President's Note: What Lies Ahead

For the last three decades, The Philanthropy Roundtable has provided thought-provoking content through our quarterly magazine, Philanthropy. Like you, I read the pages with great interest, and the stories inspired my work at The Snider Foundation, where I previously served as executive director.  

It is with that in mind that I share important news about the future of Philanthropy magazine. 

Coming out of a rigorous strategic planning process, the Roundtable’s board of directors recently approved a plan to discontinue the print version of Philanthropy. We will be transitioning the brand to an online format and integrating it with existing and exciting new Roundtable publications. Not only will we continue to produce the outstanding written content to which you are accustomed, we will be adding some additional storytelling tools, including a robust digital marketing campaign, an expanded social media presence, dynamic film content, a podcast, a complete website rebuild, and more. In other words, we will be bringing you more, not less, of the excellent content you have come to expect.

At the same time, our longtime editor-in-chief, Karl Zinsmeister, has elected to step aside after dedicating the past nine years to Philanthropy and the Roundtable. Karl has been a driving force behind the magazine, and we share the news of his departure with respect. We are grateful for his contributions and wish him the best as he moves on to his next chapter.

While transitioning to a digital product was a difficult decision, it will create space for the important work that lies ahead. Our team will focus unabashedly on executing our vision to build and sustain a vibrant American philanthropic movement that strengthens our free society.

As this issue of Philanthropy so compellingly outlines, there has never been a more salient moment to do so. 

I was drawn to philanthropy because of a deep desire to help those in need and improve the world around me. I have yet to encounter anyone in this field with other motives. Although we may disagree on the biggest problems and the most effective solutions, our diverse community of philanthropists has nimbly experimented with myriad approaches and taken risks. Those moments have been learning opportunities for all of us; we are uniquely positioned to do what government cannot. 

In our deeply polarized climate, however, I have been disturbed to hear the growing chorus that there is only one “correct” way to give. This problem wears many faces: a “set of imperatives” on how we “must” address racial inequity; suggestions that only certain causes are acceptable, and pressure to change donor intent to comply; increased criticism of vehicles like donor-advised funds, which democratize philanthropy and allow smaller funders to make an impact while protecting donors’ right to give anonymously; calls for doubling required payouts for private foundations, leaving little for the next crisis; a one-size-fits-all approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion—and even a push for government mandates—to change board and staff composition. And perhaps most disturbingly, efforts for greater transparency and disclosure, which have been used to shame and ostracize those who disagree. 

In other words, cancel culture has taken hold in philanthropy.

These efforts for greater regulation and uniformity are rooted in the progressive ideology that is so prevalent in our field, promoting the idea that philanthropy is public money and therefore subject to significant government oversight. This ideology’s ultimate goal is to change giving patterns to reflect only the wishes of the majority. Our progressive colleagues do not seem to recognize that their jobs only exist because of the wealth free enterprise has generated and the incredible generosity of those who have chosen to invest their private dollars to improve society. 

The Roundtable rejects these ideas and will ardently promote and defend the following principles:  

• Private philanthropy is essential to a free society

• A vigorous private sector generates the wealth that makes philanthropy possible

• Voluntary private action offers the most effective solutions for many of society’s most pressing challenges

• Excellence in philanthropy is measured by results, not good intentions

• Upholding donor intent is essential for philanthropic integrity

The philanthropic community now faces critical challenges that threaten to undermine and curtail our very ability to do our work. In many ways, these threats reflect the larger cultural issues plaguing our country. Therefore, the Roundtable will play an important role in advocating for the vibrant, ideologically diverse climate required to solve complex problems and address the growing needs in our communities, nation, and world. 

In short, we will vigorously defend your right to give as you choose.

Although we will soon discontinue the print version of Philanthropy, the Fall issue you now hold in your hands will not be the last.

In early 2021 we will release a final retrospective issue of Philanthropy to coincide with the Roundtable’s thirtieth anniversary, and we would love your help in putting together this special edition. Please let us know which articles have influenced you most throughout the magazine’s history. You can send your suggestions to editor@PhilanthropyRoundtable.org.

In closing, I want to thank you for supporting the Roundtable and for being a part of this special community. 

We look forward to working with you side by side to fulfill the Roundtable’s vision.

Elise Westhoff is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.