Robert Hall famously admonished people to “call things by their right names.” So, let me call William A. Schambra’ s “review” of my book The Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking (January/February) by its right name: A distortion. A review is a thoughtful consideration of a book’s merits and demerits, culminating in a fair and informed judgment about its overall value. Schambra uses highly selective quotations in order to transform The lnsider’s Guide into a stick with which to beat large foundations. Schambra is entitled to his personal opinions, of course, but he is not entitled to willfully misrepresent the content of my book in order to advance them. Readers of Philanthropy deserve to know the truth.
According to Schambra, the Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking is a big foundation bible, a handbook for those who want to fund policy programs at the expense of grassroots programs. It is of little value, he implies, for funders interested in “doing immediate good for actual individuals.”
In fact, the Insider’s Guide does advise grantmakers to learn how to work in the policy arena—that is one dimension of effective grantmaking—but let’s call things by their right names. There is one chapter on policy in the book—l of 15—with the other 14 focusing on nuts-and-bolts concerns like how to interact with applicants, how to read proposals, how to conduct site visits, and how to do evaluation.
The Insider’s Guide is about the whole range of good grantmaking. Schambra selectively quotes passages dealing with policy but fails to mention the many passages advising program officers on how to make good grants to grassroots organizations. Schambra does not quote, for example, the discussion on page 45 about the importance of funding good ideas from new and fragile organizations, or the statement on page 101 that defines effective grantmaking as “the art of placing bets on people.”
Schambra’s determination to distort the book in order to make his point takes a most peculiar turn when he offers, as an example of a good grassroots program, a project he funded when he was a program officer at the Bradley Foundation. Cordelia Taylor’s Family House is a nursing facility for the low-income elderly, and Schambra is right to be proud of funding her good works. “Yet Family House,” says Schambra, “is precisely the sort of project that Orosz’s idealized program officer must not fund.” Only a deliberate misreading of the Insider’s Guide can explain this incredible assertion. I defy Schambra to find even a single sentence anywhere in the 304 pages of the book that advises program officers against funding grassroots programs that directly improve the lives of people.
But here is the really peculiar thing about Schambra’s use of Taylor as an example. If policy funding “tinkers at the margins of society’s major problems,” how to explain the fact that the Bradley Foundation is one of the most successful funders of policy programs in the foundation world? Given this truth, which Schambra conveniently omits, why didn’t he take his former employer to task for giving less to Taylor and other grantees like her in order to pursue the foundation’s policy initiatives? In fact, his current employer, the Hudson Institute, is a highly effective policy shop. Every dollar that Schambra raises for Hudson is a dollar that the donating foundation cannot give to Taylor, or to other grassroots programs. If he believes in his own definitions, it is he who isn’t interested in “doing immediate good for actual individuals.”
William A. Schambra has had his say about the Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking, and so have I. Now I invite the readers of Philanthropy to judge for themselves which of us is calling things by their right names. The Insider’s Guide may be purchased for $35 from the publisher at www.josseybass.com. Thank you for allowing me to set the record straight.
—Joel J. Orosz, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of Philanthropy Studies
Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, Grand Valley State University
William Schambra responds:
Orosz challenges me: If I am such a supporter of Cordelia Taylor’s Family House, why do I work at an institute of policy research, knowing that every dollar going toward my salary is a dollar that may not go to Taylor?
Actually, I ask myself that every day. Anyone who’s seen what she has accomplished by piecing together donated family time, small church contributions, and the energies of volunteers cannot help but feel underworked and overpaid. But I also ask myself, “Why is the Bradley Foundation the only major philanthropy to provide generous, sustained support to Taylor?” Because, as Orosz writes approvingly in his book (pp. 18-20), most foundations insist “their mission is not to meet immediate needs,” and meeting the immediate needs of the inner-city elderly is “all” that she does. She may ease the final hours of a dying homeless person, Orosz explains, but foundations must conserve their funds “to strike at the causes of homelessness: poor education, structural unemployment, deteriorating housing stock, and inadequate social service programs.” Were, say, the Ford, Mott, or Joyce Foundation merely to write Taylor a check, “their funds would be quickly swallowed up, and nothing would fundamentally change.”
How can I justify my work? By making it my task to argue that this view of Taylor’s lifework is profoundly misguided. The notion that foundations cannot stoop to do a bit of immediate good because they’re too busy tracking down root causes is nothing more than a self-aggrandizing, utopian fantasy that has flourished for almost a century, with little to show for itself. Meanwhile, thanks to the labors of Taylor and thousands of others, something does “fundamentally change.” Their work enriches not only their own neighborhoods, but all of us, by reminding us of the noble belief at the heart of American self-government: that everyday citizens can step forward to solve their own problems, without waiting for professional experts. America’s foundations should be the primary funders of this civic renewal, rather than disdaining it. By speaking these inconvenient truths, I may make it a bit easier for Taylor to do her work. Or so I try to tell myself.
My advice to foundation program officers: Find your own Taylor. Ask yourself every day if you’re doing enough to help her. Don’t ever be satisfied that you are. But don’t ever be discouraged that you aren’t, because you can’t.