June 08, 2011

Foundations Sign Their Own Giving Pledge

The Giving Pledge has inspired yet another pledge for big donors: Today more than 60 of the country's foundations have signed Philanthropy's Promise, a pledge to channel a majority of their grant money to needy people as well as to advocacy efforts and projects that encourage citizens to get involved in their communities.

The pledge was circulated by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which kicked off a controversy several years ago when it published a report that outlined several standards for foundations, including that they should give at least 50 percent of their grant dollars to help the poor and other disadvantaged people.

But now a number of foundations are agreeing to follow those basic spending rules, including one of the nation's biggest—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Other grant makers that have signed Philanthropy's Promise include the Arcus Foundation, Foundation for the Mid South, General Mills Foundation, Needmor Fund, and the Wallace Foundation. The committee said that the foundations agreeing to the pledge give a total of $2.5-billion a year.

The specific agreement in Philanthropy's Promise is to give at least 50 percent of their grant dollars to help "underserved communities"—people the committee defines as economically disadvantaged; minority groups; disabled people; women and girls; those who live in rural areas; or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.

In addition, the foundations signing the pledge promise that out of those grants—or other spending—they will dedicate at least 25 percent of the awards they distribute for projects that promote advocacy, community organizing, and other efforts designed to solve the policy problems that hurt vulnerable members of society.

While most of the foundations that have signed the pledge were already directing much of their grant making to such causes, Aaron Dorfman, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, says he hopes that by signing Philanthropy's Promise, more people will know how some foundations that typically keep quiet about their giving are deciding priorities.

He said he hopes the pledge will help staff members and trustees of foundations "reflect on and think more strategically about their own work."

The move comes just a few days after Hollywood celebrities and sports stars committed to a pledge to get their fans more involved in good causes.

Such projects drew their inspiration from an effort announced nearly a year ago by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to persuade America's billionaires to give at least half their fortunes to charity.