The Corner

Defending Philanthropy from Its Detractors

In response to Jim Lacey’s article “Gates, Buffett, and Misguided Philanthropy,” National Review Online received this letter from Steve Gunderson of the Council on Foundations.

Jim Lacey’s recent assessment about the role and impact of philanthropy in our society actually reinforces why the sector is so vital. Philanthropy can take risks where government and business can’t or won’t. It is an engine of job creation and innovation, which has been critical in helping engineer an economic recovery that sticks.

More than a century ago, Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller launched America’s philanthropic enterprise. As conservative businessmen, Rockefeller and Carnegie demanded public engagement. Carnegie’s promise to build libraries in any interested city came with a catch — city leaders had to provide an accessible location, stock the building with books, and guarantee funding for maintenance. This was true of virtually all of the giving from Rockefeller and Carnegie, because they wanted their dollars to deliver lasting impact that continued for generations. It made sense then, and it makes sense now.

When billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett commit more than half of their wealth to charitable giving, it sets a new standard for the culture — and potential — of philanthropy in America. Their words and actions will influence the sector in profound ways.

Those who signed the “Giving Pledge” didn’t achieve their success by being dim or meek. They understand the need to leverage charitable dollars much more strategically to support a sustained economic recovery — and contribute to the public good.

Certainly, our business sector’s investments in growth and job creation are at the core of our economic vitality. But philanthropy’s investments are essential and consequential as well. They drive solutions, maximize resources (public, private, and philanthropic), and bring leaders, thinkers, and doers together to help create and sustain jobs.

In fact, the nonprofit sector provides critical support for families in need and employs one out of 10 American workers, many of whom are dedicated to creating employment opportunities in the private sector.


For example, the Job Opportunity Investment Network (JOIN) is a $5 million public-private collaboration in the Philadelphia area that matches emerging employment opportunities with qualified workers. The effort includes the support of more than 100 businesses, a dozen nonprofit organizations, foundations, and several government agencies. The network’s efforts include support for jobseekers in the health-care sector, which is where the bulk of job growth in the coming years is expected.

With JOIN’s support, more than 700 adults last year received education and training, more than 400 gained industry-recognized credentials or degrees, and more than 400 landed a new job in a high-demand industry or received a wage increase in their current job.

JOIN is part of a nationwide effort called the National Fund for Workforce Solutions (NFWS), a $30 million initiative designed to strengthen and expand workforce development throughout the country. NFWS operates in 24 communities and continues to grow. Nearly 300 funders, including foundations, private corporations, and the federal government, are investing to help connect people with good jobs and help America regain its competitive edge. Since 2007, the effort has helped more than 26,000 people find permanent jobs or enter training programs.

In Detroit, a collaboration of 10 national, regional, and local foundations joined forces and committed $100 million to support the revitalization of America’s motor city. The initiative’s premise is that combined financial resources and strategically targeted dollars will create more jobs and boost the local economy.

The Boston Foundation’s Allied Health Initiative brought together three of the region’s top — and most competitive — medical centers. The foundation helped the hospitals find common ground, share best practices, and offer cross-site learning to train their employees for high-skill job opportunities at their facilities. With $14.5 million in support from the foundation and three hospitals, the effort has become a national model. Along with its SkillWorks Initiative, which focuses on the hospitality, health care, and automotive industries, the Boston Foundation has helped more than 4,000 people connect to training and employment opportunities.

These are just a few examples that demonstrate the fundamental role of philanthropy in thousands of communities and how it is helping take our economy from recovering to robust.

Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to respond in times of crisis and drives innovation as an incubator for great ideas in education, health, international development, research for new cures and treatments, advances in clean energy, workforce training, and the arts. With more than 76,000 foundations in America, we are aggressively engaging new partners to solve entrenched social and economic challenges.

While philosophies may differ about the best ways to invest philanthropic dollars — from donor intent to spending down endowments — the sector’s flexibility and innovative investments are building stronger communities and getting results.

Steve Gunderson

Council on Foundations

President and CEO

Arlington, Va.

NRO Staff — Members of the National Review Online editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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