Hank Brown had already had quite a career before coming to head the Daniels Fund, established in 1998 by the late cable TV mogul Bill Daniels and headquartered in Denver. Just before taking charge of the foundation this summer, Brown was serving as president of the University of Northern Colorado. Before that, he had served Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives and later spent one term in the Senate, where he was an early advocate of work-based welfare reform. A star football player and student body president at the University of Colorado, Brown later served as a naval aviator in Vietnam. (Bill Daniels was also a naval aviator, serving in World War II and Korea. He and the fund are perhaps best known for the Daniels College Prep and Scholarship Program, profiled in the March/April 2000 issue of Philanthropy.)
As president, Brown rocked the boat at the university, cutting millions of dollars and dozens of jobs from administration and re-allocating the money to instruction; yet he was popular with both faculty and students. He set fundraising records, boosted both admission standards and the number of admissions, and raised faculty salaries—not on the across-the-board basis many professors favored but on a market basis determined by the demand in different fields.
Bill Daniels died in March 2000, and the Daniels Fund is still receiving assets from his estate. When the transfer is complete, it will total nearly $1 billion, making the fund Colorado’s largest private foundation. In addition to its college prep program, it funds programs in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah in the areas of early childhood education, the elderly, homelessness, mental health, substance abuse, disabilities, and amateur athletics.
Philanthropy interviewed Hank Brown in October 2002.
PHILANTHROPY: You’ve had an extraordinary career: naval aviator, attorney, business executive, Congressman, Senator, university president. Why did you choose philanthropy? And what was it about Bill Daniels’ life and principles that attracted you to the Daniels Fund?
MR. BROWN: Bill was a personal friend whom I had known since he ran for governor of Colorado in 1974. He was a man of uncommon integrity and entrepreneurial genius, both qualities I admire. So I was delighted to be chosen to be part of his philanthropic effort.
PHILANTHROPY: Can you elaborate on the vision of the Daniels Fund: to build “a world where every individual has an equal opportunity to lead a healthy, productive life”?
MR. BROWN: America has offered more opportunity to more people than any other civilization in the history of mankind. This is the most exceptional experiment in history. The emphasis here is on opportunity. Our country has never guaranteed equal results, and God forbid that it should. Hard work and enterprise drive rewards. Our focus at the Daniels Fund is to help spread opportunity even further.
Bill Daniels took great joy in giving, and we hope that that spirit won’t be lost in his foundation. He gave to promote opportunity, and he did it with some spontaneity.
PHILANTHROPY: With nearly a billion dollars in assets, the Daniels Fund could have an extraordinary influence on Metro Denver and the four states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Utah where you are concentrating your grant-making. Ten or fifteen years from now, how do you hope Metro Denver and your four-state region will be different as a result of the Daniels Fund’s work?
MR. BROWN: A significant increase in young people from low-income families going to college. Strong programs for the homeless that provide them with jobs and help them become self-sufficient. Effective programs for drug users and alcoholics that enable them to kick the habit, not just make life more livable while they continue the habit. Expanded opportunities for amateur athletics. And a record of innovation in education, including vouchers and other forms of school choice, with the objective of improved academic performance for students.
PHILANTHROPY: How do you intend to avoid the fate of so many other large foundations that ignore and in some cases violate the principles of the donors who created them?
MR. BROWN: That is an enormously difficult question. Human nature being what it is, foundations like to allocate funds based on what current grantmakers think, rather than what their founders thought. We do have some things in place to protect Bill Daniels’ intent.
One is that Bill laid out seven specific areas that he wanted the fund to focus on in our grantmaking. That gives us some guidance.
Secondly, he instructed us to support some specific projects, such as the Young Americans Bank, which encourages saving by children, and the New Mexico Military Institute, a junior college and high school that emphasizes discipline, integrity, honor, and the pursuit of excellence.
Thirdly, we’ve recorded the groups and people he donated to in his life as examples of what we ought to be considering.
My hope is that when the Board selects new directors, it will select people who share Bill’s values.
PHILANTHROPY: Thirty percent of the Daniels Fund’s efforts are dedicated to the Daniels College Prep and Scholarship Program. What kind of students are you most trying to help here?
MR. BROWN: We want to provide college opportunities for young people like Bill Daniels. People who grew up financially poor but rich in spirit. Young people who have the grit and determination to make a difference. Bill’s own guidance was that we select “diamonds in the rough.” That’s a different standard than many universities look for. It’s a tough standard that doesn’t always lend itself to quantitative measurement. We’re looking for potential leaders with the determination to succeed.
There are two parts to the program, the college prep and the scholarship program. The scholarship program pays 100 percent of the costs of going to college, including transportation, health care, and a computer, as well as tuition, room, and board. We do ask the students to work a modest amount while they are in school. We believe it builds character.
