Posted by The Happy TutorWritten in 1995, Gina Neff's article is still a good introduction the culture and politics of large Foundations, both left and right: Most civilians don't think much about the role foundations play in shaping our public lives. A new generation of right-wing foundations has funded America's rightward drift. And despite their aura of generosity and liberalism, mainstream and even "progressive" foundations often act as a constraint on politics. What groups should serve on a Foundation Board? Wealthy only? What groups should serve on the grant-making committees? Should grants come from above with strings attached, or should grants be a bet on the ability of the recipient to organize and activate a constituency? Are Foundation grants palliatives, to be given in small amounts, like aspirin to the wounded in an under-supplied battlefield medical unit? Or should Foundations realistically research what would be needed to create a particular social change, and then identify the driving forces, the key players, the most promising constituencies, and then partner with those grassroots activists, volunteers, and do-ers? In strategic philanthropy, the right may be doing a better job than the left, or at least with greater effect. But we are not wringing our hands. Much of what needs to be learned by the left about legacy planning, major gifts, wealth planning, planned giving, and strategic grant-making is well understood. It is a matter of organization, and overcoming a bit of our own culture, particularly our distrust of businesslike methods for achieving idealistic ends. Be the change you seek is a good progressive motto, but it need not mean, Be as disorganized and ineffective as possible. We can be as strategic and as businesslike in preserving the commons as are those bent upon pillaging it.
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