Thank you for profiling the Meadows Foundation in your July/August issue. I became aware of Meadows when first starting in this challenging business some 22 years ago and began noticing their involvement in programs throughout the state. This was very interesting to me because it seemed as if most of the other foundations (especially large ones) were very parochial and usually stayed interested in programs “close to home.” There is certainly nothing inherently wrong with that, but as we got to know the then Meadows President, Curtis Meadows, he kept pointing out that if you only kept on your “local blinders” you were bound to miss out on some wonderful and innovative opportunities. He also remarked that being located in such a large and diverse state, it seemed we all had an obligation to reach out to areas outside of our comfort zone. He has always been a wonderful teacher and visionary on the state of philanthropy in Texas.
Many Texas nonprofit organizations, as well as those of us who have been privileged to work and be associated with their resourceful staff and board, owe the Meadows Foundation a real debt of gratitude.
—Lawrence E. Gill
Dodge Jones Foundation
Over the years, the Brinn Foundation has funded many start-up not-for-profit organizations and many small grassroots, many faith-based, organizations that cannot continue to survive without increasing their leadership capacity or, more generally, putting a business around their passion. Leadership and succession are extremely important for them to survive. In my opinion, evaluating the organization’s leadership and providing for succession at the top are the primary responsibilities of every board of directors, for-profit and not-for-profit.
I agree with Mr. Tierney that top-quality not-for-profit leaders are difficult to attract. The not-for-profits are competing with for-profit enterprises, which, for the most part, offer substantially better compensation packages. The board members of not-for-profits, especially the smaller ones, are also often not as qualified as board members of for-profit organizations. Although I am not ready to recommend it, paying not-for-profit board members is something that I believe is worthy of discussion—a radical concept, I concede, but one that should at least be discussed. After all, the not-for-profit industry is now a huge segment of this country’s economy; to continue successfully, it will need to compete.
I also agree with Mr. Tierney’s point on unrestricted funding by foundations. A large portion of Brinn Foundation funding is unrestricted. Our due diligence focuses on the organization’s effectiveness in accomplishing its mission. If it’s effective the leadership has to be fairly compensated in order to continue its effectiveness; the light, telephone, and rent bills have to be paid too. Without unrestricted revenue, the organization loses flexibility to attract the necessary leadership.
In my experience many of the most effective foundations are the smaller ones, many of which were created by a relatively wealthy businessperson who may have sold a company and now is ready to make an impact with his wealth. Oftentimes these foundations will have board members with the very leadership skills the not-for-profit needs. The Brinn Foundation has no restrictions and in fact encourages members to serve on not-for-profit boards. Many of the organizations that Brinn supports have commented that, although appreciative of the money that we invest in them, they are most appreciative of the management expertise that we provide.
—Richard P. Wiederhold
Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation
Thank you for publishing the thoughtful review by Joel Schwartz of my new biography, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
Mr. Schwartz and I share an interest in Jane Addams’s ideas about moral reform and the morals of the urban poor. He writes in his review that Addams believed it was wrong for charity workers to insist that the able-bodied poor be self-supporting. I have not encountered this argument in her writings. In her longest essay on the practices of charity workers, a chapter in her book Democracy and Social Ethics (1902), she criticizes such workers for something different—for failing to understand that while the poor may not have a great capacity to earn money, they possess many “social virtues” that deserve the respect of charity workers and other middle-class people.
Addams describes the charity worker as insisting to poor families that “they must work and be self-supporting” and that they are ignoble in their laziness. Although the members of a family “may have other charms and virtues—they may be possibly kind and considerate of each other, generous to their friends,” Addams observes, “it is [the] business [of the charity worker] to stick to the industrial side.”
Addams’s point, in other words, was not that the charity worker ought not to encourage poor people to earn their own living but that she should not judge them moral failures for not doing so at a particular point in their lives. Addams recommends a less single-minded approach. “We have learned to judge men by their social virtues. . .and resent being obliged to judge poor people. . .solely upon the industrial side.”
This is what makes Jane Addams interesting to me—her focus on understanding poor people as whole human beings and as persons worthy of her respect, even if they are not succeeding in supporting themselves economically. She refused to see their entire morality as summed up in their poverty.
True, it is difficult to find Addams saying explicitly that everyone has a moral responsibility to support him- or herself. As a philosopher, she tended to focus her moralizing on the social side of life. But both her actions and her writings reveal her profound respect for people who worked hard and her sympathy for the shame that unemployed people felt. Consistent with that respect, she supported herself through her earnings as a writer and lecturer, and did not allow gifts to Hull House to subsidize her living costs.
—Louise W. Knight
Joel Schwartz replies:
Louise Knight correctly notes Jane Addams’s belief that poor people should be judged not only by their capacity to make money but also by the social virtues. Like Knight, I think that this belief of Addams’s is both important and correct.
But Addams said more than that. She also criticized charity workers who maintained that the poor “must work and be self-supporting,” explicitly stating that she did not share many charity workers’ “fear of pauperizing people,” because “we have all accepted our bread from somebody, at least until we were fourteen.”
Here Addams problematically compared the adult poor to children. Elsewhere she suggested that the poor differ radically from the middle class. For example, “the sense of prudence, the necessity for saving, can never come to a primitive, emotional man [that is, an immigrant worker] with the force of a conviction.”
In these passages Addams indicated that the poor cannot reasonably be expected to behave like the middle class; instead we should expect less of the poor. In the last half-century, I regret to say, this message of Addams’s came to be widely accepted in our social policy, to the great detriment of the American poor.