American Philanthropic Foundations: Regional Difference and Change

American Philanthropic Foundations: Regional Difference and Change


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Once largely confined to the biggest cities in the mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states, philanthropic foundations now play a significant role in nearly every state. Wide-ranging and incisive, the essays in American Philanthropic Foundations: Regional Difference and Change examine the origins, development, and accomplishments of philanthropic foundations in key cities and regions of the United States. Each contributor assesses foundation efforts to address social and economic inequalities, and to encourage cultural and creative life in their home regions and elsewhere. This fascinating and timely study of contemporary America's philanthropic foundations vividly illustrates foundations' commonalities and differences as they strive to address pressing public problems.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253032751
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 04/16/2018
Series: Philanthropic and Nonprofit Studies
Pages: 376
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David C. Hammack is The Hiram C. Haydn Professor of History at Case Western Reserve University. He is author of A Versatile American Institution: The Changing Ideals and Realities of Philanthropic Foundations, American Foundations, Globalization, Philanthropy, and Civil Society: Projecting Institutional Logics Abroad, and Making the Nonprofit Sector in the United States: A Reader.

Steven Rathgeb Smith is the executive director of the American Political Science Association and President of the International Society for Third Sector Research. He has taught at several universities including the University of Washington, where he was the Nancy Bell Evans Professor of Public Affairs. He is editor (with Robert Pekkanen and Yutaka Tsujinaka) of Nonpofits and Advocacy: Engaging Community and Government in an Era of Retrenchment.

Read an Excerpt



David C. Hammack

New York city remains by far the most important single center of foundation activity in the United States. Even after a relative decline over several decades in numbers, value of grants, and assets, the New York metropolitan region's foundations far surpass those of any other region, and indeed any other state. New York's foundations remain exceptional in the range of their purposes, in their commitment to national and international initiatives, and in their support of the arts, civil society, public affairs, and the social sciences. Although foundations have grown at a remarkable rate on the West Coast and in parts of the South, the Empire City continues to lead. And because New York continues to house the single largest concentration of big foundations in many fields, it is also home to the nation's largest pools of program officers, subject-area consultants, lawyers, investment managers, accountants, publicists, and other foundation professionals. The Council on Foundations and Independent Sector operate from the Washington, DC, area, but New York remains the base for such key elements of the national foundation infrastructure as the Foundation Center and the Rockefeller Archive Center — which holds records of more than a dozen major foundations, including the Ford Foundation — as well as for key organizations closely allied with foundations in the fields of human rights, the arts, international affairs, and university research.

Large though they are by comparison with foundations elsewhere, New York's foundations are not exempt from the constraints that limit American foundations in general: their resources are small in relation to the fields they seek to address and they are far from unified. Now as in the past, New York's foundations do have certain emphases, but they do not constitute a single force. What Julian Wolpert wrote in 1989 continues to be true: the New York region's "organized philanthropy has little overt coherence, leadership, organizational structure, or visibility ... the vessel has no rudder." In ways that are too often ignored, the foundations of the metropolis continue to be diverse and contentious.

New York foundations and endowments have made significant contributions in many fields. Indeed, New York's foundations played nationally critical roles in establishing the foundation as an organizational resource — a self-governing, long-lasting, if not permanent, fund devoted to purposes very broadly defined as charitable — first as a support for religious, educational, and cultural institutions and causes, and then, from the early twentieth century on, as an open-ended funder of changing groups of institutions and causes. In the first decades of the twentieth century, a celebrated cluster of New York foundations took the lead in building the nation's science-based institutions; unable to continue that role after World War II, New York's funds have helped lead the continuing national effort to keep foundations relevant and effective.

Through its Constitution and the First Amendment, the United States eschewed the ideas of a national church, a national honors list, and a national university, and instead put a premium on the protection of private property. One result has been great and proliferating variety in charities. Over the course of the nineteenth century, sustained and focused giving enabled New York charitable funds to do much to build America's Protestant denominations (evangelical as well as liberal), and to establish nationally prominent colleges, hospitals, libraries, and museums. New York funds continued to support these causes through the first half of the twentieth century, even as some also underwrote notable national and international initiatives in public education, public health, rural development, and social work. As institution builders, the city's funds in these decades underwrote structures vital to medical research and education and to university research in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In ways that are less widely celebrated, New York funds and endowments also did much to build Jewish organizations in these decades.

In recent decades, most New York City foundations have continued to build institutions and sustain traditions, in a larger and still-growing array of religious and secular communities. Many high-profile New York funds (most famously but by no means exclusively the Ford Foundation) have moved to increase aid, sometimes dramatically, to museums, performance venues, and arts education; to underwrite movements for civil and human rights; to protect the environment; and to improve economic opportunity both in the United States and internationally.

