As we have previously reported, The Philanthropy Roundtable has established the Alliance for Charitable Reform (www.ACReform.com) to safeguard philanthropic freedom from legislative threats in the current Congress.
The Philanthropy Roundtable is also opposed to formal industry-wide self-regulation as an alternative to Grassley-Baucus legislation. We believe that existing laws should be more vigorously enforced, that some narrowly tailored new laws may be necessary to correct specific abuses, and that overreaching legislative proposals can and should be resisted on their own merits, without substituting a private self-regulatory regime that could be equally overreaching and intrusive.
For instance, the Roundtable does not currently, nor do we intend to, set certain governance standards or codes of conduct as criteria for membership. Some of our sister philanthropic-service associations are developing such codes of conduct, and we believe it is consistent with the principles of a free society for private membership organizations to set eligibility standards if they wish. However, we do not believe our membership would appreciate such a code, nor do we believe this is an effective way for us to improve foundation effectiveness.
While foundations should be free to participate in voluntary accreditation or certification programs if they wish, the Roundtable is also strongly opposed to any requirement that accreditation be a condition of tax-exempt status. An accreditation requirement could pose a very serious threat to independent thought in philanthropic foundations. Moreover, accreditation simply isn’t necessary for foundations. There is a public-interest rationale for accrediting hospitals or, perhaps, day care centers—where health and safety issues are at stake. Public charities may also find it helpful to be certified or accredited on a voluntary basis in order to win the confidence of donors. (See p. 13 for our interview with Paul Nelson, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a very impressive model of voluntary certification.) Foundations, however, are not taking investments from others, nor are they entrusted with the safety of members of the public. Indeed, so long as they obey the law, foundations do not have to be and should not have to be directly accountable to anyone except their own donors and trustees.
The Roundtable is committed to improving philanthropic integrity and effectiveness. As part of our mission, we offer programs on good governance and cooperate with other organizations in this field. We are pleased, for instance, that for the second year the Association of Small Foundations is offering its Trustee Leadership Seminar at our 2005 annual meeting. One of our own distinctive contributions to improved governance is our emphasis on respecting donor intent, which is an essential part of philanthropic integrity that is often neglected in public debate.
The mission of The Philanthropy Roundtable is to foster excellence in philanthropy, to protect philanthropic freedom, to help donors achieve their philanthropic intent, and to assist donors in advancing liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility in America and abroad. We seek to foster excellence in philanthropy primarily in four ways.
· Our affinity groups—K-12 education, environmental conservation, and victory over terrorism—focus on honest assessments of the problems and on how philanthropists can find both innovative and practical solutions for some of society’s greatest challenges. For example, in our K-12 programs, donors exchange ideas, strategies, and success stories in how to achieve dramatic breakthroughs in the education of low-income children.
· Our annual meeting is widely known as one of the most intellectually vigorous in the business. We emphasize over and over again that excellence in philanthropy is measured by results, not good intentions. One of the principal purposes of our annual meeting is to sharpen donors’ thinking about their own philanthropic objectives, and about how they can best structure their foundations and other philanthropic enterprises to achieve their charitable intent.
· Our magazine, our guidebooks, and our meetings for donors model excellence by sharing the stories of donors who have proven themselves especially effective. We hope donors will be inspired by, draw lessons from, and actively cooperate with, some of the most successful practitioners in their field.
· We actively recruit new philanthropists who share our view of excellence in philanthropy. Just as in market capitalism, where new competitors are often the driving engine of innovation, we believe that substantial improvements in philanthropic effectiveness are more likely to result from the creation of new foundations and other philanthropic enterprises than from the transformation of existing foundations—much less from heavier government or industry-group regulation.
Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.