Philanthropic Plutocrats Pushing the Levers and Pulling the Strings | janresseger
Over the weekend, here and here, this blog covered last week’s pieces by David Sirota, here and here, that exposed the $3.5 million grant the Public Broadcasting Service solicited from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to pay for a PBS series, The Pension Peril, that has been portraying the advocacy position of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation that opposes public pensions. PBS agreed to return the grant and put the series on hiatus when the conflict of interest was exposed.
It used to be that nonprofits brought ideas to foundations when they submitted proposals for funding. These days it is far more common for the foundation to set an agenda and then seek organizations who can be granted funds to implement the foundation’s priorities. Joanne Barkan describes the shift in grant making: “The roles of grantor and grantee have… changed. Once upon a time, the mega-foundations established a goal and sought experts to do independent research on how to achieve it. Today many donors and program officers have preconceived notions about social problems and solutions. They fund researchers who are likely to design studies that will support their ideas. Instead of reviewing proposals from outside the foundation, they hire existing nonprofits or set up new ones to implement projects they’ve designed themselves. The mode of operation is top-down; grantees serve their funders. Mega-foundations also devote substantial resources to advocacy—selling their ideas to the media, to government at every level, and to the public. They also directly fund journalism and media programming in their fields of interest. All this marks a cultural transformation of big philanthropy.”