Other forces, and funds located in other parts of the United States, no doubt did more than New York foundations to shape each of these fields, and several of New York's largest and most influential funds owe their origins to other regions, having located in the city chiefly for its centrality in finance and communication. Most New York foundations have had modest aims. New York's foundations have continued to back competing religious communities, competing market- and government-based responses to poverty, and competing ways to improve education or health care. But in the fields emphasized here, New York foundations have contributed decisive impulses of definition or coordination.

Establishing Foundations in New York

New York City's foundations date from the earliest years of America's independence from Britain, and from the beginning they pursued disparate and often rivalrous purposes. By the early decades of the nineteenth century, New York City was home to several of the very largest endowed funds for the support of Protestant denominations, some of the very largest interdenominational Protestant funds, and some of the nation's best-endowed colleges, universities, and arts organizations. Managed by their institutions' boards to contribute to multiple and changing charitable purposes, these funds resembled today's foundations, though they operated within narrower limits. For a century, New York placed more stringent legal controls on a donor's discretion than did Massachusetts and other New England states. When in the late 1880s distant relatives of wealthy donors successfully employed legalities to wrest very large bequests from the New York Public Library and Cornell University, the state's legislature strengthened the rights of donors and allowed the creation of general-purpose foundations. By that time, Pittsburgh's Andrew Carnegie had already launched the philanthropies that built America's distinctive public libraries and evolved into the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the more general Carnegie Corporation of New York. And by that time, John D. Rockefeller, who by 1980, like Carnegie, had moved the seat of his business operations to New York by 1880, was already well into his philanthropic career. Carnegie, Rockefeller, and others took advantage of the state's new laws to make New York City the capital of the large, national, general-purpose foundation.

For a hundred years, religion shaped New York philanthropy. In 1817, New York's Christian Journal and Literary Register clearly defined the religious and denominational purposes of many early funds: "The Protestant Episcopal Church indeed must have nurseries for Clergymen in theological schools and the means of sending them out as Missionaries, with Bibles, and Prayer Books, and Religious Tracts, or her progress and prosperity will be seriously affected, and her influence confined to a few of the most populous towns." Adherents of the Church of England, wealthy and not so wealthy, taking advantage of royal favoritism during the colonial period, had responded to such calls. Trinity School and King's College, both Anglican, dated from 1710 and 1754 (and benefitted from royal patronage); the Anglican Corporation for the Relief of the Widows and Children of Clergymen in New York received a rare charter in 1769. Following independence and the removal of government support from Church of England, its adherents created the Episcopalian denomination, whose New York members increased support for these charities and funded the creation of many more. By the end of the nineteenth century, Miss Mary A. Edson could leave her million-dollar fortune to twenty-two different Episcopal funds, several of which held considerable endowments. Some of these funds underwrote institutions whose purposes were broadly defined and open to changing interpretation. In addition to Trinity School and Columbia College (successor to King's), Edson's Episcopalian beneficiaries included the General Theological Seminary, the American Church Building Fund, the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the Bible and Common Prayer Book Society, the City Mission Society, the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society, and the Mission for Deaf Mutes. They also included the venerable funds for Aged and Infirm Clergymen and for Indigent Christian Females, Episcopalian Orphanages in New York and Cooperstown, the Adirondack Cottages at Saranac Lake, St. Luke's Hospital, the New York Cancer Hospital, and Women's Hospital.

Presbyterians managed many similar charitable funds and institutions in Philadelphia and Princeton, but in 1818 they organized the "Education Society of the Presbyterian Church in the United States" in New York City, and in the very early 1830s they played a central role in creating the University of the City of New York (now New York University). In 1836, they helped launch Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan. The Methodist Book Concern, which grew large after moving from Philadelphia to New York in 1804, used the considerable sums it earned from the sale of religious materials to aid retired preachers. Combining donations with earned income, by 1844 its value, according to a recent estimate, reached $750,000. An 1884 account added that Daniel Drew — who had once climbed to the top "of the commercial ladder," left "St. Paul's Church, in Fourth Avenue, the Methodist Church at Carmel, Putnam County ... and Drew Theological Seminary" in Madison, New Jersey, as "monuments of his munificence" — died with "next to nothing." New York's nineteenth-century funds most commonly underwrote religious activities, but not in a unifying fashion. Efforts to create interdenominational or nonsectarian Protestant funds proved controversial, and several Protestant denominations built their own endowments in New York. Catholic endowments were conspicuous by their absence; yet by the end of the nineteenth century, land and buildings worth very large sums housed Catholic churches, hospitals, orphanages, clergy, and religious communities. The 1891 Baron de Hirsch Fund for Jewish migrants was the most famous of several early funds for Jewish communal and religious purposes. Like Christians, Jews disagreed among themselves; in the last years of the nineteenth century, New York investment banker Jacob Schiff gave large endowments to Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College (the chief theological school for the Reform movement), to the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and to Harvard University. His most recent biographer sums up Schiff's view: "Reform, a 'healthy liberalism,' saved many Jews from leaving the fold, while Orthodoxy preserved the heritage that nourished Reform."

