How Foundations Can Prevent Populist Backlash
By Ian Wilhelm
Can foundations prevent the growing populist sentiment in America from turning on them?
Several philanthropy experts have predicted that Tea Party activists and others who are staunchly antigovernment—and in some sense antiinstitution—will eventually take aim at big grant makers that are perceived as elitist.
William A. Schambra, director of the Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, and Joel Orosz, a professor of philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, have said the current political environment reminds them of the 1950s and 1960s when lawmakers grew suspicious of foundations and imposed new regulations on them.
“Whenever the populist gale is blowing in America, sooner or later it blows ill for the world of philanthropy,” Mr. Schambra wrote in a Chronicle of Philanthropy opinion article.
Now in a Huffington Post article, Jane Wales, a vice president at the Aspen Institute, a think tank in Washington, says foundations need to heed these concerns and take steps to soften the possible backlash.
She says grant makers should do more to tell the public about what they are doing to benefit the country.
“No institution is being given a pass, particularly one that is seen as opaque while claiming to advance the public good,” she writes. “‘Trust us’ has never been an adequate response to doubters.”
She notes that other philanthropy leaders have urged foundations to show how they are responding to the downturn in the economy.