Thursday, March 11, 2004
12:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Hudson Institute, Washington, DC
Program and Panel
Introduction by WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
ADAM MEYERSON, Philanthropy Roundtable
TERRENCE SCANLON, Capital Research Center
MICHAEL GREBE, Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation
Response by RICK COHEN, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
Questions and answers
On March 4, 2004, researchers of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) released the organization’s latest report on the impact of conservative philanthropy, “Axis of Ideology: Conservative Foundations and Public Policy.” The report was the culmination of months spent cataloguing the “conservative cadre in the nonprofit sector”—79 conservative grantmaking institutions, the 350 public policy-oriented nonprofit organizations they support, and their 4,812 public-policy related grants to those organizations in 1999-2001. The names of key staff and board members of both foundations and grantees were tracked, their press mentions checked for evidence of coordination or collaboration, all in an attempt to isolate the secrets of conservative philanthropy’s striking success.
Within a week of the report’s release, the Bradley Center hosted a panel of three of conservative philanthropy’s leading experts and practitioners, Adam Meyerson of the Philanthropy Roundtable, Capital Research Center’s Terrence Scanlon, and Michael Grebe of the Bradley Foundation, to respond to the question: Did NCRP get it, well, Right? After beginning the discussion with a summary of the report, NCRP’s own Rick Cohen responded to the panel’s comments, followed by a lively discussion.
“You can’t help but be struck by the fact that there’s a commitment of these foundations to institution building through core operating support and multi-year funding,” NCRP director RICK COHEN told the audience. “The report makes it appear that these foundations trust their grant recipients in a major way…; that there’s a lot of value coherence.… They put their money out behind organizations they want to support. And they engage in long-term public-policy advocacy reform. …And, finally, even though a lot of money goes into Washington, we see an apparatus of regional and local institutions that they support as well, so that it’s not simply a Heritage or an AEI kind of strategy, but there’s an array of groups out there that are really walking the halls of State Capitols and really building a constituency.” Cohen noted that in the face of conservative philanthropy’s success, the left has “an inability to figure out where the core values are and to get past the barriers that …prevent an adequate discussion.” He expressed certainty that such core values exist; the problem, in his view, is that they simply are not discussed, due in part to “funding …based on grantees making the case of how they’re different… in terms of issue, focus, approach, or identity.”
Terrence Scanlon responded to Cohen by pointing out that as focused, committed, and successful as conservative philanthropy has been, it “really isn’t the case” that conservative foundations “just have deep, deep pockets and are making huge amounts of dollar grants to conservative public policy grants,” as NCRP’s report might lead one to believe. As unfocused as it might be, the philanthropy of liberal and progressive foundations dwarfs conservative philanthropy, Scanlon noted. The Bradley Foundation’s Michael Grebe agreed.
Adam Meyerson gave an account of his “seven habits of highly effective philanthropists in public policy,” as published in Philanthropy magazine in March/April 2003. They include several practices identified in NCRP’s report: clarity of vision, strategic investment in ideas, and long-term thinking. In addition, he noted that most conservative public policy grantees do not accept government funds. And while liberals tend to fund specialized public policy research, conservatives fund very large, broad research institutions; the result is that it has been easier for conservative public policy experts to develop a coherent message of what conservatism means.
Finally, the Bradley Foundation’s Michael Grebe pointed out that NCRP’s report, while it accurately depicts conservative philanthropy’s practices, misconstrues the similarities among conservative funders to mean that there is active collaboration among them. Many conservative foundations have “a very strong sense of mission” and their missions overlap, but they do not collaborate—to Grebe’s dismay. “That’s one of the reasons why [Bradley] support[s] organizations like the [Philanthropy] Roundtable and the Capital Research Center and DonorsTrust and others who have a role to play in achieving greater collaborative activity among conservative funders.”
All of the panelists had high praise for Rick Cohen and NCRP for their accurate and thorough work on this report. Questions were posed to the panelists by several audience members, including historian Martin Morse Wooster, Hudson Institute’s own Hillel Fradkin, Ellen Dadisman of the Council on Foundations, Kimberly Dennis of the D&D Foundation, American Spectator publisher Alfred Regnery, Alan Bjerga with Knight Ridder newspapers, and Steve Jordan of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Also in attendance were Georgetown University’s Pablo Eisenberg, Alex Echols, Michael Anft of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Mary Donahue of the Sand County Foundation, Eugene Meyer of the Federalist Society, Rachel Mosher-Williams of the Aspen Institute, and several other representatives of foundations and the media, nearly fifty people in total.
This event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Krista at firstname.lastname@example.org.