A Versatile American Institution

A Versatile American Institution: The Changing Ideals and Realities of Philanthropic Foundations

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    A Versatile American Institution
    Book Description:

    America's grantmaking foundations have grown rapidly over the course of recent decades, even in the face of financial and economic crises. They now number over 75,000, and as of 2009, they held over $583 billion in assets. Foundations have a great deal of freedom, enjoy widespread legitimacy, and wield considerable influence. In this book, David Hammack and Helmut Anheier follow up their edited volumeAmerican Foundationswith a comprehensive account of what American foundations have done with that independence and power. What exactly have been the contributions of philanthropic foundations to American society, and what might the future hold for them?

    Philanthropic foundations exist around the world, but the U.S. sector stands out. In no other modern society are foundations more numerous; nowhere are they so prominent -or so autonomous or so widely accepted as a private actor for public benefit. Yet while America's foundations themselves have not necessarily changed a tremendous amount over the past hundred years, they have operated in changingcontexts, varying significantly from field to field and from place to place. These contexts have changed greatly as foundations have moved from one of four distinct periods to the next:

    • the sectarian, particular-purpose era of the nineteenth century;

    • the classic institution-building era of the first half of the twentieth century;

    • a postwar period of struggle for strategy and relevance, lasting into the 1990s; and

    • a new period characterized by acceptance of variety and a tighter focus on results. Today's foundations and their constituents, potential grantees, analysts, and observers all can learn a great deal from the past, but they must consider past experience in the context of present realities. This book will inform and facilitate that critically important process.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2195-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. 1 Foundations in the United States
    (pp. 1-18)

    As symbols and embodiments of private power, religious authority, modernism, and capitalism, America’s philanthropic foundations have always attracted strong views. Critics object that foundations impose the arbitrary will of the “dead hand” on the pressing needs of the present; that they give unearned weight to religious orthodoxies—or that, by holding substantial assets, foundations violate a religious injunction to accept that “God will provide”; that they seek to remake social institutions in accord with a standardizing ambition that ignores tradition and popular preference; that they reinforce vested social and economic interests; that they provide cover for the secret, undemocratic ambitions...

  5. 2 Remarkable Nineteenth-Century Foundations
    (pp. 19-42)

    Americans developed the essential elements of the modern philanthropic foundation in the first half of the nineteenth century. In their modest wealth, creativity, local focus, engagement with national and international developments, and emphasis on religion, education, the arts, and local economic development, nineteenth-century American foundations had much in common with the foundations of our own day. They engaged with inescapable problems and established enduring patterns. Early in the century, every foundation was devoted to a specific purpose. By the middle of the century the best-endowed colleges were acting much like today’s general-purpose foundations and so were the largest religious funds....

  6. 3 The Classic Institution-Building Period, 1900–50
    (pp. 43-74)

    Three factors converged at the beginning of the twentieth century to create the classic period of American foundations: fortunes of unprecedented size, especially those of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller; a dramatic shift from religious faith to science as the dominant basis for higher education, research, and the professions; and movements to create whole new classes of organizations—research universities, scientific and medical societies, high schools, county public health departments, and public libraries. The convergence of these factors allowed a small group of foundations to play outsized roles in American life for the entire first half of the twentieth...

  7. 4 After World War II: Readjustment and Redefinition
    (pp. 75-116)

    The moment when American foundations could reshape entire fields had largely ended by the 1930s. Foundation interventions in medicine, science, research universities, public schools, and public libraries had by then done much to create new self-sustaining enterprises and professions that could now set their own course, without regard to foundation preferences. The exceptional advantages in wealth and focus—advantages in relation to the resources of other American institutions and governments—that the biggest foundations had held during the first decades of the century had faded. Government activity had expanded greatly in the face of depression and war. Americans had entered...

  8. 5 Variety and Relevance: American Foundations at the Start of the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 117-156)

    Realities—legal, economic, political, institutional—define what foundations can do. This has always been true in the past, and it is true today. American foundations have repeatedly reinvented themselves. But as argued in this book, foundations have been shaped not only by their own visions and choices, but also by their times, by law and regulation, and by the institutions and actualities of American society at large.

    In the early twentieth century, the actions of a few foundations accelerated the development of science, medicine, and education in the United States. For many, the legacy of that great achievement sets the...

  9. Appendix A: What Is a “Foundation”?
    (pp. 157-161)
  10. Appendix B: On Sources
    (pp. 162-172)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 173-176)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 177-216)
  13. References
    (pp. 217-248)
  14. Index of Foundation Names
    (pp. 249-254)
  15. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 255-273)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)