The Trump administration is having an unmistakable impact on philanthropy. That was brought home to me at this month’s Skoll World Forum, notably with the Omidyar Network’s promise to commit $100 million to support independent journalism and combat hate. On a panel about philanthropy, Laleh Ispahani of the Open Society Foundations described the organization’s $10-million Communities Against Hate initiative, which is making nearly 100 grants to nonprofits that promote tolerance. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation will support arts and cultural programs aimed at reducing bias against Muslims. The Craig Newmark Foundation will “stand against deceptive and fake news.” The Rockefeller Foundation made grants to the International Rescue Committee, the ACLU Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League. Etc.
All good. But is it enough? Consider, by way of contrast, how The Whitman Institute (TWI), a small foundation based in San Francisco, responded to Trump. Whitman’s trustees decided in January to conduct the bulk of its grant-making in the next two or three years, to maximize its impact in these parlous times. Since then, Whitman has backed nonprofits that fight for vulnerable populations–undocumented immigrants, incarcerated youth and Muslim and Arab communities in the US, among others.
Whitman’s decision to spend down, in a hurry, is worth pondering. Pia Infante, the foundation’s co-executive director, told me: “At this moment in history, it’s important to take a values-based stand…All of us were terribly concerned for the future of American democracy. It feels not just threatening, but dangerous.”
If, unlike Infante, you aren’t worried about our nation, you aren’t paying attention. As Andrew Sullivan wrote last week about Trump:
What on earth is the point of trying to understand him when there is nothing to understand? Calling him a liar is true enough, but liars have some cognitive grip on reality, and he doesn’t…He has no strategy beyond the next 24 hours, no guiding philosophy, no politics, no consistency at all — just whatever makes him feel good about himself this second. He therefore believes whatever bizarre nonfact he can instantly cook up in his addled head, or whatever the last person who spoke to him said….Occam’s razor points us to the obvious: He has absolutely no idea what he’s doing. Which is reassuring and still terrifying all at once.
Terrifying indeed. So, for that matter, is the threat of global warming. (See my recent blogpost, It’s crunch time for climate philanthropy.) If neither the Trump White House nor global warming concern you, what about the billions of people on our planet who lack electricity, clean water and decent health care?
The point is, foundations could do more about Trump, climate change, global poverty or whatever concerns them, but they don’t. This is largely because most foundations want to go on in perpetuity. If, as a foundation leader, your primary goal is to keep your foundation alive, you won’t feel the urgency to do as much good as you can right now. Which, frankly, is bad news for people threatened by Trump, the health of the planet or the world’s poorest people. Continue reading