Protestants also created large, multipurpose interdenominational foundation-like funds, as well as large income-generating buildings in New York City. The American Bible Society, organized in 1816, "secured incorporation ... in 1841, pursued a new and aggressive policy concerning legacies and annuities after 1848, and amended its charter so that it might 'purchase, take hold and convey or lease certain real estate' in 1852." It invested $300,000 in Bible House in 1853; twenty years later, that building not only housed its printing plant and scores of employees whose annual sales of bibles yielded tens of thousands of dollars, but was also earning rental income "from benevolent societies" of $40,000 annually. The American Tract Society, a less denominational competitor to the Methodist Book Concern, renounced endowment in its early decades, but raised tens of thousands of dollars for investment in the land and the building of Tract House, its own printing and distribution facility, after it consolidated in New York City predecessor entities from the Boston area and other points in the Northeast and moved to a New York City location during the 1820s. In 1895, the Tract Society built one of New York City's tallest new steel-frame skyscrapers in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to shore up its finances. In 1893, John S. Kennedy's nearly $1 million gift of the United Charities Building near Gramercy Park provided more effective underwriting for the (broadly Protestant) Charity Organization Society and many other promoters of self-help for the poor.

Donors to these funds pursued expansive purposes through focused actions. As historian Bertram Wyatt Brown put it, Lewis and Arthur Tappan and other supporters of the nondenominational funds feared that the Trans-Allegheny West might well be "lost to Catholic, Universalist, anti-Mission Baptist, and other hostile forces." It was in this spirit that they provided key gifts to Oberlin College in Ohio. Congregationalist leader Lyman Beecher endorsed such giving as a way to guard against demagogic irresponsibility: giving through church funds, he insisted, could exert influence "distinct from that of the government, independent of popular suffrage, superior in potency to individual efforts, and competent to enlist and preserve the public opinion on the side of law and order." These funds did not seek to avoid controversy, disagreed among themselves, and had many critics. Denominations also differed on points of doctrine and practice. Before the Civil War, abolitionists complained that the Tract Society's publications avoided direct condemnation of slavery; as northern Protestants grew critical of slavery, southern Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians split away from denominational bodies headquartered in New York and Philadelphia. As early as 1831, Mississippi politician and future governor John A. Quitman (born and raised in upstate New York) denounced the "robbery and roguery" of the "stupendous organization of religious societies" that raised money from widows — and sometimes raised critical questions about slavery — from their imposing, well-staffed New York City headquarters.

Donors to hospitals, schools, and libraries also provided substantial funds to support competing priorities, both religious and secular. When his 1868 endowment gave Presbyterian Hospital what was then the largest endowment of any of that denomination's institutions in New York, James Lenox pointed out that other religious communities, including "the Jews, the Germans, the Roman Catholics, and the Episcopalians" had already invested generously in their hospitals. By the 1890s Columbia University (still tied to the Episcopal church) had added to its early college one of the nation's leading collections of endowed professional schools — Medicine (1861), Mines (1863), Architecture (1881), Law (1858), and Education (1889) — and was well into the construction of its impressive Renaissance-inspired campus on Morningside Heights. New York University had similarly added an impressive Bronx campus for its college and for engineering to its older Washington Square facilities, where NYU housed its school of law and its medical connection with the city's Bellevue Hospital. New York, Presbyterian, and Mount Sinai Hospitals were among the nation's best-endowed medical facilities. Also nationally prominent by the end of the century was St. Johns College (a Catholic institution, later Fordham University).


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Table of Contents

Introduction/David C. Hammack
1. New York Foundations / David C. Hammack
2. Philanthropic Funds in Baltimore / Jessica Elfenbein and Elise C. Hagesfeld
3. The Washington, D.C. Region’s Modest Foundation Sector / Alan Abramson and Stefan Toepler
4. Northeastern Ohio’s Collaborative Foundations / Elise C. Hagesfeld and David C. Hammack
5. Philanthropic Foundations in Chicago/ Heather MacIndoe
6. The Rise of Grantmaking Foundations the South / Martin Lehfeldt and Jamil Zainaldin
7. The Foundations of Texas / Peter Frumkin and Heather MacIndoe
8. Foundations in Los Angeles / David B. Howard and Helmut K. Anheier
9. Foundations in San Francisco and Silicon Valley / Carol. J Silverman and Arleda Martinez
10. Washington State’s Foundations / Steven Rathgeb Smith, Beth L. Lovelady, Natalie C. Alm, and Kate Anderson
By Way of a Conclusion: Regions, Foundations, and Policy / David C. Hammack and Steven Rathgeb Smith
Appendix A: The Biggest Foundations, 1946, 1979, 2012
Appendix B: Community Funds and the Distribution of Smaller Foundations

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