Summer 2016 – President’s Note

Reasons to join us in Charleston.

The Philanthropy Roundtable’s 25th Annual Meeting will take place in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 16-17, one week after our national elections. Our conference will be upbeat and forward-looking. We will focus on the role of philanthropy in preserving and strengthening what makes America truly great—respect for the individual and for community, a competitive and free economy, commitment to opportunity for all, voluntary generosity, and the problem-solving creativity that comes from a free society.

The Roundtable is committed to reasoned argument, and our Annual Meeting will feature something missing from politics this year: civilized high-level debate about the great issues of our time. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, will offer contrasting perspectives on the best philanthropic strategies for addressing poverty and bolstering upward mobility. Professors Steven Calabresi, chairman of the Federalist Society, and David Strauss, a board member of the progressive American Constitution Society, will offer opposing approaches to constitutional interpretation, as part of a series of National Constitution Center debates sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt will also explore how philanthropists can strengthen freedom of speech and debate on college campuses, under assault from the “safe-spaces” movement of anti-intellectual militants who seek to suppress views they disagree with.

One of the greatest achievements of philanthropy in the past 25 years is the emergence of multiple charter-school networks where low-income students excel. Building on this success we will hold a pre-conference on November 15 on the great challenge for school choice over the next decade: multiplying high-quality options for parents and children in the 30 states that now have vouchers, tax credits, educational savings accounts, and other school-choice policies.

Another feat of modern philanthropy has been to spread the principles of a free society to developing countries. Gary Haugen, founder and CEO of International Justice Mission, will describe his organization’s remarkable work to strengthen the rule of law and justice systems in Latin America, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia in order to protect poor people from slavery, child prostitution, and other forms of violence.  

We will be discussing the Roundtable’s new Culture of Freedom initiative to reverse the collapse of marriage and religious participation in America’s working-class communities. This collapse has been catastrophic economically, educationally, and psychologically. It has also led to a greater desire for government solutions, as individuals who are no longer able to turn to loving families, congregations, and neighborhoods for help in times of trouble instead look to the state for support. See Heather Wilhelm’s story on the Culture of Freedom initiative in this issue of Philanthropy.

The Roundtable is also launching a new campaign on philanthropic strategies for advancing personal character and integrity. One of our keynote speakers will be University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth, TED Talk superstar and author of the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Duckworth argues that positive character attributes such as self-control and persistence are more important than IQ or test scores in determining academic and professional success.

We will be awarding the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership to Bruce and Suzie Kovner. Bruce has been chairman of the American Enterprise Institute and the Juilliard School performing arts conservatory, and the Kovners have been national leaders in education-reform philanthropy.

As with all of our Annual Meetings, there will be numerous practical sessions on effective giving. Subjects include the uses and limitations of evaluation, how to read grantees’ financial statements, the pluses and minuses of transparency, and do’s and don’ts in involving family members in foundations. Thank you to our colleagues at Exponent Philanthropy and the National Center for Family Philanthropy for running some of these.

So long as donors and foundations continue to have the freedom to make giving decisions, we at the Roundtable believe that the greatest days of American philanthropy are yet to come. Karl Zinsmeister, our vice president of publications, is currently touring the country speaking about his extraordinary Almanac of American Philanthropy, recounting the stories of the greatest achievements of private giving in our nation’s history. At our gala 25th anniversary dinner on November 16, Karl will describe the philanthropic vision of some of America’s most innovative givers for the next quarter century.

We look forward to seeing you in Charleston.

Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.