Politicians & Philanthropy: More Than Lip Service?

How does the current crop of candidates vying for the Republican Party’s Presidential nomination rank when it comes to philanthropic giving? Are they as charitable as their carefully crafted campaign trail speeches would have us believe? Or is philanthropy something that is better preached and not practiced?

Recently released 2010 tax records highlight the range of giving trends among the Republican pack and offer an interesting look into the lives of the candidates.

The typical American donates 2% of his/her income to charitable organizations and that amount increases as incomes increase. According to data from the IRS and Congressional Budget Office, people earning $500,000 of more per year give 3.4% of their earnings to charity and people earning greater than $10 million donate 6.5%.

Here’s how the Republican Presidential hopefuls stack up:

Mitt Romney

In 2010 Mitt Romney donated  $2.9 million, or 13.8% of his $21 million income, to charity. The majority of his philanthropic contributions ($1.5 million) went to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the form of the tithes required of all Mormons in good standing. The remaining $1.4 million was given to other charities mainly through Romney’s foundation known as the Tyler Charitable Foundation. From 2002 to 2009 nearly 79% of the foundation’s giving was to the Mormon Church, or for Mormon missionary work, upkeep of church buildings, and to Brigham Young University, the church-run college in Utah where Romney earned his undergraduate degree. Other 2010 beneficiaries included the Friends of George W. Bush Library, the Center for Treatment of Pediatric MS, U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, Harvard Business School, and Homes for Our Troops.

Rick Santorum

In 2010 Rick Santorum donated $16,744, or 1.8% or his $930,227 income, to charity. Santorum’s giving is lower than that of others with similar income levels and is odd given the fact that when he served as a Senator from Pennsylvania he championed non-profits and charitable organizations. He even sponsored the CARE Act to promote interests of charities and provide incentives for Americans to donate.

Upon closer examination of Santorum’s philanthropic giving, it turns out that there are serious questions about a charity organization he started in 2001. Operation Good Neighbor was founded in order to help “break the cycle of poverty that sours the lives of too many men, women and children in our nation.” The organization collected at least $2.3 million in contributions from 2001 until it dissolved in 2007, but spent only 45% of the total revenue on beneficiaries. The majority of the money collected went to fundraising, office space, and personnel costs. An investigation revealed that some of the “administrative” expenses of Santorum’s charity included golf outings and unexplained travel. In 2005 alone, the group spent more than $118,000 on three golfing fundraisers. The events cost the group more than they raised and further revelations showed that Santorum’s campaign staffers ran the charity. The “administrative” spending far surpassed industry best practices of 35% and means that Santorum’s charity spent more on itself than it did on the people it was founded to help.

Newt Gingrich

In 2010 Newt Gingrich donated $80,600, or 2.6% of his $3.1 million income, to charity. The only benefactor named in Gingrich’s 2010 tax documents was the Basilica of the National Shrine in Washington which received $9,540, and it in turn paid Mr. Gingrich’s wife Callista $5,918 (she is a member of the choir).

In addition to the giving reported on his personal tax statements, Newt Gingrich offers charitable giving through the Gingrich Foundation which is largely funded from Gingrich Holdings, an umbrella company for a collection of lucrative media and consulting enterprises Gingrich built after leaving government in the 1990’s. The foundation received $152,609 in contributions in 2010 and made grants to 14 organizations totaling $120,000. This is a very small amount of giving considering the fact that Renewing American Leadership, a right-wing Christian non-profit with heavy ties to Gingrich, spent nearly double that amount on direct mailings alone in 2009. Among the recipients were Luther College ($30,000) and the National Shrine ($20,000). Smaller amounts were awarded to the Mount Vernon Association, the Washington National Opera and the Atlanta Ballet.

As House Speaker in the 1990’s, Gingrich made philanthropy a centerpiece of his revolution against “Big Government.” He widely proclaimed that charities should be used to replace welfare programs. Gingrich also lost his former position as Speaker of the House and his seat in Congress because of his questionable actions in a scheme to funnel tax-deductible donations through a network of six charitable organizations he created to the benefit of Republican causes.

Ron Paul

Ron Paul has not released his tax returns.

Paul sticks largely to his libertarian ideology and aspires to a system of radically limited government where individuals, not the state, are responsible for caring for the most needy. Paul frequently tells voters how he offered medical care at reduced prices to those unable to pay when he was working as a doctor. He also speaks of donating money to an informal fund established to help pay the costs of cancer treatment for a longtime staffer who died with more than $400,000 in unpaid medical bills.

While Paul favors the idea of a “generous society,” there is little evidence that he regularly practices what he preaches in philanthropy.

And in the interest of being fare and balanced… how do the Republican Presidential hopefuls compare to the current Commander in Chief?

President Obama

In 2010 President Obama donated $241,400, or 14.2% of his $1.7 million income, to charity. President Obama’s philanthropic giving has increased in direct relation over the years with his increased income and political ascent. From 2000 – 2004 Obama donated less than 1% of his income to charity. This increased dramatically from 2005-2006 during which time he donated 5% of his income to philanthropic organizations and it has continued to increase reaching the 14.2% that was reported in 2010.

