The Decline of Progressive Policy and the New Philanthropy, by Robert O. Bothwell

Contents | Progressive Policy Making In Decline | A  Dissenting View On The Diminution Of Progressive Policy Making | Why Has There Been A Diminution Of Progressive Policy Making? | What Has Philanthropy Done To Counter The Decline Of Progressive Policy? | The Origins And Growth Of Progressive Foundations | The Creation And Growth Of New Private Funding Institutions | Summary And Conclusions | Can Philanthropy be Reformed?

The Origins And Growth Of Progressive Foundations As Alternatives To Mainline Philanthropy.

The preceding discussion has focused on the overall inadequacy of foundation and corporate funding of social action. But is there a subgroup of foundations which has engaged wholeheartedly in "progressive philanthropy"? How does it compare to mainline foundations' and corporations' support for social action? Has it made any difference for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised in American society?

  1.  Definition of "Progressive Philanthropy"

But what is "progressive philanthropy"? To David Hunter, generally considered the dean of social change foundation executives (he was executive director of the Stern Family Fund from 1963-1986), "social change philanthropy" essentially differs from "traditional philanthropy" because it "aims explicitly to facilitate the changing of societal institutions so they don't produce the very problems that 'charity' tries to alleviate." (117)

To Alan Rabinowitz, a seminal chronicler of social change philanthropy, American social change philanthropists...take the risk of being controversial as they try to empower disadvantaged people to make permanent improvements in their social and economic environments and in the basic institutions of our society that affect their lives...Social change philanthropy entails the inherent risk of encouraging challenges to [the existing] order and its institutions. [It helps] create a fairer, cleaner, safer, more democratic, poverty-free world...Progressive social change philanthropy provide[s] essential support for grantees concerned about impediments (or threats) to civil liberties, economic well-being, minority rights (including citizenship and voter registration), health, and environmental safety (especially with regard to toxics and waste disposal).(118)

Some of the funders I surveyed prefer to support local grass-roots organizing efforts. Some prefer to support policy-formulating think tanks and national campaigns concerning issues involving the environment, children, health, peace, and on through the long list of possible categories. Some fund across the entire spectrum of opportunities.(119)

  2.  Revolution or Reform?

Do social change philanthropists seek revolution or reform of America's basic institutions? "We have come a long way toward a more stable and equitable socioeconomic system since Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto...," Rabinowitz explains.(120) He cites economist Robert Heilbroner: "Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over; capitalism has won...The history of every democratic capitalist nation is one of a widening provision of 'entitlements,' over the nearly universal opposition of business...The bone of contention is no longer the principle of entitlements but their reach and level." (121)

Rabinowitz says,

[The] job that progressive social change philanthropists have taken on [is] to strike some sort of balance between the universal class of 'businesspersons' - who Heilbroner says dominate, even in social democratic nations -- and the rest of the population...[Social change philanthropists] seem to share strong feelings about the inequalities generated by our present mixed economic system, they value the positive roles that governmental powers and monies can plan in reducing economic and social disparities, and, to improve the way capitalism operates, they encourage the growth of cooperatives and worker-owned-and-managed enterprises in low-income communities. The political objectives of the progressive social change philanthropists include greater respect for the U.S. constitution and passage of reformist legislation, neither of which would alter the basic governmental framework of the United States.(122)

As one who, from 1976-99, directed the country's only nonprofit watchdog organization focused on philanthropy's responsiveness to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised peoples, the author agrees with Rabinowitz' foregoing assessment. Many social change philanthropists rail against capitalism and its evils, but their bark is hardly their philanthropic bite. Some prefer socialism as a governmental system -- not communistic socialism, but democratic socialism, as practiced by the best European countries - but their grants basically seek incremental reform of the current system.

  3.  Who Exactly Are the Progressive Foundations?

Is there a group of foundations which are often called "progressive foundations"? Yes. Mostly, they would be represented in the membership of the National Network of Progressive Grantmakers (NNG), "an organization of individuals involved in funding social and economic justice."(123)

When J. Craig Jenkins and Abigail Halcli rigorously studied foundation funding in 1990, they identified 146 foundations actively making grants for progressive social movements. Seven years later, NNG listed 160 organizations in its 1997 Grantmakers' Directory. The Foundation Center reports that 44,000 foundations existed that same year. Thus, under 0.4% of all foundations possibly could be considered progressive foundations.

Of course, some of Jenkins and Halcli's 146 foundations and NNG's 160 grant making organizations are not "wholeheartedly" into progressive philanthropy, but only make some grants in this category, e.g., the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Ford Foundation.

In fact, of the foundations Jenkins identified as supporting progressives causes, he found their grants go "overwhelmingly to conventional charitable activities and established institutions." (124)

Jenkins identifies twelve foundations active in social movement philanthropy as early as 1960.(125) They were the Field Foundation of NY, Emil Schwartzhaupt, Wiebolt, Huber, Whitney, New York, Norman, New World , Taconic, Ottinger, Institute for World Order and the New York Community Trust. All but the last could be considered "wholehearted" progressive foundations.

