The Maclellan Foundation combines a philosophy of personal generosity and a dedication to effective giving.
The roots of the Maclellan Foundation begin with Thomas Maclellan, who left his native Canada in 1892 at the age of 55 to come to Chattanooga, Tennessee. There he bought half of Provident Life and Insurance Company, eventually becoming its president and applying to his business principles of fairness that were rooted in his religious beliefs. Thus, Provident became one of the first insurance companies to provide disability and life insurance to “uninsurables,” those working in the treacherous coal mines, saw mills, and blast furnaces of the era. The company prospered by following through on a simple pledge to “pay all just claims promptly.”
Thomas’s dedication to serving the poor fairly carried over to his daughter, Dora Maclellan Brown, who established the foundation in 1945 and charged future board members to follow the ideals her father modeled.
The Maclellan Foundation demands much of its grant recipients. To understand why, it helps to look first at the attitude toward their own personal wealth that Maclellan family members take.
For a long time Hugh Maclellan Jr., the foundation’s president, followed the standard Christian definition of tithing—giving away 10 percent of gross income. Then Maclellan and his wife, Nancy, decided they could do a lot more; so the two set a goal of giving away a minimum of 70 percent of their personal income every year.
“For us, that’s not sacrificial in any way,” Maclellan said in a speech. “Any middle-class Christian giving 10 percent to his church is more sacrificial than we are. Nevertheless, giving that 70 percent broke the power of money in our lives. It taught us to live on a semi-budget. . .. We moved away from having a lot of expensive gadgets. We don’t have airplanes, boats, and second homes. We’ve found out that the more we have, the more we end up having to fix.”
The two do not hand out the funds willy-nilly. Hugh and his wife split their personal philanthropy three ways, giving 10 percent of their income to their church, 15 percent to individuals in need, and 45 percent to bigger, strategic gifts.
The practice is contagious. Daryl Heald, Hugh’s son-in-law and a foundation trustee, has also been inspired to go beyond tithing. He said he and his wife started giving away 10 percent when they married 17 years ago but have gradually upped that to 55 percent of their gross income.
Local Foundation Giving
Just as family members are closely involved with the groups they support with their personal funds, so too they are involved in the lives of the grantees who receive grants from the foundation. With an endowment of $300 million, the foundation’s personal touch strikes some as distinctive among other medium- to large-sized foundations.
The foundation’s involvement takes many shapes—trustees serve on the boards of nonprofits they fund, the foundation pays for outside consultants to visit grantees, and it provides seminars for inexperienced nonprofit leaders so they can learn about such things as diversifying their donor base, measuring their outcomes, and managing their staff in a way that avoids burnout.
“Money is the least important thing a foundation can bring to the table, even though that’s what brings everyone initially to the table,” says Thomas H. McCallie III, the foundation’s executive vice president of strategic initiatives. “Capacity-building is an issue with us. If you think an organization is worth supporting, it’s worth doing things right instead of just working project by project. If you can help the organization as a whole, you’re a lot better off.”
Julie Baumgartner and her organization, First Things First, provide one example of the lengths the foundation goes to help its grantees. First Things First’s mission is to work for substantial reductions in rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births in Chattanooga. The group has been dramatically successfully, and the city has seen significant declines in both statistics. The Maclellan Foundation was there from the beginning, providing the majority of the foundation’s budget. (For the full story, see “Chattanooga Success Story,” March/April 2003.)
“I’ll never forget,” Baumgartner tells Philanthropy, “Hugh Maclellan walking up to me after the news conference announcing our launch and asking me, ‘Have you thought about how you’re going to raise funds?’ I was really taken aback. I said, ‘Raise funds?’ It was only then that I realized I had to get my ducks in a row and line up funders.’’
The Maclellan Foundation taught her how to do that at half-day seminars it conducts for nonprofit managers in Chattanooga. Since Baumgardner was named in 2001 president and executive director of First Things First, fundraising has become one of her strengths.
