Make an impact—that’s the imperative the Jaquelin Hume Foundation in San Francisco holds dear. And in order to reach this goal, the foundation believes it must first be clear about its strategy of supporting free-market solutions to education reform and then pay close attention to results, says executive director Giséle Huff.
“Historically, long-established, mainline foundations haven’t demanded much in the way of results,” Huff tells Philanthropy, “but the new philanthropists—the Gateses and the Broads, for instance—don’t fool around. If they get negative results, they won’t keep investing time, resources, and energy into losing battles. That same strategy has long been a part of our playbook, and I believe it will be the legacy” of free-market philanthropy.
Whatever the legacy of freedom-oriented philanthropy might be, the Jaquelin Hume Foundation will be an important part of the story. Founded in 1962 by the scion of a California vegetable-processing company, the foundation existed primarily as a venue for the donor’s personal giving until his death in 1991. Jaquelin Hume had been among a group of California businessmen who helped bring Ronald Reagan to national prominence, and he had long championed free-market ideals through education and public policy funding.
Hume is perhaps most associated with the Foundation for Teaching Economics, which he helped found in 1975 to train economics teachers and high school students in free-market principles. He also helped organize the Campaign for America in the 1980s to support anti-Communist insurgencies around the world. Along the way, he gave to various public policy and civic initiatives as well as local arts groups and other disparate causes.
After Hume’s death in 1991, the foundation continued to fund many of the same activities through an annual process in which potential grantees would make elaborate presentations to the uncompensated board in San Francisco. But when Huff was hired in 1998, Jerry Hume and other trustees decided that the time had come to narrow the scope of the foundation’s work.
“We decided that all those activities were so widespread that we couldn’t make an impact,” says Huff. “We concluded that the big priority was education—the late Mr. Hume thought it was important that children be educated to be good citizens.”
Since that meeting, the foundation has focused on education reform, including charter schools, vouchers, standards, and curricula. “We’re really interested,” says Jerry Hume, “in programs that help individuals understand how well or how poorly schools are performing and then empower those individuals to have the capacity to effect change.”
Among the grantees that Hume and Huff are most proud of are the Center for Education Reform, a national charter advocacy group, and the State Policy Network, an association of free-market-oriented think tanks that work at the state level for education reform, among other issues. Other grantees include some of the most prominent organizations in the education reform universe, including the Institute for Justice, the Alliance for School Choice, and the Association of American Educators.
A small foundation with assets of just under $20 million last year, Hume’s single-minded focus on education has enabled it to have an outsized impact through some of the groups it funds. It has also magnified its influence by spending into its corpus with the goal of sunsetting the foundation somewhere around 2015.
“We’re spending ourselves out for two reasons,” explains Jerry Hume. “First, we’re concerned about maintaining donor intent over time, especially when we get into future generations. Secondly, we believe that a large amount of money spent today will have a greater impact than a smaller amount spent over several decades.”
By leveraging its assets now, the Hume Foundation has been able to collaborate with much larger players such as the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. Huff is beginning to see some of the strengths of free-market philanthropy—flexibility, innovation, and a focus on results as measured by good data—adopted by “mainstream” philanthropy. Some of the education funders groups “never used to talk about using strong accountability measures or the futility of just throwing more money at the system,” she says. “Now they are talking about it.”
The Jaquelin Hume Foundation has been an associate of The Philanthropy Roundtable since 2000 and has become steadily more involved, especially through the Roundtable’s K-12 education breakthrough group. “I can’t begin to count the ways that I rely on the networking opportunities provided by the Roundtable,” says Huff. “I’m such a strong supporter of the Roundtable. I belong to the Roundtable, but I really feel like it’s an organization that belongs to me.”
Justin Torres is a contributing editor to Philanthropy.