Giving for Social Change: Foundations, Public Policy, and the American Political Agenda

Giving for Social Change: Foundations, Public Policy, and the American Political Agenda

Giving for Social Change: Foundations, Public Policy, and the American Political Agenda

Giving for Social Change: Foundations, Public Policy, and the American Political Agenda

Synopsis

This study shows how philanthropic foundations and their leaders help shape the American political agenda. The authors' central argument is that foundation leaders are members of a key social and political elite in American society. Relying on a survey of such leaders and on an examination of foundation public policy grants, the authors demonstrate that members of the foundation elite are among the most polarized groups in American society.

Excerpt

We undertook this study of philanthropic foundations as part of a larger project on social and political elites in the United States. This book is the integration of a wealth of unexplored material on the foundation elite, a unique survey of the ideology of foundation leaders, and a content analysis of public policy grants.

Our book revolves around foundation leaders as a strategic elite--that is, elite members of a strategic sector in U.S. society, not as an extension of upper-class domination. Our sociodemographic data clearly show that foundation leaders are far from being the repository of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant establishment that scholars often picture them to be. Only one in three of the foundation elite is a WASP. The foundation leaders are richer than other elite groups, but many achieved leadership starting from relatively modest backgrounds. Also, their backgrounds are considerably less affluent than those of leaders of the most liberal elite groups in the United States: public interest group leaders.

In this book, we demonstrate that foundation leaders are the most politically polarized of U.S. elite groups. We also examine the philanthropic ethos of the foundation elite. Some aspects of this ethos are not related to political ideology, but, as we shall see, other aspects are clearly ideologically driven. Many foundation leaders are strongly committed to providing a safety net against unfettered laissez-faire capitalism. At the same time, foundation leaders think philanthropy should support projects ignored by the welfare state.

Foundation leaders, regardless of ideology, also partake in the American tradition of voluntarism and progressivism. They believe that foundations, by supporting a variety of alternative approaches to social change, contribute to pluralism.

In actual public policy grant-making, however, our data show that their theoretical commitment to philanthropic pluralism does not extend to the ideological . . .

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