Foundation officials say that while a firm commitment to Chattanooga remains, they have become more global over time, with about 70 percent of all grants now going overseas. The turning point in moving from a local and national focus to an international focus came in 1974, when Hugh Maclellan attended the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization meeting held in Lausanne, Switzerland.
There the Lausanne Covenant, which emphasizes worldwide evangelism, was written, and the family foundation has since adopted it as a kind of mission statement. The “Statement of Faith” on the Maclellan Foundation’s website says that even though the foundation is not affiliated with any specific church or denomination, “the beliefs of the Maclellan Foundation’s staff and trustees are best summarized in the Lausanne Covenant.”
Out of the foundation’s embrace of Lausanne came commitments to China and to international evangelistic organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, makers of the Jesus Film Project, a two-hour docudrama about the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke.
Maclellan had long been a supporter of Christian organizations working in China, including the English Language Institute/China which in 1997 was about to be removed from its offices in Beijing. The foundation intervened and not only worked with the government to resolve the problem, but opened a dialogue with members of the Chinese politburo. One of them wrote a book for politburo members praising American faith-based organizations’ approach to addressing social problems. Several years later, foundation officials went to China to train 60 nonprofit leaders in seminars addressing accountability, leadership, governance, and fundraising.
Carol Hamrin, a former senior researcher on China for the U.S. State Department and a Maclellan consultant, says the impact on China’s nonprofit sector could be significant. “How significant, how lasting, will it be?” asks Hamrin rhetorically. “In China, you can’t predict things like this for sure. But . . . people are putting these things into practice.”
In 1999, the nonprofit was in the midst of an ambitious project to show the film on television to more than 1 billion people to commemorate the two-thousandth birthday of Jesus. The hope was to obtain video tributes from a variety of celebrities and world leaders, including former Presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush, and Pope John Paul II. The project required translations into 80 languages.
In the midst of a frantic race against time, leaders of the Orlando grantee were visited by an Atlanta consultant paid for by the Maclellan Foundation. Maclellan is known for its use of consultants who can help nonprofits discover their blind spots and clarify their goals. “It’s Realism 101 every year when their consultant comes in,” says Paul Eshleman, a Campus Crusade vice president.
The consultant asked tough questions about whether existing staff truly had the expertise and time to conduct such a massive television project with a tight deadline. That line of questioning persuaded Campus Crusade to outsource much of the project. The deadline was made, and the nonprofit’s staff kept its sanity.
“It was fantastic,” says Eshleman of the results. “Over three showings (Christmas 1999, Easter 2000, and Christmas 2000) we hit 1.1 billion people.”
“It’s hard to know in the world of philanthropy whom you can trust,” says Eshleman. “The first step in becoming trustworthy to receive funds is to have open books, open access to the places where money is being invested, and follow-up reporting that says here’s what we’ve done with your funds. Maclellan asks for all this. And the more they ask for it, the better the relationship is. Charities learn not to promise what they can’t deliver. If you want something the second year you better be accurate in reporting in the first year how far along you are in the project.”
Now the Maclellans are taking their knowledge of philanthropy on the web. Heald is president of Generous Giving, which was launched in 2000 by the Maclellan Foundation “to encourage givers of all income levels—as well as ministry leaders, pastors and teachers and professional advisors—to experience the joy of giving and embrace a lifestyle of generosity.” To encourage that, Generous Giving offers the world’s largest searchable database of Christian funding opportunities. The latter amounts to an evangelical e-Bay for those looking for new ways to give.
“There’s a real movement going on here,’’ Heald tells Philanthropy. “We’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars released by people who have said, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize’ the power of giving. They’ve changed their giving from $1 million a year to $5 million, from $200,000 to $2 million, from $800,000 to $4 million. These are all recent stories within the last two years from people who have come back and told us this.”
The Maclellan Foundation has shown that giving is about more than writing a big check. It’s about investing your heart, mind, and even your soul.
Mark O'Keefe is editor of Religion News Service