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The Alan Gregg Papers

Notes on Giving pdf (866,058 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Notes on Giving
First chapter of the unpublished book.
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15 (866,058 Bytes)
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ca. 10 June 1953
[Gregg, Alan]
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"Notes on Giving"
Metadata Record [Outline of "Notes on Giving"] [ca. 1953] pdf (667,521 Bytes) ocr (22,140 Bytes)
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Drafts (documents)
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Found in File Envelope -- "Notes On Giving" The Envelope -- Registered mail June 10, 1953 contained much [ . . . ] to some end.
Notes on Giving
This book is written from thirty years experience in the Rockefeller Foundation. But since the memories, the impressions and the conclusions that drive from experience depend in great measure on personal characteristics interests and purposes I could not claim much more than a personal character for the opinions set forth. And, having found that I can write more freely and clearly when I have some particular kind of reader in mind I have decided to write for an imaginary but nonetheless rather clearly definable reader. Others may look on, as it were, over his shoulder and make such discounts as they choose as to what is said and the manner of expression.
The imagined reader to whom these notes on giving are addressed is a man, say in his thirties, whose qualities and interests not only incline him to such work as foundations have done but provide serious reasons for a foundation that is seeking a really superior staff member to engage him. Not that I can tell him what the life of a foundation officer is like, nor what he should do, nor what is wise, for perhaps the first and last thing that might be said about foundations is that they change and are best understood as in a constant flux of becoming rather than a state of being. Their raison d'etre is exploration and adjustment. Sensible as it may be for their friends to be secure and predictable if [ . . . ] their horizons values and interests stagnate and become inflexible and unadjustable, foundations lose their first claim as organs of a living society. So if these notes on giving are addressed to a somewhat ideal and therefore obviously an imaginary
reader the reasons is that I can, as the Brazilian's say "give myself well" with such a passion. And since thorough buds respond but to a light touch I can dispense in large measure from solemn threats, ominous warnings, from "should" and "musts" and any of the whips on trappings of omniscience. For I have invented as my reader a thorough bud, sensitive enough to interpret my opinions sensibly without the need for exaggeration, belabored proof, shrill argument or that form of rhetoric so neatly defined in Aristotle's time as "the art of conveying correction without resort to logic." I trust you are sensitive enough to have noticed that the word 'money' does not occur in the title. Though money is probably one of the most easily measured and readily defined things that may be given by one man to another it is rarely passed without some idea going along with it. Frequently these ideas or understandings are far more worthy of attention than the money that accompanies them. When a foundation makes a grant what it is significantly giving is an opportunity -- not merely the money. Forget about the money. Think more about the opportunity. And so after a measureable gift of money involves 'unmeasurable' responsibility that it is more important to gauge the recipients ability to accept the responsibility than his ability to receive the money. There too, so commonly does money represent approval that grants are sought sometimes more as evidence of esteem than appreciable aid. The money will be offered, somewhat naively, a sealing down of the amount first requested if he will only give something. Though apparently flattering such offered rebates imply that the donor cares less about his reputation than cash in the till . . . a doubtful compliment at best, the world over. Sometimes giving money means giving encouragement. This question poses itself: encouraging when and what? Or giving
money may amount to little more than postponing disaster, justifiably at times and at times not. With so many other things involved [ . . . ] money -- opportunity, approval, encouragement, and mere postponement of disaster -- these notes are deliberately called Notes on Giving if only to sharpen your attention to other things than money.
Indeed I think that before the Carnegie and Rockefeller funds came on the scene of American philanthropy attention centered usually on the question of "how much?" for there was no practical reason to doubt how much the large foundations could give. If this be a true surmise this shift was certainly a great change in American giving and probably a very salutary one.
In any even the context of giving nowadays is no longer that of a traditional society with fixed and habitually unchallenged "good cause." We live in an adaptive not a traditional society. An adaptive society -- adapting itself to the effects on new ideas as well as discoveries and technological advances -- such a society needs to be changed and once changed itself creates the need for still more new adaptations. For this reason I see no logic nor psychologic in being lavish with "should" and "musts" in making comments on the art and mystery of giving. An old French man said to a friend of mine "Remember my boy you can have anything you want in this world only don't forget to pay for it." Each and every form of giving is likely to have price tags -- some obvious or predictable, others unrecognizable, "elusive," delayed, and occasionally imaginable. The price tags, if only because of their unexpected rarity, decisive [?] unremitting attention and ungrudging respect.
