The Independent Sector and the Joyce Foundation vs. The Facts

Ellen Alberding’s interview with the Chicago Tribune in advance of the Independent Sector‘s meeting in Chicago earlier this week was not her, or philanthropy’s, finest hour.  Ms. Alberding, head of the Joyce Foundation, described the Foundation’s approach to what even she characterizes as a perfect storm of increased need and reduced resources in the nonprofit sector:

We do what any good business person would do when faced with reduced resources. We have become very focused on first maintaining support of our core grantees. Foundations are required to spend a minimum amount — 5 percent of our assets. On occasion, we will overspend that in order to keep our grantees whole.

In other words, business as usual.  Most likely the Joyce Foundation’s governing documents prevent its Board from spending its assets down to zero, but there’s no reason why the Foundation shouldn’t use more than the statutory minimum 5% of its $800 million in assets to sustain the work it exists to support.  Foundations are NOT businesses; they exist to give their money away, and only in some vague theoretical sense is an institution with $800 million facing constraints preventing it from giving away more than $40 million.

If Joyce gave only 6% instead, that would be another $8 million available to nonprofits in its areas of concern—a not-insubstantial 20% increase.   What is stopping the Foundation from doing this, other than a misguided sense that preserving its capital is more important than doing its job?

And then the cherry on the sundae:

It’s the position of the Independent Sector that a cap [on charitable deductions] will reduce charitable contributions across the board and diminish support for nonprofit organizations. I believe it’s the administration’s view that the 28 percent cap might have some impact, but it wouldn’t have a dire impact. (But) I think we have to listen to the organizations themselves, who feel otherwise.

In other words, their minds are made up—don’t confuse them with the facts.  Notwithstanding reality, the prejudices of self-interested parties will dictate the organization’s behavior.    Well, as it is written, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”  As President of the organization, doesn’t it behoove Ms. Alberding to make sure her members don’t make their decisions based on fantasy?

Comments

  1. Barry says

    “As President of the organization, doesn’t it behoove Ms. Alberding to make sure her members don’t make their decisions based on fantasy?”

    No.

  2. curious says

    perhaps the president of the foundation wants to make sure that there are assets remaining to continue to pay compensation to employees (i.e. the president) into the forseeable future more than the president wants to make sure that its grants remain undiminished?

    • says

      That’s a nice, polite way to put it. It sometimes seems (especially with the wide range of what can be considered “charitable” activity) that some foundations function essentially as a way to pass large fortunes to people who don’t happen to be the founder’s family. The not-really-heirs get a very comfortable lifestyle with a moderate but mostly unreviewed work requirement, and the social standing and personal power that go with having large sums within their power to give or withhold.