At a time when American society has grown increasingly dependent on philanthropy to fund everything from our most fundamental needs to our highest ideals, two Boston College Law School professors are launching the Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good to examine public policy issues in charitable giving.
The forum’s inaugural event took place on Friday, October 23, 2015, at the University Club in Washington, D.C., where it hosted “The Rise of Donor-Advised Funds: Should Congress Respond?“, which looked at the $50-billion charitable fund sector (see related story).
With support from organizations, including the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation, professors Ray Madoff (pictured above right) and William Bagley say the non-partisan forum will serve as a much-needed philanthropy think tank.
“Philanthropy is often surrounded by a hazy glow,” said Madoff, the forum director and an expert on philanthropy and tax law, whose commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio. “People assume that what happens under the umbrella of philanthropy must, by its very nature, be optimally serving the public good. But sometimes the rules governing philanthropy do not produce that result.”
Bringing together scholars, practitioners, and policy makers, the Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good will examine whether the rules governing the philanthropic sector best serve the public good and whether Congress and regulators need to take action. Among the leading issues:
- Donor-advised funds (DAFs), the fastest growing vehicle for charitable giving, provide benefits to donors and sponsoring institutions, but do they also best serve the public good?
- Private foundations often operate under the endowment model, paying out only income. But this model has come under criticism for what some say is an insufficient response to society’s current needs. Should the law be changed to encourage a faster payout?
- University endowments have grown to unprecedented levels and play an important role in financing charitable activities. But is there a point at which bigger university endowments aren’t necessarily better for society?
The Forum on Philanthropy is committed to a non-partisan approach to promote balanced discussions about philanthropy and the role of Congress in guiding how charitable dollars ultimately reach their intended beneficiaries.
“There has been too little discussion and debate about these fundamental questions surrounding philanthropy,” said Madoff, the author of Immortality and the Law: the Rising Power of the American Dead. “We believe that a strong and open discussion of these issues will ultimately strengthen the role of philanthropy in advancing the common good.”
Additional events sponsored by the Forum on Philanthropy include:
- “Philanthropy Boot Camp for Journalists” (November 17, 2015, Boston College Law School): Leading experts on philanthropy and public policy will offer their expertise to help journalists navigate the complex web of rules that define the way that the philanthropic sector operates.
- “Giving in Time: Perpetuity, Limited Life, and the Responsibility of Philanthropy to the Present and the Future” (April 2016 at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society): The conference will explore research questions in a range of issues, including questions regarding the lifespan of foundations and the relative moral demands of the present and future on our philanthropic resources.
A diverse consortium of funders, including large and small public and private foundations, supports the work of the Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good, including: the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David Bohnett Foundation, the Barr Foundation, the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Foundation, Inc., the Chicago Community Trust, the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta.