable giving in America up nearly $16 billion from the previous year for a total of more than $190 billion. Even more significant, giving as a percentage of the overall economy and giving as a percentage of personal income have also risen. Despite hand-wringing by corporate heckler Paul Newman over the supposed lack of company donations, such giving is up an impressive 14.2 percent. The big winners by category of giving were, somewhat surprisingly, giving to international affairs and the environment, both categories that had been lagging in recent years. Religious giving remains far and away the largest destination for charitable dollars, garnering $82 billion in 1999, or 43 percent of all charitable giving. Education, the second-largest recipient, attracted $27 billion.
Bishop Trustees Checkmated?
Another layer of indignity has been heaped upon the ousted trustees of Hawaii’s Bishop Trust. A court-appointed official is now recommending that the ousted trustees repay the millions of dollars they took from the Trust to pay for their elaborate legal defenses—defenses against charges that they were pillaging the Trust. Robert P. Richards was named by the local court last year as special master for the case and was directed to issue a report on the trustees’ legal fees. His report catalogues a strategy that was adopted by the disgraced trustees of the state’s wealthiest charity “to obstruct the legal process, to delay wherever possible, to object wherever possible to utilize so many lawyers and so many arguments that the opposition would be overwhelmed and would choose to give up.” The trustees, who were paying themselves annual salaries in the neighborhood of $1 million each, were understandably reluctant to relinquish their plum jobs and used the Trust’s assets to underwrite their defense against the state attorney general’s ultimately successful effort to evict them. The report explains that the embattled trustees had the right to legal defense, “but at their own expense.” They did not have the right to expect the Trust to pay for it—and certainly not to the tune of $5 million. The report concludes that “When one reviews the legal invoices, one is drawn to the inescapable conclusion that the trustees thought of the assets as their own.” Randy Roth, a law professor at the University of Hawaii, told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that he was “embarrassed that so many lawyers would be feeding at the trough” of the compromised Trust. “It’s outrageous when you look at it from the point of view of the trustees, but it’s also the responsibility of the attorneys not to look the other way.”
eBay Meets Sister Murray
Looking for yet another sign that charities are just as intent as the rest of the world to capitalize on all things Internet? A new online auction site offering luxury trips to New York, skybox seats to professional sporting events, and other high-end goodies is now being run by . . . the Benedictine Sisters of Ridgely, Maryland. The nuns see the site as a valuable fundraising tool for their programs that help children with developmental disabilities. Sounding every bit the Silicon Valley netpreneur, Sister Jeanette Murray, director of Benedictine programs and services, explains that “We view this as an opportunity to launch our own Internet communications strategy, create better relationships with our supporters . . . and control the revenues from banner advertising.” Their site is at www.benauction.com. No word yet on an IPO.
There He Goes Again
Ted Turner, famous as the “Mouth of the South,” recently told a group of Bay Area techno-givers exactly what he thought of their philanthropy—not much. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Turner “heaped sarcasm on the predominant attitude of so many high-tech leaders,” who, he claimed, believe that the jobs and wealth created by their businesses were their contribution to society. Turner also “repeatedly ridiculed” the push to close the digital divide, a trendy cause popular with high-tech executives. Noting that half the world lacks electricity, he asked “How about giving people a computer with a hand-crank generator? That will help bridge the digital divide.” He later concluded, while talking about how a portion of the $1 billion he contributed to the United Nations goes to nuclear disarmament: “Let’s rid the world of nuclear weapons before nuclear weapons obliterate the digital divide and people on both sides of it.”