July 19, 2007
by Bradley Center
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A complete, edited transcript is now available of our July 19 panel discussion entitled
Thursday, July 19, 2007,12:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Hudson Institute - Betsy and Walter Stern Conference Center - 1015 15th Street, NW - Suite 600
Program and Panel
Welcome by Hudson Institute’s WILLIAM SCHAMBRA
HOWARD GARDNER, Harvard University
LAURA HORN, Harvard Division of Medical Ethics
JULIE ROGERS, Meyer Foundation
MINDY HERNANDEZ, Aspen Institute
People devote their lives with great pride to professions such as medicine, law, science, education, and even firefighting. These professionals are compensated by society with money and respect for doing work that has clear social value, and they are honored as heroes for their accomplishments and sacrifices. Why can’t the same be said of the professional staff of foundations?
“There is no such confidence among grantmakers, no collective sense that simply carrying out their daily work is enough to earn a respected position in professional society,” observed LAURA HORN and HOWARD GARDNER in a chapter entitled “The Lonely Profession” in William Damon and Susan Verducci’s edited volume Taking Philanthropy Seriously. In interviews with leading figures in traditional organized philanthropy, Horn and Gardner heard that many grantmakers struggle with and eventually abandon foundation careers, while others “lose energy or lose touch with the social purpose of their work, stop making intelligent grantmaking decisions, isolate themselves, sink into arrogance, or even abuse their power.” Horn and Gardner concluded by asking, of a profession with such high hopes attached to it, “does it have to be this way?”
On July 19, 2007, Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal brought together authors HOWARD GARDNER of Harvard University's Graduate School of Education and LAURA HORN, formerly of Harvard's GoodWork Project, as well as the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation's JULIE ROGERS and MINDY HERNANDEZ, formerly of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, to discuss the questions raised in Horn and Gardner’s fascinating study, a copy of which can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF format, 9 pages, 1.14 MB). The Bradley Center's WILLIAM SCHAMBRA served as the discussion's moderator.
As Bill Schambra pointed out in his introduction, the panel was a follow-up to a discussion we held in July 2004 featuring four young program officers ("Philanthropy, Left and Right: Four Perspectives"). "Clearly [that] lively discussion suggested that philanthropy could be a field where even entry-level program officers could have immediate and significant impact on public policy," Schambra described. "Even at that panel, though, there were visible worms in the apple," he went on, referring to the difficulties of trying to "work with integrity in a field so dominated by wealth."
The July 19 panel also followed an earlier Bradley Center discussion on the book in which Gardner and Horn's essay appeared, Taking Philanthropy Seriously. At that event, on March 22, the volume's editor, William Damon, spoke about the book's overarching premise. He also described the research project from which it was drawn, Harvard University's GoodWork Project.
On July 19, Howard Gardner reiterated what Damon had said in the earlier Bradley Center panel: the GoodWork Project studies "how … individuals or institutions who want to carry out good work… succeed or fail" in the world of today. One of the major conclusions researchers in the GoodWork Project drew from their work on philanthropy, Gardner pointed out, was that "philanthropy is a field but it isn't a domain." A domain is an organized activity in society "in which you can organize people in terms of expertise and where there's a general agreement about what the rights and responsibilities are in that particular domain." There is no agreement about this in philanthropy. In contrast, a field is made up of "all of the sociological accouterments around any area of work" - gatekeepers, prizes, rewards, publications, etc. These philanthropy has.
The chapter "The Lonely Profession" is based upon seventeen interviews with professional grantmakers at large foundations, Laura Horn picked up where Gardner left off. Project researchers found that there was a big difference between how grantmakers identify professionally and how other professionals - lawyers, doctors, or scientists - identify professionally. Grantmakers don't often see the field of philanthropy as their career, for one. Rather, they consider their foundation work as an extension of a previous career, an opportunity to carry out a personal mission of importance to them, or simply a way for them to exercise their general analytical abilities, rather than a career in and of itself. Most stray into philanthropy from other professions, and many leave after a few years.
Why? GoodWork Project researchers sought to know. "Basically, grantmakers are giving away other people's money to support projects that other people are running, and often reported feeling a sense of isolation from the grantees they're supporting, from their colleagues, and from the public at large," Horn told the audience. Identification with a career outside philanthropy or a personal skill or mission allows foundation staff to claim authority, expertise, and sense of accomplishment; to clarify their purpose; and to establish their social value as professionals, among other things - themselves, instead of wrestling with an abstract and ever-changing notion of "what philanthropy is" for a sense of self-worth. The difficulties staff face in doing so present them with several risks - burnout, complacency, arrogance, and irresponsible work, to name a few. Horn concluded with several questions about how grantmaking could be made into a more sustainable profession.