The motives for giving. Because, in so many instances, success in giving depends on[?] both receiver and donor (particularly the latter) having a clear comprehension of the motives or purposes in making the gift, I venture to review some, at least, of the
motives for giving. For painful surprises can ensue if the recipient mistakes the donors motive or fails to realize that there can be mixtures as well as varieties of motives.
The best and most durable relationships develop when the giver and the receiver fully agree in their source of values as to what needs to be done and the exceeding importances of that need. For a purpose thus shared and in complementary contribution to a common cause both donor and recipient can be and usually are grateful each to the other. To be sure that such unanimity of purpose actually exists is not always easy but so happy are the usual results that the effort to be sure warrants your placing this question in the forefront of your criteria for giving. The givers give money confidence approval and responsibility: the receivers gives his time, his thought, his work and sometimes risks his reputation in accepting the gift. Large as these stakes may often be this kind of motive involves less likelihood of misunderstanding or abuse than any other.
The donor may want honor distinction esteem and gratitude in return for his gift. Natural, you may say -- but like a number of natural phenomena, occasionally dangerous. Giving to attain personal distinction has the certain drawback of risking the creation of envy and a grudging gratitude. Hell hath no fury like a spurned philanthropist yet I do not know which is more regrettable a donor who is ignored or a recipient who takes a grant for granted. To raise money, as well all know, there must be plans, programs, policies and pressures. There are even companies of specialists who do such work for a fee. But there is no such highly geared machinery for thanking donors. Whoever organized a company to find and thank the most deserving donors? Sometimes the contrast between the effort spent in money raising campaigns and any comparable effort to thank the beleaguered victims of such campaigns impress me [ . . . ] more bluntly neglectful of human susceptibilities than suavely attentive to the urbanities of philanthropy. If the task of the donor is to think straight, the task of the recipient is to thank straightaway. In my experience a foundation may well be grateful for fining a competent agent who will use its money wisely. To demand honor, esteem and gratitude as quid pro quo frightens the best recipients and may revolt the rest. Gratitude cannot be forced and still retain its essence which is spontaneity.
Giving may derive from a desire for good public relations, i.e. to anticipate or prevent hostility or criticism. Such giving has come subtle disadvantages. It follows fashionable causes too unreflectingly and uncritically ignores the possibility that the recipient is quire incompetent to discharge the responsibility that accompanies the money. It sometimes seems to me that giving for the sake of public relations assumes little more than that the public possesses a smoldering[?] sadistic, desire which must be satisfied from time to time by seeing the donor nicked rather than by the good the money may secure. Derisive sneers of "Bought off, eh!" elicit the cold fury of the donor and the philanthropist fat is in the fire. Pathetic -- and unnecessary. This type of giving may often be detected by the elaborateness of the measures taken in advance to apprize the public that the giver has given. Occasionally repentance is the motive for giving. Here there can be no essential quarrel with the giver. The fault is more likely to rest with the beneficiaries who linger with pious can't [ . . . ] the horror of a sin so prodigiously productive in repentance -- and forget to get to work with the money that has been given with them. The repentant giver however seldom stipulates or even cares just what his gift should purchase: he has given till it hurts and he would be slow to notice that it might hurt the recipient
Not quite so rare perhaps as repentance is thankfulness as a motive for giving. Here again solicitude for critical discrimination and results to be obtained by means of the gift often fade in the glory of exuberant emotion. In such a situation, nearly everything rests with the recipient who may or may no convert the joyful occasion into a good piece of work.
Gifts in memory of the dead usually cover from family and friends attendant sorrow and respect nearly always protect the gift from abuse. They frequently take the form of buildings or funds to meet long established needs. [ . . . ] the greatest defects, like that of bequests, are likely to lie in the rigidity and shortsightedness of their terms and specifications.
Giving to avoid taxation suggests that the giver may take a dim view of the efficiency of the government as an agent for the expenditure of his money. Those who dislike the present activity of the federal government in welfare and health work seem curiously reluctant to indulge, through the support of a host of private agencies, their convictions as to the importance of free enterprise. The maximum of 15% percent deductible in our income tax was used to the extent of 2.3%. The creation of funds and foundations for the explicitly purpose of evading income tax while retaining control over blocs of voting stock when considered as a motive for giving suggests the distinction between smartness and wisdom. Such maneuvers mean the kind of public [ . . . ] that can quickly become exasperated to the point of drastic legislation regarding all types of foundations. Indeed much a development seems to me the most serious inherent danger to life of foundations as a form of corporate giving.