Albert Einstein said, “The value of a man resides in what he gives and not what he is capable of receiving.” What does that say about the men currently vying to be President of the United States?

Komen Foundation Gives Planned Parenthood the Pink Slip

A Republican member of Congress endorsed by Americans United for Life decided to hold “hearings” related to Planned Parenthood. By my count, this is the third set of Republican-sponsored Congressional “hearings” on Planned Parenthood in three years.

The upshot of the “hearings”: The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure created a new policy –
The Susan Komen Foundation will NOT award funding to organizations under Congressional investigation.

The upshot of the new policy: The Komen Foundation is cutting hundreds of thousands of grant dollars for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the United States.

According to Planned Parenthood, these free screenings were intended for low-income women who don’t have health insurance and who cannot afford the cost of a regular test. So the new policy not only caves to anti-choice pressures, but also discriminates specifically against low income women. Tragic.

The Komen Foundation may have been placed between a rock and a hard place; riling Congressional committee chairs is never a good thing. Unfortunately, the Foundation has determined they would rather bend to political pressure than allocate $680,000 for mammograms for low-income women (about 5,400 screenings).

So we have two questions for Susan Komen Foundation leaders:

First, Suzy Komen, the woman for whom the foundation is named, was a strong, dignified woman who cared deeply for her family, friends, and fellow cancer victims. She fought valiantly and stubbornly for her life. Would the Foundation have us believe that Susan would insist hundreds or thousands of low-income women experience this same horrifying struggle — just to avoid criticism from a Congressman?

Second, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is one of the largest women’s health organizations in the world. They have created an international community of support for women with cancer and women who are afraid they might face cancer. Is tearing down this community of support more important than facing short-term mistreatment from Congressional committee chairs?

At Access Philanthropy, we deal primarily in funding and fundraising. Money for nonprofits is our bread and butter. Nevertheless, we know that no fundraising effort is worth abandoning the constituency who need you and trust you the most.

We hope the Komen folks will reconsider their decision to assuage politicians and forego the health needs of low-income women. No fundraising purposes and no political purposes are worth this price.

What Do Your Funders Drink?

Developing Mutually Beneficial Relationships
At the risk of sounding as though I have a drinking problem, I would like to share a viewpoint I have developed over the years to describe different types of people. I developed this analogy to help people understand how I successfully bring people together.

One important consideration for bringing people together is the personality of the individuals and the extent to which people are likely to get along well with one another. In other words, what is the likelihood two people will build mutually-beneficial relationships and partnerships?

As I complete my second year as Managing Director of Access Philanthropy, I find my system for determining whether people can develop mutually beneficial relationships also works for institutions.

For example, many Access Philanthropy clients meet the central criteria published by major foundations such as Ford, Gates, and MacArthur. However, the culture of these major foundations does not permit them to understand or accept the routines of street organizations such as simple youth groups or neighborhood development organizations. The intent to support may be present, but the cultural distinctions (as well as time and money) discourage building relationships between a foundation in Ford’s league and the local youth group.

Sounds obvious, almost like a cliché, I know. However, whenever I explain this individual and institutional classification, I notice that people are not only laughing, but they are also vigorously nodding their heads in agreement. So I must be on to something.

The correlation is quite simple – drink preferences provide an excellent metaphor for describing different types of personalities. In short, I classify people into one of four categories:

#1) Wine drinkers
People in this category tend to be rather prim and proper in the way they relate to others, particularly those they don’t know well. They’re well behaved, but may also be described as a little stiff. That’s not to say they can’t or won’t warm up to new acquaintances, and ultimately get along perfectly well with others, but they’re a little more cautious, reserved, and quiet. If I were to go to an establishment with someone in this category, their strong preference would be for a glass of wine with the right bouquet, body, and finish.

#2) Beer drinkers
Having lived in Wisconsin for a couple of years, I have some expertise in this area. People in this category are generally friendly, unpretentious, easy to get to know and easy to get along with. They’re the type of people you want to hang out with. They’re real. And as long as they’re not drinking beer through a funnel, they’re quite pleasant to be around.

#3) People who do shots
This third category represents the real funsters. They’re also a bit on the wild side and sometimes a little rough around the edges as well, but that is often part of their appeal. They don’t beat around the bush, and usually “call ‘em like they see ‘em”. They skip the typical niceties and like to get right down to business. Usually at the end of a meeting, you know where you stand with them.

And while I’d like to emphasize that not all people need to drink alcohol in order to fit into one of these three categories (after all, there are things such as sparkling apple cider and near beer), there is a fourth category of people.

#4 People who don’t go to bars
This description is actually not quite accurate. These people may very well go to bars, but I simply would not want to go with them. Period. These people either have little or no personality, or they’re not very pleasant, or they’re simply obnoxious. Regardless, I just don’t care to waste my time with them.

Upshot (no pun intended)
So why do I go to the trouble of categorizing people like this? In the consulting business – actually I think in any business – paying attention to peoples’ personalities is critical when it comes to successfully bringing people together, and building strong relationships and partnerships.

