Giving Ventures Podcast: Ep. 59 — What’s Happening in Philanthropy Today

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On the latest episode of Giving Ventures, DonorsTrust Vice President Peter Lipsett talks with Lawson Bader, president and CEO of DonorsTrust, and Christie Herrera, president and CEO of Philanthropy Roundtable. The two guests share insights and trends in philanthropy and discuss regulatory and legislative threats that, if approved, would chill giving. Tune in for this and more on the latest episode of Giving Ventures.

Herrera: Conservative-Donor Movement ‘More Entrepreneurial’

Herrera, whose 20-year policy career has centered around helping individuals and families move from poverty to purpose-driven employment, says givers and would-be givers have more resources at their disposable than ever before — tools that help address pressing policy issues.

“I think some of the roses — some of the things that are the most exciting — are just the sheer number of tools and resources and vehicles available to encourage charitable giving. I mean, we no longer live in a world where there are only big institutional foundations.”

Those raising money for conservative causes, says Herrera, no longer have to solicit solely from corporations or major foundations and donors, likewise, aren’t only limited to opening a foundation and using that tax and personnel structure as a conduit for their charitable work.

“We see donors giving through c4s and LLCs and [donor-advised funds] like DonorsTrust and, what it means is that, the conservative-donor movement as a whole is getting more creative, more sophisticated and I think, most importantly, more entrepreneurial,” she says.

Herrera: Populist Attacks on Philanthropy ‘Harmful’ to Conservative Causes

As for a thornier and less exciting trend in the world of philanthropy, says Herrera, one of her main concerns lately are the many threats to donor privacy pouring in from conservative and liberal lawmakers alike at both the state and federal level.

“You have these growing number of populist voices who are saying, ‘We want to take down Big Philanthropy and we want use the force of government to do it.’ That is not being principled. That is dangerous.”

One populist threat, for example, is a proposal from Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who said in 2021 that “we should eliminate all special privileges that exist for our nonprofit and foundation class.” Lawmakers at the state level, meanwhile, are working to introduce similar policy prescriptions.

“All of the threats to philanthropy and charitable giving from the right are very short-sighted and they will be the most harmful to our causes — to liberty-oriented groups — not to mention all of the people who rely on normal, everyday charities for the things that they care about.”

Bader: ‘Increasing Politicization on the Institutions of Philanthropy’

Bader says attacks on philanthropy aren’t new and that, similar to cultural politicization seen throughout society, date back to Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, a Supreme Court ruling that says unions and corporations can spend money supporting political candidates.

“[T]here is this overarching, increasing politicization on the institutions of philanthropy. So, we’re seeing more conversations about legislating this, regulating that — more public shaming of donors … which, I’d argue, have been around … since the Citizens United Supreme Court case …”

An outgrowth of that decision, says Bader, is the problematic belief that the charitable tax deduction is a government subsidy, an idea popularized by Ray Madoff, a left-leaning professor at Boston College Law School.

Bader: People ‘Perhaps Being More Philanthropic’ with Their ‘Time and Voice’

On the bright side, says Bader, despite a toxic political landscape in which lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have little respect for civil liberties and property rights, there are glimmers of hope and even philanthropic engagement among younger people.

“People are engaged. They’re volunteering. They’re participating. Even younger people … they’re very involved in social media and other efforts to speak up for something that matters to them,” says Bader. “So, I think we are being philanthropic. We’re just perhaps being more philanthropic with our time and voice than our philanthropic dollars.”


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