Though the motives for giving doubtless abound in greater numbers than of [ . . . ], the last to be described can create more trouble than any of the others. This is giving to obtain or maintain control over the recipient. Perhaps because the prototype of this kind of giving made its appearance in family life before the dawn of history and occurred in the childhood of everyone of us, nearly every form of giving may encounter suspicion. "Something for nothing? Where is the catch?" "Too good to be true", "What is the quid pro quo?" "Timco Damaos et dona ferntes." These are a hundred phrases to express this intricate suspicion. An experience donor must quietly expect it and patiently evidence and outlast it. After the last essay an amateur giver learns -- and some[?] there are who never learn it -- is the essential unsoundness of proprietary philanthropy. It threatens the sovereignty of the receiver, his independence, his freedom -- no wonder then that he suspects it, results, and fears -- and rightly so. The sad fact is that the giver so naively glories in his own magnanimity and purity of intention that
he blissfully ignores or deliberately underestimates the power of a source of threatened freedom. I have seen more misunderstandings develop from propriety philanthropy, more impasses, more embitterment than from any other kind of giving. Perhaps the task of divesting themselves of the proprietary attitude explains why men who have had success in making money exclaim with some measure of astonishment that giving money away successfully is harder than making it. And I have heard that cri de cocus more than once.
The motives for receiving money
At first sight it would seem absurd to stop to examine the motives of the recipient. But nearly anything is of more importance for the donor to be sure of. When an institution or association of persons with a declared objective accepts a gift that will be used in the furtherance of that objective the motivation is clear enough. Attention this is obviously centers on the nature of the objective the past performance and the probable competence of the institution to achieve it. The same can be said of an individual. Now the [ . . . ], there safest indication of the nature of the motives of an institution or an individual is the presence or absence of evidence of previous or current sacrifices to attain the named objection. There in his[?] the inherent difficulty of gauging the motives the proposers of and enterprise or project that is completely new: it has not past and consequently can show no proofs of sacrifice. If foundations or imaginative individual donors could ignore all completely new undertakings giving would be easier but far removed from one of its most significant opportunities -- exploration, experiment, innovation and the advancement of knowledge.
This last -- the advancement of knowledge -- as a motive for receiving help we found some years ago means different things to different people. To
source it means research, or, more generally speaking the satisfaction of human curiosity about one thing or another; in short the addition to human knowledge. To others the advancement of human knowledge includes the spread to larger numbers of people of what has long been known or recently discovered. And since gains in knowledge are the more likely when the number of educated persons increases these two interpretations of the advancement of knowledge play into each other. Curiosity as a motive to justify accepting money deserves the most sober reflection because curiosity ranks with the passion for freedom as among the most powerful driving forces in human life.
Another motive for receiving the gifts is humanitarian service. People who would not ask for money for themselves find no difficulty in asking for funds they plan to spend for others. Though in some ways a rather lonely trait of human nature this easy assumption of complete selflessness and a consequent unquestionable claim to be helped deserves more the less occasional re-examination. The ranks of such asking abound with sentimentalists. They suffer from what has been called "the Santa Claus complex." In truth they suffer without suffering -- as alcoholics suffer. They are so impressed with the fact that they are not keeping the money that they do not realize that what they want to keep is the status of being a benefactor. Sometimes they organize themselves as foundations without any funds of their own. It is delicate if not invidious for a foundation officer to draw attention to these philanthropic middle men. But until you have experience and recovered from the Santa Claus complex and its eloying after taste and its remarkable ineffectiveness you are hardly more than a tyro at giving. Some years ago when Yale alumni were conducting a fund raising drive George Vincent, a graduate of Yale and President of the Rockefeller Foundation, was asked to exhort his fellow alumni. With his witty perspicacity he formulated this climax to
his talk "Give! Give till it hurts! Give till it hurts Yale!" Whether he actually broadcast this stupifying advice I do not know but I know he wanted to challenge the sentimentalists. For the grave defect of the Santa Claus complex is that it distracts attention from what is going to be done with the money. When a donor gives to a philanthropic middle man for some purpose the responsibility that always goes with money often gets lost in emotional excitement. The middle man too frequently assumes unhesitatingly that the cause has been approved and so he has nothing to worry about . . . especially if he has "given his service." Serious givers can well be on studied guard against the infallible glow of satisfaction that comes from tending benevolently but temporarily to somebody else's business. As the Chinese saying goes "Sharing poverty easy: sharing wealth difficult."
