A Donor-advised Fund for Liberal Policy Reform

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1976

Campus protestor and student activist Drummond Pike took a position in 1970 at a youth group funded by the Ford Foundation. There he met philanthropists looking for ways to use their money to alter public policy. In 1976, Pike and Jane Bagley Lehman, heir to the Reynolds tobacco fortune, co-created the Tides Foundation to bankroll left-wing groups and causes.

Tides pioneered the use of donor-advised funds for public-policy purposes, allowing wealthy liberals to fund social change. An early coup was helping Hollywood producer Norman Lear create People for the American Way, one of the leading left-activist groups of the 1980s. Tides also helped establish the National Network of Grantmakers to unite “progressive” donors. (Later, Pike went on to serve as treasurer of the Democracy Alliance—see 2005 entry.)

Today the Tides Foundation manages 373 donor-advised funds averaging several hundred thousand dollars each. Through them, the foundation distributes around $100 million every year to promote causes like “global warming, AIDS treatment and prevention, and economic disparity,” to quote its website. The San Francisco-based organization also operates the Tides Center, created in 1996, to sponsor nascent “social justice” nonprofits, offering them technical, administrative, financial, human-resources, and public-relations services while guiding their activism, and connecting them with donors willing to fund their projects. This and other Tides subgroups spend about as much again as the foundation, making Tides as a whole an approximately $200 million-per-year operation.