Academic journal article Generations

Secular-Sponsored Foundations and Support for Aging

Academic journal article Generations

Secular-Sponsored Foundations and Support for Aging

Article excerpt

The late Paul Schreiber, who was the first dean of the Hunter College School of Social Work and an extraordinary friend and colleague and mentor, often used to tell me in his critiques of my writing, "You spend too much time building the porch, and you don't get to building the house itself soon enough." He meant that my introductions to subjects were often too long and too detailed, and did not leave enough space for the body of the paper.

He would not be surprised, therefore, to find that I am beginning this article, "Secular-Sponsored Foundations and Support for Aging," first with a definition of the word Secular, by which we mean what is commonly thought of as nonsectarian, and then with a discussion of certain aspects of the history of philanthropic organizations in the United States. (See Weiner and Solomon, this issue, for a thorough presentation of the history of philanthropy and aging.) Finally, I will explain the omission of a topic.

First the definition: This article is primarily about philanthropic foundations that are not officially tied to religious organizations; they are often referred to as "nonsectarian," but I prefer the term secular. When I looked up the definition of the word sectarian in my DK Illustrated Oxford Dictionary (DK Publishing, 1998), I found that it is defined as ". . . concerned with the affairs of the world, not-spiritual or sacred." This, to me, is preferable to the more commonly used nonsectarian, because the definition of sectarian in my dictionary is ". . . bigoted or narrow-minded or a member of a sect," which puts an inappropriately negative cast on the organizations not included in this discussion because they are officially religious or spiritual organizations. Clearly, the foundations that I will be discussing in this chapter are secular.

Two final items in this introduction: I have not included in the discussion to follow any coverage of the funding in aging activities of units of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies/United Jewish Appeal or Catholic Charities or Protestant Welfare Federations. Units of Catholic Charities and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies can be found in many cities and towns in the United States and are responsible for fundraising and social planning for many service agencies in the field of aging. According to Fatima Goldman (personal interview, 2006), the executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, this is less true in the Protestant world; that is, in many communities, Protestants are less likely to be members of a Protestant-sponsored federation, and more likely to be affiliated with the United Way, or with churches or specific organizations affiliated with Protestant denominations.

Also, although corporations themselves and the foundations they establish are dearly important in the world of philanthropy, they are beyond the purview of this article. This having been said, corporate philanthropy is the source of support for many sectarian-sponsored agencies and associations, and the philanthropic funds that are generated and distributed by corporations are substantial. (See Levy, 1999.)


Now to selected aspects of the historical background of philanthropic giving. From the early days of the United States, there was attention to the proper approach to providing for the poor, and from the beginning, the early poor laws distinguished between two classes of poor people, as in the following "Report of Committee to Whom Was Referred the Consideration of the Pauper Laws of the Commonwealth," delivered in 1821, by the committee chairman, Josiah Quincy.

[First, T]he impotent poor; in which denomination are included all, who are wholly incapable of work, through old age, infancy, sickness or corporeal debility . . . With respect to the first class of poor, absolutely impotent, were there none other than this class, there would be little difficulty, either in principle, or as to the mode of extending relief. …

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