Posts Tagged ‘foundations in hard times’

Grant makers’ endowment in America fell by 26%.  The number of millionaires worldwide shrank by 15% last year.  Charitable giving dropped 5.7% last year.  The death toll for venerable arts organizations runs like a war casualty list in a nineteenth century newspaper.  Gray to black details are everywhere.  The Chronicle Of Philanthropy masthead should be drapped in crape.  American philanthropy as lost the push of life.

The push of life is not so hard to understand.  If it’s another country’s agriculture we call it subsistence farming.  In your neighborhood it is the mom & pop business that is there only because it has been there a long time and now has no place to go.  It’s the friend who one week says he is going hicking on the Allegheny Trail and a week later does not know where he is to sleep tonight.  It’s an economic sector with an excess of highly qualified unemployed professionals.  It’s an arts community in mourning for lost constituents.  It’s when everyone knows the glory days are over for at least two if not more generations.  In business it may be called a mature market.

American philanthropy will not fade away. There will be the big boys, Buffett, the Gates, Clinton, and Soros, and perhaps others will come to the media’s constant attention.  The old established names of the past will continue.  There may be expanded governmental participation.  The community foundations will continue because we are built low to the ground and have an ability to float in any backwater.  Only the really big community foundations ever learned how to inhale so most of us have a negligible carbon output.

The arts community will be diminished and altered in ways scholars will talk about but the current participants will not be present to hear those scholars.  The arts are very like temperamental plants.  They need attention, money, and expansion without which they die.  Unlike the dessert flowers that only need one good downpour to cover the view for miles, the arts are plants that return spotty if at all.

President Obama is high on public service and volunteerism which is sweet.  And who does not love the garden the First Lady has going?  However, at the end of their White House tenure American philanthropy will be weaker and less innovative than today.  Volunteers can do a lot of things, and then they go home or on to paying jobs.  Only two things keep an organization together at the same address and they are money in the pot and professionals in the big chairs.  Money and the people to sit in those big chairs are the two resources we are losing in small but continuous increments.

The foremost responsibility of community foundations during this open-ended decline is to survive.  Serve as you are able but never with our own life blood.  If you weaken and die there will be no future, no time of recovery.  If wondrous programs close to your heart weaken the heart there is only one response that is correct.  The programs must go.  Community foundation funds were given in perpetual trust to remain through lean harvest, no harvests, and abundant harvests.  If we can not protect those funds we should never have organized as community foundations.  Charles Marlin


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