venksThe Gloves Come Off

By: Sarita Venkat In: 2009 Annual Conference| Philanthropy

5 May 2009

Okay, I’ll admit it. The main reason I attended the session (Praise & Skepticism: “Philanthropy at Its Best” and the Future of the Sector) on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Report was to see some fireworks. I’ve researched the issue, interviewed and even stalked grantmakers (you know who you are) to write about the report for the Council’s March issue of Thought > Action > Impact. So, more than substance, I was curious about style–how were grantmakers going to present, argue, and debate the report? And true enough, I barely had sat down when I heard someone say–referring to one of the members of the panel–”He’s already taken off his jacket! I guess he’s getting ready for a good fight!”

After NCRP’s Executive Director Aaron Dorfman framed the discussion, the panelists–Tim Walter of the Association of Small Foundations, Will Ginsberg of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Sherece West of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and Gayle Williams of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation–wasted no time sharing their views. Walter and Ginsberg disagreed with the report, quite forcefully. Walter called the criteria “useful,” but said the report lacked depth and is “poorly argued.” Ginsberg, the self-proclaimed “skeptic” of the group, argued that the title of the report—“Philanthropy at Its Best”–is exclusive; it implies that there is only one “best” model for philanthropy. In their quiet but equally determined mien, West and Williams endorsed the criteria, stating that many of the recommendations in the report reflect their foundations and communities.

I was struck by how Walter and Ginsberg defended their positions and pushed back on the contents of the report. And then it hit me: they were doing what we as a field are supposed to do–have serious and passionate discussions and debate the issues. We may not all agree, but in the end, these discussions move us and the work that we do forward.

Ginsberg observed that very few community foundations endorsed the report and suggested that another session be held at the Council’s Fall Conference for Community Foundations. Dorfman accepted.

Stay tuned for The Gloves Come Off, Part II, in the fall.

Sarita Venkat is manager of external communications at the Council on Foundations.

2 Responses to The Gloves Come Off

Brad Smith

May 7th, 2009 at 9:27 am

Sarita captures the spirit well. As moderator for the session, I was concerned with not over-scripting, provoking a real debate, getting the audience in at key moments and, most of all, staying out of the way of the panelists so they could have at it. Though the NCRP criteria cover a range of issues, we spent most of our time on the criteria that at least 50% of grant dollars should benefit “lower-income communities, communities of color and other marginalized groups.”

Philanthropy rests on the cornerstone of a tax exemption in exchange for serving the public good. We have nothing to loose and everything to gain from engaging in a vigorous debate about how best to meet that challenge. If anything, as a sector we rush to consensus before exploring real difference. I hope future Council gatherings will let this debate flourish.


May 9th, 2009 at 7:47 pm

Thanks for the coverage - I also would have loved to have attended that session to see the debate in-person!

Comment Form

Welcome to RE: Philanthropy! In this blog, guest and Council bloggers share ideas and insights on the most pressing issues in philanthropy. If you want to contribute, please contact

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Council on Foundations.


Michael L. Batchelor
Ali Webb
Audrey Jacobs
Page Snow
Carol Thompson Cole
Anthony Tansimore
Jan Jaffe
Ian Dutton
Dori Kreiger
Lee Rainie
Janelle Harris
Lorie Slutsky
Nick Deychakiwsky
Sidney R. Hargro
Henry Izumizaki
Wendy Ramage Hawkins
Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker
Lisa Parker
David Imbert
Sofia Rasmussen
John Stremsterfer
Noel McLaughlin
Alicia Philipp
Priscilla Enriquez
Evelyn Gibson
Vincent Robinson
Kevin Murphy
Nelli Garton
Julia Boyer and Danny Murphy
Nancy Berglass
Kisha Green Dimbo
Ruby Takanishi
Kevin Salwen
Leslie Dunford
Roxanne Joffe
Sarah Berry
Ed Miller
Laila Mehta
John Feather
Braimah Apambire
Amy Philips Haller
Melanie Coon
Brian Collier
Lance E. Lindblom and Laura Shaffer Campos
Amanda St. Pierre
Kelly Brown
Chauncy Lennon
Kathryn Merchant
Sheri Booms Holm
Ira Strumwasser Ph.D. and Beverly Church