Christie Herrera on DonorsTrust  “Giving Ventures” Podcast 

Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Christie Herrera recently joined an episode of Giving Ventures, a DonorsTrust podcast designed to help charitable givers discover new opportunities.  

On the podcast, Herrera talks with Lawson Bader, president and CEO of DonorsTrust, and Peter Lipsett, vice president of DonorsTrust, about important issues facing philanthropy, including threats to donor privacy, foundation sunsetting, controversies surrounding giving to higher education and the advantage of different giving vehicles like donor-advised funds (DAFs). In closing, Herrera encourages the audience to continue to fight for philanthropic freedom and show what civil society can achieve through charitable giving by helping those most in need. 

Centered Iframe

Below are excerpts from Herrera’s remarks during the conversation: 

Exciting and Most Dangerous Trends in Philanthropy 

“Some of the things that are the most exciting are just the sheer number of tools and resources and vehicles available to encourage charitable giving. I mean, we no longer live in a world where there are only big institutional foundations. We see donors giving through [501(c)(4)s] and LLCs and DAFs like DonorsTrust and what it means is that the conservative donor movement as a whole is getting more creative, more sophisticated. And I think most importantly, more entrepreneurial in their giving.  

… Do we have three hours to talk about all of the threats on charitable giving? … I’m super concerned about donor privacy, and we’re seeing donor privacy being attacked not only from the left, but also from the right. You have this growing number of populist voices who are saying, ‘We want to take down big philanthropy and we want to use the force of government to do it.’ That is not being principled, that is dangerous. Listen, all of the threats to philanthropy and charitable giving from the right are very shortsighted and they will be the most harmful to our causes, to liberty-oriented groups. Not to mention, all of the people who rely on normal everyday charities for the things that they care about.” 

Countering Political Threats to Donor Privacy 

“This is a tale as old as time and we will always have these voices that say just what Lawson talked about, ‘I’m angry and now I have power and I’m going to go after the people who I disagree with,’ which obviously doesn’t work when you’re not in power, right? This power is going to be very short lived.  

I feel like we need to demonstrate how some of these attacks will hurt broader giving. I mean, you alluded to this in your intro Peter but middle class giving and the number of people giving has been on the decline for a while now. And I worry how donor disclosure efforts could worsen that problem. When you expose donors and their giving for the purpose of harassing them and shaming them, it doesn’t hurt the big guys who have PR teams that can handle it. It hurts the little guys, the everyday, middle-class givers who will put their money elsewhere as a result. I think we need to show a direct connection between what these regulations say on paper and what they will mean for small nonprofits, conservative organizations, that will be hurt as a result.” 

Advising Donors on Funding Higher Education 

“We’ve had hundreds of these conversations over the past year and the through line of all of those conversations is that donors are fed up, and this is the $500 donor to the nine-figure donor. They’re all telling you the same thing, ‘We’re investing all of this money, and these colleges and universities are still failing at their fundamental jobs. We’re not asking for much. We just want kids to be prepared for the workforce and not be totally brainwashed to hate America. Just want some simple things.’  

With all of this groundswell, we just launched at the Roundtable, our Higher Education Donor Services initiative which does a couple of key things. One, we want to help donors protect their donor intent, we want to help donors advance their values and we just want to help donors be more effective in their giving to higher education. 

What that means practically and on the ground is, what happens now? We’ve had these dust-ups at Penn and Harvard and all of these other schools, and they ask, ‘What should we be doing now with our giving?’ And we tell them that yeah, you should keep giving to higher ed, but do it in a way that makes it worthy of the name of higher education. 

I’m going to go through a couple of pieces of advice that we give donors, which I think will be really useful for your audience. The first is to please ditch your alma mater if you need to. The days of giving out of nostalgia are over. And that’s going to mean taking your money elsewhere to fund institutions and leaders who are committed to the values we share like free speech and intellectual diversity. There are a lot of places where you can do this. University of Florida is a great example with what Ben Sasse is doing.  

I’m an alum of Florida State. I can’t believe I’m advocating giving to the Gators. But you know, stranger things have happened. Pano Kanelos and what he’s doing at UATX. Listen, competition is an awesome thing. If Harvard loses a billion dollars in donations from graduates, that is one thing. But if those graduates, if the alumni give that billion dollars very loudly to another institution, Harvard is going to feel the heat. 

 We also tell donors to fund individuals and ideas and not institutions. I was talking with a very astute and bright professor at Princeton and he recently told me that unrestricted gifts are the work of the devil. I could not agree more. No one wants to see your dollars find something that you hate, like diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). So instead of giving to institutions, support specific scholars or centers that directly align with your values. Because guess what, it is going to be much, much harder for those colleges and universities to co-opt that money.  

Finally, we’re telling donors to advocate for reform from the outside. We have seen so many donors pull their gifts from higher ed, and that’s great. But the end result of that is a splash of publicity that lasts for a few news cycles. But if that same donor directs their money to an advocacy group … we’re going to start to create pressure for the school to change.  

Thinking about the Alumni Free Speech Alliances, Heterodox, FIRE. The goal shouldn’t be just forcing out university presidents, although it has been wonderful to see. We need to be empowering students and faculty and alumni to demand the real change that we need over the long run.” 

Values-Based Giving and the Politicization of Philanthropy 

“It is a very well-known thing that charitable giving goes down in election years and that is understandable. Elections are important, but it is equally important for donors to recognize just how effective charitable giving can be at advancing your values and your worldview outside of the realm of politics. A big initiative that we have at the Roundtable is called our Values-Based Giving initiative. It allows donors to find great charities on the ground that put their values at the heart of what they do.  

And we have new donors coming in to our network all of the time and a lot of them are big political donors. And we tell them, yes, giving to candidates is important, but you need to make sure that your charitable giving isn’t working cross purposes to those values. And that is why we say philanthropy is the long game. 

Lawson mentioned earlier, the politicization of philanthropy, which has been really horrible to the concept of free speech. … We can’t forget that policy philanthropy is critical to creating the conditions for freedom. We’re not just supporting philanthropy because we think philanthropy is cool. It is! But we support philanthropy because it is what brings about freedom. Not only in that Tocquevillian sense, but also in the policy groups and think tanks and research centers, where freedom is advanced everyday. We like to say that charitable giving supports the R&D for policymakers. It’s what elected officials need to help them make informed decisions. So we need all of it.” 

An Encouraging Note in Closing 

“Last word for me is it is a really rough world out there for donors who share our values. That is why the work that DonorsTrust is doing is so important. It’s why the work the Roundtable is doing is so important, because we are it. We’re the people standing in the way between the donors who share our values and the people that want to tear them down. I really encourage everyone in your community, in our community, to stand strong. Because our ideas are winning, and we will show truly what civil society can do with the power of charitable giving.” 

Listen to the entire episode of “Giving Ventures” here. 

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