Julie Rogers, president of the Meyer Foundation, differed with Horn and Damon's account of grantmaking. The Meyer Foundation's hands-on approach to grantmaking and its close capacity-building work with grantees allows staff to develop a sense of ownership of at least part of the outcome. "We do derive professional identity and meaning from this level of deep work," she told the audience. Moreover, "we're anything but lonely!" she responded to the finding that grantmakers felt isolated. Rogers concluded by noting that philanthropy is a young field going through "incredibly rapid change and growth." There is a wealth of giving vehicles and donor styles, and new ones emerge all the time. In such a growing field, professional development and standardization is absolutely necessary. Rogers stopped there, and cleverly left hanging the implication that philanthropy has yet to - but certainly will - figure it all out.
Mindy Hernandez, formerly of the Carnegie Corporation, spoke about her own disillusionment as a program officer. She criticized foundations for their lack of real diversity of opinion, their lack of willingness to talk about "un-P.C." topics, and their unwillingness to take risks in the form of projects that can't so easily be measured. "The fact is, and I feel that you're not really allowed to say this… there's a lot of really good work out there that is hard to measure with real certainty." (During the question-and-answer period, advocacy and public policy work came up as two things that are particularly hard to measure.)
Bill Schambra's question to the panelists echoed his question at the March 22 Bradley Center discussion on Taking Philanthropy Seriously: Professionalization usually means adopting measurement and evaluation techniques and other social science tools that are ill-suited to philanthropy. Is that really what we want? "What is to be done about Mindy's suggestion, and how does that fit with professionalization?" Schambra also asked how foundations might overcome the power imbalance with grantees, specifically.
Horn and Gardner both called for a stronger sense of a domain without necessarily "professionalizing" philanthropy. Gardner called for a discussion of strategies to that end. Rogers again pointed out the difference between types of foundations, an ongoing theme for her in this discussion, but also noted that professionalization "per se" was not necessary. Rogers added that grantmakers always face the power imbalance, and that it is necessary to be humble and listen deeply and carefully across the community. It is also necessarily, Hernandez noted, for grantees to be honest with grantmakers.
Questions were asked by Solomon Miles of Uplift Community Foundation, Patty Gentry with the Fund for American Studies, Skip Moore of the North-Carolina based Weaver Foundation (who came at the recommendation of Eugene Wilson, formerly of the Kauffman Foundation), Martha Toll of the Butler Family Fund, Dorothy Weiss of the Center for Law and Social Policy, Kim Dennis of the Searle Freedom Trust, Curtis Gans of American University, and Martin Morse Wooster, among others. Donors seemed to be particularly well represented at this event.
As with the March 22 discussion, the question of skill set came up (this time through Kim Dennis)?that is, what skill set do professionals in philanthropy need. Gardner described several: a capacity to synthesize, the capacity to rank-order a number of applications…, showing due diligence, and the capacity to make complex judgments under uncertainty. "Many people feel that [philanthropy] is more of an art and it shouldn't be professionalized," Gardner noted, adding, "I think that's a perfectly legitimate position, and half the time I feel that way, too."
As for the question of how grantees should be chosen, Gardner had this observation: "You bet on the person."
Two blogs made mention of this discussion.
- On July 30, http://think4change.org, the "official blog of The Whitman Institute," included an entry on the event ("The Lonely Profession?"). The author wrote: "For an engaging exploration of what constitutes good work in philanthropy -- and the challenges involved in doing it -- check out the transcript of Grantmaking: The Lonely Profession, a panel discussion convened on July 19 by The Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal." After posting and commenting on an excerpt from the transcript, the author concluded: "Those speculations aside, the real question is how do foundations encourage and reward really authentic feedback from grantees both about their own work and the work of the foundations they collaborate with. Clearly, it's a complicated question. But just as clearly it's a question that needs to be seriously addressed at all levels of the foundation world if people hope to do something about constructive about the grantee anger and grantor arrogance referred to in the Bradley Center discussion."
- On August 17, Washington Grantmakers Daily (by – who else – Washington Grantmakers) included a lengthy excerpt from Julie Rogers' remarks, as well as a link to the event transcript ("'Grantmaking: The Lonely Profession?' (Not necessarily!)").
The Meyer Foundation made a note of the panel on its web site, including a link to the full transcript.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
To request further information on this event or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Kristen at email@example.com.
Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal aims to explore the usually unexamined intellectual assumptions underlying the grantmaking practices of America’s foundations and provide practical advice and guidance to grantmakers who seek to support smaller, grassroots institutions in the name of civic renewal.
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