I read with interest the discussion in Philanthropy’s Briefly Noted section (“A Public Switch,” March/ April) about The Pew Charitable Trusts’ recent change to a public charity. As you correctly note, the Trusts made this change in our structure to help us attract more partners and contributors for important initiatives, save funds to invest in issues that matter most to the public, and generally to enhance our efficiency and effectiveness in serving the public interest.
You also point out that our move has drawn fire from some critics on both the left and right. Unfortunately, change often creates some unease and uncertainty, even as it lays the groundwork for strength and stability. Which is why we have worked hard to answer every concern and question as it has arisen, and continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards of accountability, conduct, and transparency.
“From the left,” you observe, “Pablo Eisenberg writes in the Chronicle [of Philanthropy] that the IRS should not have accepted such ‘legal gimmickry.’” To which we have answered that the Trusts undertook a very thorough and diligent two-year process resulting in all the necessary regulatory and legal approvals for our change to a public charity—not just from the IRS, but also the Pennsylvania Attorney General and the courts. This was not “gimmickry,” but the law, as clearly established by Congress and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As for our wielding “even more power and influence,” as Mr. Eisenberg worries, our responsibility is to improve our ability to serve the public interest. To do less is simply unacceptable. And we will continue to work collaboratively with our partners and donors to attract support for initiatives that address the myriad issues facing our country.
“From the right,” you note, “the Wall Street Journal editorializes that the decision to change legal form, like much else Pew does, has little connection to the original donors’ intentions.” This was answered directly in a letter to the Journal’s editor by J. Howard Pew II: “As the grandson of one of the founders and chairman of the Trusts’ board, I can categorically state that is not the case. Our founders had the wisdom to design an institution that would have the flexibility and foresight to address issues that matter most to the American public. Their forward-thinking is one of our greatest assets, because most of the problems we face today as a nation did not even exist 50 years ago. We take our stewardship very seriously. I might add that with Pew family members comprising seven of the 15 members of our board, we are in an excellent position to ascertain donor intent and its application to contemporary issues and problems.”
We’re very excited about what the future holds for the Trusts as a public charity. Our commitment is to dedicate the Trusts’ resources to informing and advancing the debate on issues not because they are left or right, but because they are important to the long-term health and happiness of the American people. That is a commitment we continue to live by, and on which you can continue to count.
—Rebecca W. Rimel
President and CEO, Pew Charitable Trusts