Philanthropy’s Role in Justice Reform
The charitable sector united in 2015 to urge lawmakers to make permanent three charitable provisions—the IRA charitable rollover, the deduction for conservation easements, and the enhanced deduction for gifts of food inventory—as well as to beat back a dangerous IRS proposal threatening donor privacy. In the midst of a boisterous presidential election, philanthropists gathered at the 2016 ACR Summit for Leaders in Washington, D.C. to learn what they could do to protect private giving and educate lawmakers about the critical role of charitable organizations in a free society.
The 2016 ACR Summit opened with a introduction from Joanne Florino, the project lead at the Atlantic Philanthropies archives, rare and manuscript collections at Cornell University. The first panel, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” taught what was at stake in the 2016 election and the potential impacts on the nonprofit sector. ACR Executive Director Sandra Swirski interviewed Benjamin Kean of Dentons about the state of the 2016 presidential campaign. Mr. Keane began by discussing the Democratic race, where Bernie Sanders surprised everyone by presenting a substantial challenge to Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Keane continued by comparing this election year with 1976, when Republicans faced a contested convention between Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. He noted the current election year was different since most candidates were political outsiders.
Following Mr. Keane’s speech was an off-the-record congressional panel.
The panel, “Money Can’t Buy Me Love,” included panelists Scott Callan, director of special gifts at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Brent Christopher, president and CEO of Communities Foundations of Texas, Eugene Cochrane, president of The Duke Endowment, and Will Heaton, director of policy and public affairs at the Center for Employment Opportunities. The panel was moderated by Mason Rummel, president of the James Graham Brown Foundation. Each panelist made a case to the audience about the value of life-long philanthropy. Following the presentations, the audience had the chance to cast their vote before hearing the speakers make their case.
Eugene Cochrane explained how their endowment has allowed them to fulfill the legacy of their donors. Scott Callan explained how their endowments help us preserve our cultural heritage. Brent Christopher made the case for the ability of long-term philanthropy to provide community leadership on critical issues. Will Heaton spoke about how their endowment has allowed them to make investments in communities where they may not be immediately supported.
After surveying the audience, crowd favorite was the topic of "meeting community needs" (although, the audience wished there was an "All of the Above" option!).
Karl Zinsmeister, vice president of publications at The Philanthropy Roundtable, led the final panel, “Don’t Know Much about History.” In this discussion, Mr. Zinsmeister shared highlights from his book, Almanac of American Philanthropy. Mr. Zinsmeister spoke of Dr. Alfred Loomis, who used his fortune to fund the scientific research that ultimately led to radar technology. His technology played such an important role in World War II that President Franklin Roosevelt said that he was only second to Churchill in helping the Allies win the war.
Later, he was joined by Doris Kreiger of Foundation Source to discuss philanthropy’s critics. In response to a question about the huge influence of the Gates Foundation, he points out that the Gates Foundation donates about $4 billion a year but Americans as a whole give away $360 billion.
In response to critics that philanthropy is too dispersed among small organizations, Mr. Zinsmeister points out that we can never know exactly where breakthroughs may come from.
Mr. Zinsmeister told the story of Stephen Girard, who was once the richest man in America. Every summer, when those with means would flee Philadelphia because of Yellow Fever, Girard would not only remain, but he personally cared for the sick and dying.
Mr. Zinsmeister then spoke about how the importance of government or philanthropic support can vary over time. He pointed toward medical research which was once funded primary by philanthropy. He noted that the NIH was the current predominant funder, but there is still a role for philanthropy in supporting younger scientists. At the time of this speech, only 3 percent of NIH funding went to scientists under the age of 40.
This concluded the 2016 ACR Summit for Leaders. The Philanthropy Roundtable and ACR extend a thank you to all panelists for making the evening a success.