One further motive for receiving must me mentioned in the interests of realism. Aid has on more than one occasion been asked for or received when the motive was to advance, not knowledge, but the status or personal careers of the recipient. Even if the recipient is a friend of the asker, or a protege or a former pupil -- it makes but little difference. There are it is two[?] occasions when the administration of an institution under rates or ignores the work being done by one of the professors. The cause of such an attitude may be on or more of many. But in any event giving namely to enhance status is nearly always unwise and always risky. Furthermore it exposes the recipient to reprisals the donor is powerless to prevent or control. As a famous American industrialist observed "Honesty is the best policy: I've tried both and I ought to know! I have seen no good come from personal ambitions as the chief motive for taking a donor's money and approval.
Sources of Giving
Though the comments on the motives for giving seem to refer in the main to individuals and foundations, the organizations charge with the responsibility of allocating government funds have some at least of the same motives. Aside from the differences that different motivation produce the nature of giving varies according to whether the donor is an individual, a tax-exempt foundation or a government agency. Each has inherent peculiarities, advantages and limitations. Experience suggests -- and only suggests -- that these characteristics run approximately according to the following patterns.
An individual can give quickly or slowly, for purposes defined and recorded or not, quickly, or publicly, according to rational plane or as hardly better than as a whim, with or without advice and certainly with less response to censure than is the case with giving by government foundations. He cannot sensibly be criticized for giving to relatives, to other individuals, or for highly sentimental reasons. He can all but dispense with any defined policy. But balancing these apparent advantages there are some less evident limitations. As a source of personal gifts he must be realistically regarded as somewhat less predictable in point of continuity, of only because he may lose his property or fall ill or die unexpectedly leaving no provisions in his will that provides for "what he had every intention of doing." As an individual free from any large number of requests (which is not likely) he but rarely has the time to arrive at conclusions after intensive and comparative study. He usually "knows" what he wants. But he is likely to be richer in money than in time. He wants results -- and in his life time. The temptation for him to interfere, influence and control his beneficiaries can be generally assumed to be considerable, though the number of trusting, self-controlled, anonymous givers is large enough to be heartening.
A foundation has advantages that derive from the deliberate pooling of the experience and information of more heads than one. Though its decisions may take time they can still show a considerable freedom in point of initiative, experiment, change and adaption. With tax exempt status foundations can give is all of their income which an individual cannot do. Foundations can be rich in time and patience. Wickliffe Rose used to repeat the wise remark "We are not in a hurry." And if a Foundation employs full
officers it can study, compare, evaluate and keep in touch with a wide range of opportunities and programs with a continuity of focus only rarely experienced by individual givers. If a foundation publishes the record of its gifts -- and I see some cogent reasons for so doing as a matter of policy for an institution claiming tax emption -- the trustees may be overly tempted to make grants that they think will get popular acclaim, prompt approval. But since this part of a full time foundation officer attracts men whose sense of workmanship tends to counter-balance any temptation to get results.
Government giving can be very large whether in simple grants or in total spread. There is considerable probability of continuity provide the service rendered thereby is widely acknowledged to be valuable. But government aid is open to regional and partizan pressures and to political expedience. Stability is likely going to be legally certain for only a year at a time. Government giving tends to be long disputed, slow in maneuver, not often [ . . . ] or exploratory, too centralized authoritarian and expensive. Government servants tend to become [ . . . ] and to make up in attention to retaining their jobs what they have lost of the [ . . . ] of personal accomplishment. Government giving has both the defects and the qualities of its tendency to be strongly utilitarian rather than restlessly curious as to new knowledge or new methods.
As a consequence of these characteristics I have often seen discoveries of fact or method begins on grants supplied by individual donors or as part of a university's routine and unrestricted allotment to an individual's research work, later developed, proven and demonstrated with foundation funds and at long last put into general application with government support. As is the case in gold mining, wildcatting for oil, and many inventions and innovations of method the beginning is individual, the elaboration perfectionment and first trials call for associated endeavor and the final wide scale expensive utilization is paid for by purchase or by taxation if it incomes a function of [ . . . ]. Foundation operations often reach into both sides -- the beginnings and the permanent maintenance through endowment. But there are no stipulate or observed limits are personal, foundations or government giving.
