Welcome by the Bradley Center’s WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
HOWARD HUSOCK, Manhattan Institute
MICHAEL HARTMANN, Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation
RICK COHEN, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy
"We've grown accustomed to the partisan divide of American politics extending to the nonprofit world," observed the Manhattan Institute's HOWARD HUSOCK in the Winter 2006 issue of City Journal.* "As blue state is to red, so Ford has been to Scaife, and MacArthur to Olin." But when it comes to approaches to urban poverty on the Left and the Right -- partisan rhetoric aside -- Husock found that nonprofit organizations increasingly operate "in ways that hark back to an older conservative model of charity, emphasizing individual responsibility and hard work as the tools that the poor need to get ahead." Some justify their missions with "left-wing bromides," but they are merely "talking left" while "acting right."
In his monograph Helping People to Help Themselves: A Guide for Donors (and similarly titled article in the January/February 2006 issue of Philanthropy magazine**), the Bradley Foundation's MICHAEL HARTMANN came to the same conclusion: "[C]ritical to any effort to help the poor" are the twin principles of "personal responsibility and hard work." In his Philanthropy article, Hartmann implied that donors, too, have a responsibility and must challenge themselves as well as the recipients of their aid; he noted the ever-present temptation to backslide into decision-making based upon good intentions rather than "relentless experimentation and accepting hard lessons."
Does this new philanthropic movement, as Husock calls it, lay the groundwork for a conservative reconceptualization of the nonprofit sector? Does a tough-love approach foster a truly caring relationship between donors and the poor, or does it run the risk of becoming the next blanket remedy imposed upon one group by another? Does it address the real causes of poverty?
On February 28, 2006, the Bradley Center brought Howard Husock and Michael Hartmann together with RICK COHEN of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy to discuss these questions.
* “New Philanthropists Talk Left, Act Right” by Howard Husock appears in the Winter 2006 edition of City Journal, currently online at http://www.city-journal.org/html/16_1_philanthropists.html.
** “Helping People to Help Themselves” by Michael Hartmann appears in the January/February 2006 issue of Philanthropy, online at http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/article.asp?article=726&paper=1&cat=147.
prepared by Krista Shaffer
Howard Husock began the discussion by contrasting nonprofit organizations working on poverty issues in the 1960s, which emphasized “protest, advocacy, and demands for new government programs,” and today’s nonprofit organizations. (Husock’s organization, the Manhattan Institute, annually presents the Social Enterpreneurship Awards to successful anti-poverty efforts. For more information, visit them online at http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/social_entrepreneurship.htm.) Today’s successful organizations are characterized by a competitive application process, service (not advocacy) orientation, and emphasis on individual outcomes. “Rather than concentrating on changing the system, they are focused on preparing [people] . . . to compete and prosper within the system,” said Husock. Husock promotes the idea that anti-poverty organizations can grow, succeed, and come to compete with government by focusing on individuals. Fundamentally, he went on to say, upward mobility in our society is a result of self-improvement, and “we have a society in which upper mobility is possible if not probable.” Husock recognized in his remarks the political implications of this argument.
“What of ideological labels in grantmaking? . . . . Ideology is a substitute for thought,” began Michael Hartmann. While it’s important and even necessary to apply some framework for thought to analyze an organization’s mission and activities, Hartmann encouraged grantmakers to avoid getting caught up in ideological labels, both when looking at the work of other foundations and when doing one’s own work. “If you want to help people, it shouldn’t matter what adjective is there, the label; you should just go about helping people.” The fact that the Bradley Foundation is considered politically conservative doesn’t stop staff from pointing out to grantees and their clients government programs that would benefit them. “It’s a provision of the professional service advice that we are undertaking; it’s not advocacy,” Hartmann explained. Hartmann also defended the inclusion of faith-based organizations in government-funded programs. Finally, it’s especially important for grantmakers to avoid letting ideology get in the way when there is a consensus about what works, for example around the asset-building movement. Hartmann called for grantmakers to recognize and build on consensus and continue to apply ideas, apply lessons learned, and measure outcomes.
Rick Cohen described the climate for anti-poverty organizations seeking funding as “an ice age.” The poor simply aren’t getting the help they need, and neither are the organizations that try to help them. Meanwhile, foundations sit on their assets and “talk left” but “act right.” There is no impetus for change, and there is the unsolved question of what to do with the poorest of the poor, those whom no one seems to be able to reach. Cohen suggested that grantmakers first of all accept that good ideas can come from all over the ideological spectrum, and that there is a cross-fertilization on issues. Second, Cohen differs with Husock on the idea that nonprofits can be a substitute for government, arguing that they can very effectively supplement and partner with government, but that there are some things only government has the resources to do. Moreover, some problems of poverty are structural. Therefore, “building government’s capacity to partner with more effective nonprofit programs has to be part of the equation of how we build nonprofit responses to poverty,” said Cohen. Advocacy is an extremely important part of nonprofit sector work, Cohen emphasized – perhaps as important as the services organizations provide.
Moderator Bill Schambra noted that faith-based organizations have a special capacity for working with extreme cases, people who would otherwise be left behind. Cohen resisted the generalization, saying that such devotion is not just found in faith-based organizations.
As much as Cohen and Husock differed on various points, they shared the idea that not enough money is flowing into the nonprofits sector. Husock described the prospect of “stock market equivalents” for the nonprofit sector to encourage funding. In any case, Husock would like to see a sector that competes with government. Cohen spoke of ways of increasing accountability of the sector for the programs and money it already has, and find ways for nonprofits to partner with government.
Finally, Cohen cautioned against the idea that the two models of helping the poor – through a government social safety net or through emphasis on individual incentives to succeed – are mutually exclusive. “I think the real challenge is now to provide the right kind of incentives to help people move and advance and take advantage of the opportunities that our society provides, and how to provide the right kind of supplements that help people who are not going to make that advancement that quickly.”
Notable members of the audience included Joel Schwartz, Terrence Scanlon, Scott Walter, Albert Ruesga, and Mark Rosenman.
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.