Philanthropy Roundtable is a fierce defender of philanthropic freedom, the right of philanthropists to give freely to the causes they care about most – without being hampered by unnecessary guardrails. As an organization, the Roundtable has spoken out against critics of private philanthropy as well as legislation on the state and federal levels that threatens charitable giving. This includes the so-called Accelerating Charitable Efforts (ACE) Act in Congress – which would regulate the use of donor-advised funds, undermine donor privacy and discriminate against family foundations. Provisions in this bill would make it more difficult for these foundations to continue their critical work on a wide range of worthy causes.
In a recent episode of the Roundtable’s interview series, “Doers to Donors,” Philanthropy Roundtable President and CEO Elise Westhoff asked Maureen and Kelly Hackett of the Hackett Family Foundation what they would say to such critics, particularly those who target family foundations, which make up half of all private foundations. The Hackett Family Foundation is dedicated to serving a variety of charitable causes, including mental health, cancer research and faith-based education institutions, among others.
“[The attacks on family foundations are] really disappointing, disheartening, and I think it is almost dehumanizing [to say] what you’re doing really doesn’t count and you shouldn’t get credit for it,” said Maureen Hackett, co-founder and president of the Hackett Family Foundation, offering a passionate defense of family foundations.
“I’m not looking for my name on a building or a big parade. I’m looking to do what I was put on this earth to do, and that is to help somebody, somewhere have a better life for whatever reason. … Why would you punish somebody who’s trying to do something good?” she added.
Maureen Hackett’s daughter, Kelly, who serves as vice president and trustee of the foundation, says her family’s work has been about improving lives – and she finds attempts to make it more difficult to engage in effective philanthropy troubling.
“My perspective is the perspective of generational legacy … the values that are really inherent to being a Hackett. That’s what it is that I’m bringing to the table. My parents have given away so much of their wealth, it’s astounding,” she said. “I would hope people would get back to understanding philanthropy is about love of humankind. And for anybody to stand in front of others and give them any excuse not to share resources with the world, is really disappointing.”
Like other provisions of the ACE Act targeting donor-advised funds and donor privacy, the bill’s attack on family foundations is based on a false premise. Critics suggest family foundations are inappropriately allocating administrative funds to benefit family members who work for their own foundation. In fact, one of the bill’s unjust restrictions would prevent family foundations from including the salaries and expenses of working family members as part of their administrative expenses. This means family members would be treated differently than other employees of the foundation as well as employees of nonfamily foundations. In actuality, the evidence suggests this concern is misguided.
In a study commissioned by Philanthropy Roundtable, the data revealed family foundations spend a smaller share of their qualifying distributions on charitable overhead expenses than nonfamily foundations. Furthermore, should a concern arise, laws and regulations already exist to guard against self-dealing by family members who work for family foundations.
Click to watch the full “Doers to Donors” episode featuring Maureen and Kelly Hackett and listen to the podcast on Apple and Spotify.