The Duration of Funds and Foundations
The question of whether or not a source of funds whether personal, corporate (e.g. foundations) or government should be maintained in perpetuity has often been settled in facts by death, taxes, or inflation. The question survives however in theory and there are examples such as Julius Rosenwald of donors who insist that funds should be spent during the life time of the giver or within a decade or two after his death. Successive generations it is argued should take care of their own needs, and picturesque instances are added to prove the danger on the fatuousness of the dead hand. It seems to me that the argument for deliberate and obligatory self liquidation of foundations rests are three false assumptions. First it is implied that the needs of the present generation are taken care of by extant givers. That is a dubious implication, to put it mildly. It is more realistic to hold that poor investment policy and loss of purchasing power over a generation or two "take care" of the effectiveness of trust funds more thoroughly than trust funds take care of the continuing needs of society. Second the real trouble comes from narrowness and rigidity in the definition of what the funds must always be used for, or from unwise selection of officers or trustees. Third to imply that succeeding generations will be unable to use income as intelligently and effectively as ourselves raises the double question of whether we are that good and whether the next generation deserves our superior efforts in their behalf. I can see not objection to exhausting the resources of a foundation for a cause that justifies such suicide, just as when a grant is made it should mean that what the money is spent for is worth more than saving the money for any other probable use. But deciding to spend capital for the sake of liquidation has other aspects than endorsing these false assumptions already noted: it introduces the givers to a new situation
for giving and the recipients to a new criterion for asking -- both inconsistent with their past experience and purpose. To suppose that such a policy will not invite carelessness, cynicism and waste (or worse) is simply fatuous. I have always like the policy that assumes that if a project deserves the expenditures of capital let's spend capital and if it doesn't let's not. But I see neither faith hope nor a satisfactory form of charity in liquidation for the sake of liquidation.
Scale of Operations
The kinds of things a donor can accomplish depends on how much money, study and time he can give to the selection of projects, to negotiating them, waiting for them to become fit for grant, and to remaining in touch with them after the grant has been made. The amateur give usually under rates all of these points. He hardly understands why giving money away effectively needs to cost anything. This is not the view in the best foundations small or large. Administration costs may vary between 5% and 16% of that total expenditure. For this reason any donor of less than about $200,000 a year will either refuse of begrudge spending as much as 10% a year or administration. He forgets that other funds can and will find better opportunities than he can find because they have learned the wisdom of Henry Pritelretti[?] conviction after twenty three years experience in the Carnegie Corporation that "somebody must sweat blood with gift money if its affect is not to do more harm than good."
The smaller the sum available for annual giving the more likely it is that the objective is narrowly defined and the opportunities inadequately canvassed. This tendency is not inevitable. There are some admirable exceptions. But until there is income enough to employ full time officers who can learn the field, search for the best opportunities and critically approve both grants and their results a donor [ . . . ] would do best to turn its funds over to a university or a national operating agency. When the annual income is enough to support a competent officer the programs and policy can become more effective. Indeed much could be accomplished by a donor who gave no more than an adequate salary and generous travel opportunities to an officer who would devote his full time and his life time to a field of work in which he could serve on invitation as clearing house, consultant and advisor , without any grants to recommend or supervise. Had there been such a consultant in, for example the field of hospital construction over the past twenty years his cumulative experience might well have made him in almost unbelievable demand provided his manners were good and his judgment sound ahs his salary enough to assure independence and detachment along with a growing interest in making himself useful.
It seems to me that the forte of large foundations is to make good gifts that are large, and the best opportunity for the more numerous smaller foundations is to make good gifts that are small. But the small foundations think that they are economizing by not paying the inescapable cost of securing wide knowledge and skilled discernment constantly lose their best chances to the larger foundations with paid staff who in their turn are tempted to multiply the number of small grants and thereby miss their peculiar function -- finding the best of the more costly undertakings.
The attractiveness of the small "exploratory" grant is a subtle matter. It is small and appealingly unprotected. It is almost unknown and probably ignored so failure will pass unnoticed but success would become an epic of foresight courage[?] etc on the part of the patron. And small grants are so cheap that [ . . . ] fractions of lottery tickets you can buy a part interest in a lot of different number. And you can cite so many important developments that came from small beginnings. So prospector's from sets in, you scatter your resources over so many ventures that you don't have time to study any of them thoroughly, you evade any serious responsibility by helping you throw away the unique opportunity of doing something solid big and lasting and get yourself into the thick of these things." "Chance favors the prepared mind," said Louis Pasteur. By much the same token chances favors the well selected grant in aid. Don't be surprised if in a later section of these notes arguments appear in behalf of taking chances.
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