At Access Philanthropy, we bring our clients together with the right funders and the right team of consultants for each client. Each client is unique. Some funders may fit technically, but don’t work culturally. Some consultants are great for some clients, but not so great for others.

From experience, we know that a foundation wine drinker and a client who does shots are probably not going to be the best fit. We strive to bring to our clients the talented consulting associates that “get” our clients, have chemistry and have the greatest chances for success.

What kind of organization do you have? What kind of consultant do you need?

Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?

If elected President, Republican candidate Mitt Romney says he will cut federal funding for the arts by half.  These dramatic cultural cuts will come in the form of reduced funding for two federal arts and cultural grantmaking agencies: the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In an op-ed piece that was published in USA Today, Romney listed five examples of government programs that are “not absolutely essential” and that “we don’t need or can’t afford.” Among the usual Republican suspects including repealing ObamaCare and eliminating Title X family planning programs was the suggested fifty-percent cut to arts and culture.

The NEA and NEH (along with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Legal Services Corporation which were also included in Romney’s proposed arts/culture cut) currently receive $155 million per year each. According to the Los Angeles Times, this is “among the smallest agency appropriations in the federal budget.”

The most interesting aspect of all of this is the fact that while serving as Governor of Massachusetts, Romney recommended steady levels of arts and culture spending for his state. So why is he pushing for such drastic cuts on the federal level?

It appears Romney is playing to the ultra-conservative base in order to win the Republican primary. It’s likely the “right” thing to do politically, especially given his competition that has zero appreciation or understanding for arts and culture (no really, Rep. Michele Bachmann earned an “F” on the Arts Action Fund’s most recent report card grading Congressional voting records with zero points earned out of a possible 100). But is it the right thing to do for society?

Marcus Garvey said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” As the current field of Republican Presidential hopefuls blow in the wind, we can only hope the roots of those with greater insight run deep enough to hold our tree upright through the coming storm.

Is It Really All About the Deck Chairs?

A few things funders can do to move more than the furniture.

With huge cuts in government social and education funding, cuts in foundation and corporate giving budgets, and new limitations in the funding agendas of institutional donors, it’s a natural question – do institutional donors sincerely intend to  invest in positive social change or are they satisfied with the status quo?

Some years ago, people would say positive institutional policy changes, such as anti-poverty and affirmative action programs, were simply “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. These days, it’s difficult to maintain even “deck chair” progress. Who is making progress in shifting social policy? It certainly seems like the Koch brothers, tea party activists, and other “profit before all” proponents are doing a better job than advocates of a more just and equitable society.

Perhaps, It’s Understandable

Given this back-pedaling on social progress, it is imperative some institutions return to their mid-20th century roles of supporting and advancing real change agents and real change opportunities. Primary among these supportive institutions are private foundations, which by their own words, are independent operators in social, economic, educational, and cultural arenas.

Yet, these foundations which were critical to the early struggles for civil rights, economic development, neighborhood empowerment and the green movement, have moved onto safer fields – social  ventures and entrepreneurship, leadership development, social research, and other forms of self-contemplation.

Certainly, plenty of pressures drive this “stand back and observe” funding perspective. Extended government oversight, more conservative trustees, and social pressures from media and grantmaking peers discourage risk taking. Others say the philanthropoid takeover of foundation staffs and the marketing takeover of corporate giving are the biggest setbacks in community-supportive philanthropy.

Disappointment in what has not worked in the past and a lack of trust in what we don’t know may also drive this sit-back attitude. Regardless of who is responsible for these setbacks, we no longer have the luxury of self-examination, yearlong foundation sabbaticals, conventional wisdom, and finger pointing.

But Now…

It is time to move on, to take risks with new ideas, and to disengage from self-contemplation, intra-foundation engagement, and self-congratulations.

Six Ideas

  • Forget about leading the charge yourself; support others who have the skills and “street cred” to get more people to the meeting. When asked how the Catholic Church could help the poor, community organizer Saul Alinsky said, “Put a check on the table and leave.” Your involvement in projects is great; assuming the role of leader — maybe not so much.
  • Entertain ideas that aren’t in your blogs, grantee reports, and conference agendas. Spend half the time that you spend at conferences with troublemakers, instigators, and other people who may scare your trustees a little. Start funding people who can get you in trouble.
  • Reduce your focus on rubrics, measurement, and donor-centered management. Start thinking who and what can cause out-of-the-box change.
  • Help the poor with basic needs. However, remember one of these needs is self-empowerment.
  • Forget about funding only your friends, this is especially true for “social change” foundations that refuse to listen to ideas that they or their friends aren’t generating. Establish an old-fashioned, high-risk fund that will support and advocate for little-known instigators who can succeed beyond the confines of logic models.
  • Be open to proposals and ideas that aren’t in your funding priorities. Has rejecting unsolicited proposals really helped your foundation get closer to its vision for a better world?

None of these is a new idea. You may have heard them from blogs, philanthropy advocates, or perhaps even other grantmakers. Although they aren’t original, these ideas are worth remembering, and worth following.

The late Mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley told us, “You have no excuses. Your behavior is your own”. Please, no more excuses and no more deck chairs.