In Social Change Philanthropy in America, Rabinowitz identified the following additional foundations as progressive foundations: Stern Family Fund (established 1930s), Needmor Fund (1956), Abelard (1958), Shalan (1969), Youth Project (1970), Belden Fund (1970), DJB , Joint Foundation Support, Threshold , A Territory Resource, Doughnuts, Seventh Generation Fund, Ruth Mott Fund, C. S. Fund/ Maryanne Mott Charitable Trust, J. M. Kaplan, Stewart R. Mott Trust and Rockefeller Family Fund.(126) This list is only illustrative, not exhaustive. Moreover, some spent themselves out of business, while others continue on.

"...a network of progressive social change philanthropists emerged out of the confusion of the times," reports Rabinowitz. "David Hunter of the Stern Fund, David Ramage of the New World F., and later the staff of the Youth Project and Leslie Dunbar of the Field F. [were] leading examples of this process.(127) "A network of progressive social change funders took shape in the late 1960s...its present members represent only a tiny fraction of the philanthropic efforts in America.(128) "The NNG, a progressive complement to associations of more traditional foundations, was created [in 1978] as a meeting ground..." (129)

"The Youth Project merits special attention in any review of progressive social change philanthropy," notes Rabinowitz. "Its initial staff members and grantees...remained leaders in the field...of a score of organizations, for example, Drummond Pike with the Tides and Threshold Foundations, Dick Boone with the Field Foundation [now with Tides Foundation], Heather Booth with the Midwest Academy and the Citizens Action movement [now a progressive political consultant in Washington, DC], Wade Rathke now a labor organizer, Steve Kest still with ACORN, Margery Tabankin at Arca Foundation and now Barbra Streisand's foundation, Gary Delgado at the Center for Third World Organizing [now at Applied Research Center], Bill Mitchell of the Nuclear Safety Campaign, Si Kahn of Grassroots Organizing, and the late Willie Valasquez who founded the Southwest Voter Registration Project...and Frank Sanchez...[now with Needmor Fund]." (130)

Does the grant-making process of social change foundations differ from that of mainline foundations? Rabinowitz, an active grant maker as well as student of social change philanthropy, tells us, "The grant-making process [of progressive social change funders] is similar to those of the major foundations, the United Way funds, and even the National Institutes of Health: the process involves debates concerning appropriate topics to be supported, lengthy competitive applications, and site visits and evaluations. Compared to mainstream organizations, however, the social change funders willingly accept a much greater uncertainty of outcome, given the relative instability of community-based groups and the topical nature of many of the issues pursued." (131)

  4.  Origins of Social Change Grant Makers

What were the origins of these social change grant makers? " the early 1960s," Rabinowitz records, "the stage was set for the emergence social change philanthropies, despite the bruises left by McCarthyism." (132)

But the new philanthropies did not just emerge mysteriously out of the woodwork. The momentous events that took place in America during the 1960s, noted earlier, gave rise to aggressive and successful contemporary social movements concerning racial/ethnic peoples, poverty, women and the environment. These movements, in turn, stimulated the creation of the new progressive foundations. According to Jenkins, "This tumultuous period [the 1960s] served as a critical stimulus for foundations by identifying new social problems, creating an impending sense of crisis and generating a host of new political advocacy organizations that bid for foundation support." (133)

But note that the social situation created the impetus and space for the new progressive foundations; the foundations did not create the social movements. Jenkins' data for 1953 and 1960 drive this point home. The sociologist recorded only $344,700 in total progressive social movement grants for those two years combined! Only 12 foundations made 25 movement grants in those two years.(134)

  5.  The Total Social Change Grants of Progressive Foundations

In introducing this section on progressive foundations, it was asked how their social change grantmaking compares to mainline foundations' and corporations' support for social action? The Jenkins and Halcli research on foundation funding of progressive social movements(135) and the National Network of Grantmakers (NNG) research on funding of progressive social change(136) would seem to provide the best sources for an answer to this question. Neither study, however, differentiates data from mainline liberal foundations and progressive foundations, therefore the total social change grants of progressive foundations cannot be calculated. The best that can be said is that a substantial portion of the $336 million NNG tallied for social action grants in 1997 seems to have been awarded by progressive foundations.


117. Quoted in Rabinowitz, op. cit., p. xi.

118. Rabinowitz, op. cit., pp. 6-8.

119. Ibid., p. xvi.

120. Ibid., p. 9.

121. Robert Heilbroner, "The Triumph of Capitalism," New Yorker Magazine, Jan. 23, 1989, pp. 98-109 (Quoted in Rabinowitz, op. cit., p. 10).

122. Rabinowitz, op. cit., pp. 10-11.

123. "Formed nearly 20 years ago, NNG's 400 members share the belief that a fully functioning democracy depends upon an involved and empowered citizenry sharing in the responsibilities and benefits of society."

124. J. Craig Jenkins, "Foundation Funding of Progressive Social Movements." In Jill R. Shellow (ed.) Grant Seekers Guide: Funding Sourcebook, Mt. Kisco, NY: Moyer Bell Limited, 1989, pp. 9.

125. Jenkins, 1999, op. cit., p. 231.

126. Rabinowitz, op. cit.

127. Rabinowitz, op. cit., p. 46.

128. Ibid., p. 8.

129. Ibid., p. 51.

130. Ibid., pp. 49-50.

131. Ibid., p. 8.

132. Ibid., p. 44.

133. Jenkins, 1989, op. cit., p. 46.

134. Jenkins, 1999, op. cit., p. 230-1.

135. Jenkins, 1999, op. cit.

136. National Network of Grantmakers, op. cit.