The prep program is an outreach program to encourage low-income high school students to go to college. We provide each participant with a mentor, enable them to spend a week on a college campus and teach them what college life is like. We help them learn to study and how to apply for college admissions and financial aid. In effect, we provide them the kind of guidance that other children get from their parents.
In the target population we are trying to reach, only 18 percent of young people normally go to college. Of those who have completed our prep course, 90 percent go to college.
PHILANTHROPY: Why did the Daniels Fund decide to operate this scholarship and prep program on its own, instead of working through a separate 501(c)3 organization?
MR. BROWN: We’re doing this by ourselves as a startup, because other groups didn’t have the package we wanted. But we’re not necessarily going to do this on our own forever. In Utah, we’re going to experiment with contracting with an outside group. Also, if the prep model is good, we hope other foundations and donors will pick it up and emulate it.
PHILANTHROPY: As a Senator, you were well-known for your emphasis on fiscal responsibility. You argued that the federal government was too bloated and bureaucratic, and that the federal government would be more effective if it focused on its core functions. What does the federal government do badly today that private philanthropy could do better?
MR. BROWN: The federal government has had a tremendously difficult time helping people help themselves. Instead, it’s often developed programs that penalize work and reward failure.
Philanthropy can do just the opposite. It can help create programs that make us stronger and independent rather than dependent. It’s the difference between true compassion and controlling others.
Justice Clarence Thomas said it best, and I keep this quotation on the wall of my office. During his confirmation hearings, Senator Paul Simon asked him, “I see these two Clarence Thomases, one who has written some extremely. . .insensitive things. . .and then I hear the Clarence Thomas with a heart. . .. Which is the real Clarence Thomas?” And Judge Thomas replied: “Senator, that is all a part of me. I used to ask myself how could my grandfather care about us when he was such a hard man sometimes. But, you know, in the final analysis, I found that he is the one who cared the most because he told the truth, and he tried to help us help ourselves. And he was honest and straightforward with us, as opposed to pampering us, and prepared us for difficult problems that would confront us.”
PHILANTHROPY: Why is America the most charitable nation on earth?
MR. BROWN: One of the things you quickly learn when you run for office is that the people who are most likely to donate to your campaign are the ones who have the greatest confidence in their own ability to replace the money. Americans are generous in part because we are confident in our ability to generate new wealth to replace what we have given away. Charity is a habit that’s grown up with the nation.
America’s generosity also emanates from the deeply religious roots of our country. Our religious spirit encourages individuals to be generous, and it also has an influence on our laws, including tax policies that encourage charitable contributions.
We as a people feel we have an obligation to help our neighbors in need. We believe it is right to donate. Other countries share this sense of obligation. I think what makes us different as a people is that helping those in need is not just an obligation for us, it is a joy.
PHILANTHROPY: One of the greatest strengths in American philanthropy is the abundance of local grantmakers, who can learn from each other how to advance freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility through local giving. What are some examples of grantees in your four-state region who are doing outstanding work that deserves to be replicated elsewhere?
MR. BROWN: I’m impressed by Bob Coté’s Step 13, a rehabilitation program in Denver with a great track record placing addicts in jobs and ending their addiction. Urban Peak in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood has a good record reducing dropout rates, boosting grade point averages, and increasing the number of GED diplomas among homeless urban youth. Peanut Butter and Jelly Family Services in New Mexico has a very promising program to connect prisoners with their children and to help them understand the impact of their behavior on their families, and it has lowered recidivism rates. Bill Daniels liked to give directly to individuals in urgent need—he’d read in the paper about someone who couldn’t pay family medical bills or couldn’t afford a car, and he’d say let’s help that person—and we have explored ways to achieve this objective as a foundation.
PHILANTHROPY: How has your experience in the business world prepared you for philanthropy?
MR. BROWN: We have a requirement at the Daniels Fund that the president must have served at least ten years in the for-profit world. Exposure to the discipline of the marketplace can be helpful for philanthropy. Executives in for-profit enterprises must identify what works well. Business leaders understand the importance of maximizing returns and controlling administrative costs.
PHILANTHROPY: You were a leader in the movement for congressional term limits, and to the astonishment of the political world you kept your pledge to serve only one term in the U.S. Senate. Do you think there should be term limits for foundation executives?
MR. BROWN: No, the circumstances are different. I believe very deeply in term limits for politicians. The powers of incumbency in the U.S. House are so overwhelming that voters really don’t have much of a choice in their elected officials unless we have term limits. In philanthropy, it’s important for people to have enthusiasm and joy in giving. Some turnover has merit. Usually the Good Lord provides a natural turnover.