History of The Philanthropy Roundtable

The Philanthropy Roundtable traces its origins back to the 1970s, when it began as a small, informal network of grantmakers committed to fostering a greater respect for donor intent and encouraging private, voluntary solutions to society's most pressing challenges. Directed by Leslie Lenkowsky, this network originally operated under the auspices of the Institute for Educational Affairs (IEA). In 1987, IEA formally constituted the Philanthropic Roundtable and began publishing Philanthropy, a quarterly newsletter circulated among grantmakers. Then, as now, members of the Roundtable were dedicated to the principle and practice of effective charitable giving.

In 1991, the organization became an independent, free-standing nonprofit corporation and was named The Philanthropy Roundtable. Headquartered in Indianapolis, the Roundtable acquired its own board of directors, staff, and mission. Kim Dennis agreed to serve as the Roundtable’s first executive director, a position she held until 1996. Ms. Dennis was responsible for launching one of the Roundtable’s signature initiatives: the Annual Meeting. In 1992, about 90 donors attended the first Annual Meeting at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ever since then, the Roundtable has been recognized for the intellectual quality of its conferences. In addition to the Annual Meeting, the Roundtable also hosts regional meetings on topics of specific interest to donors.

In 1997, under the leadership of John Walters, the Roundtable relocated to Washington, D.C. That same year, the newsletter became a regular, sector-specific magazine. Today, Philanthropy is the leading periodical for donors committed to cultivating freedom, opportunity, and personal responsibility through their giving. In addition to the magazine, Mr. Walters continued to produce a series of guidebooks and monographs intended to connect donors with the best topic-specific information on the practice of principled giving. The Roundtable maintains a library of past publications and provides copies, free of charge, to qualified donors.

Adam Meyerson became president of the Roundtable in 2001 after Mr. Walters joined the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. In 2003, Mr. Meyerson led the Roundtable on a new strategy designed to provide donors with more in-depth service and greater opportunities for strategic collaboration. The Roundtable launched a series of sector-specific Breakthrough Groups, which convene their own conferences and provide customized programs for networks of interested donors.

In 2004, the Roundtable engaged the realm of public policy through the creation of its Alliance for Charitable Reform (ACR). Through ACR, the Roundtable works to sustain and strengthen philanthropic freedom. ACR is dedicated to educating the public about the contributions of American private philanthropy, its longstanding tradition, and the role it plays in our nation’s communities. ACR supports laws and policies that will increase charitable giving. It also works to help members communicate their message effectively, and to encourage thought, discussion, and debate on issues related to charity and public policy. ACR has played a leading role in protecting grantmaking foundations from unnecessary and sometimes harmful legislation.

In 2006, the William E. Simon Foundation invited the Roundtable to administer its William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership. The prize honors living philanthropists who have shown exemplary leadership through their own charitable giving, either directly or through foundations they have created. It honors the ideals and principles which guided Simon’s many philanthropic initiatives, including personal responsibility, resourcefulness, volunteerism, scholarship, individual freedom, faith in God, and helping people to help themselves. It carries a $250,000 award, payable to the charity of the recipient’s choice. William E. Simon Sr., the late financier, philanthropist, and Secretary of the Treasury, was a co-founder of IEA in the 1970s, and the Roundtable, which grew out of his work, is honored to present the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership at its Annual Meeting.

The Philanthropy Roundtable currently has an annual budget of $10 million, a staff of more than 30, and a membership of  660 philanthropic organizations and individuals.