Philanthropy Roundtable’s Free to Give campaign elevates the voices of everyday Americans who have dedicated their careers to supporting those in need. Their work is made possible by the freedom of all Americans to give to the causes and communities they care about most.
Ahead of Bill of Rights Day on December 15, the Roundtable spoke with David Bobb, president and CEO of the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI), to discuss the organization’s mission to provide classroom-ready lessons to students and teachers about the Constitution and the liberties we enjoy as Americans. Bobb passionately talks about why the freedom to give is vital in preserving a free and just society.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: You became president of BRI a decade ago. What stood out to you as you made the decision to lead the organization?
Bobb: My entire background has been in politics, and the teaching of politics, policy and history. My impetus for coming to the Bill of Rights Institute was to help educate younger generations about American values, so they learn to cherish their American citizenship. It’s an honor and a privilege, and it should come with a sense of gratitude, responsibility and the knowledge that we all have a role to play in this country.
As an organization that teaches civics, we’re taking the same message about America to teachers and students, regardless of their learning environment, political ideology or background. If history can tell us about the past, civics can guide us in the future.
I’ve thought a lot about what our country will be like on July 4, 2026. On that day, our country will have its 250th birthday. Are we going to be locked in conflict as we are currently, are we going to commemorate that date or will we celebrate it? For many young people, it won’t be a big occasion. What we want to do at the Bill of Rights Institute is impart the principles and the civic virtues of the American founding, and foster an understanding of America that translates into skills and informed patriotism.
Q: What type of impact has the Institute had, and where do you see it heading in the future?
Bobb: When I came to the Institute, we were working with a network of about 20,000 teachers, and now we’re at nearly 75,000. We’re on our way to seeing that number grow to 100,000 educators. Those educators will teach roughly 10 million students each year by America’s 250th birthday in 2026.
What we do has two dimensions. First, we publish top-tier classroom resources that teachers can take, curate and build into their classroom needs. Second, we wrap resources into that curriculum library, including videos, and textbooks in history and civics, which are then encompassed with professional development materials that allow teachers to dive deeper into the curriculum. Everything we do stems from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We ask our teachers and students to examine the story of our country and exercise the skills of being a citizen.
Q: Why does your organization view philanthropic freedom as an important part of American culture?
Bobb: It’s in our name. We’re the Bill of Rights Institute. The First Amendment is a cherished right and we believe the freedom to give — and the ability to do so anonymously, if one chooses — are core traditions and vital rights to the American philanthropic community. We’ve been challenged by state’s attorneys general over the years to reveal private information about our donors, the issue at the heart of Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, the 2021 Supreme Court case that resulted in a huge win for donor privacy.
We at BRI strongly believe protecting the freedom to give for all charitable donors is necessary to preserving American culture. We should strive to help every person in every community, and attacks on the rights of charitable donors only negatively impacts those most in need throughout our communities.
Q: Let’s chat about some of the initiatives you’re working on. What is the My Impact Challenge and what does it aim to accomplish?
Bobb: The MyImpact Challenge is a contest where young students can earn scholarship money for identifying a solution to a problem or challenge in their local community. We award up to $40,000 each year to students and their teachers, including a $10,000 student grand prize. We ask students to read and write about the founding principles of our civic virtues and to apply that framing to their problem solving. We’ve been trained to believe the answer to our problems is the government, while in fact, the main engine of progress is civil society. The reality is the Constitution set it up that way by limiting the role of government. Through its content and project requirements, MyImpact Challenge teaches our younger generations that they have a vital place in our society, and that their problems are not going to be solved simply at the hands of the government.
Q: For teachers and students who want to be a part of BRI, are you operating in every state? And for folks who want to support your work, how can they give?
Bobb: We operate in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. We have a national teacher network, where each teacher reaches roughly 100 students every year. BRI is the largest organization in the country, with the greatest reach into classrooms nationwide, that bases our work on founding principles. While we have a 50-state plan plus D.C., education is a local issue, so there’s no national curriculum. BRI’s digital distribution platform delivers our lessons, handouts and primary sources nationwide, garnering millions of views and downloads every year.
This Institute is singularly focused on helping and supporting teachers and their students in a nonpartisan, educational way. We challenge teachers and young people to live their lives being cognizant of the saving principles that Frederick Douglass spoke of. We want to make the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution an animating feature of our daily lives.
In reference to our donors, we truly have the most supportive donors possible. In the last two years alone, over 14,000 donors and 35 foundations supported our Institute. When we have a prospective donor, we always invite them to have a conversation with us first, to learn about what they want to accomplish with their philanthropic gift and where their heart lies. We also want to discuss opportunities in each donor’s local community, so they can directly see how their donation is affecting lives.
View more stories about the importance of philanthropic freedom at FreeToGive.org.