Foundation Rescinds Grant to Watchdog Group

Resource type: News

Chronicle of Philanthropy |

Original Source

By Ian Wilhelm

Upset by a recent report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy that urged grant makers to give at least 50 percent of their grant dollars to the poor and other disadvantaged people, the California Wellness Foundation has taken the unusual step of canceling its membership to the committee and asking for it to return a $10,000 grant.

While several nonprofit leaders have criticized the committee’s report, the California Wellness Foundation is the only one to have pulled financial support for the committee, which is a foundation watchdog in Washington.

Gary L. Yates, president of the Woodland Hills-based foundation, sent a letter this month to Aaron Dorfman, the committee’s executive director, to ask that the grant be returned. “TCWF is rescinding grant #2009-009 as we are unable to support many of NCRP’s positions and statements regarding foundations in its recent report, Criteria for Philanthropy at its Best,“ he wrote in a terse three-sentence letter.

“Please remove the foundation’s name from any and all membership listings and please return any remaining funds from the grant,” he added.

In a letter responding to the request, Mr. Dorfman said the committee would return all $10,000, which was payment for membership dues. Mr. Dorfman wrote he was “truly saddened” by the decision and that the California foundation met most of the report’s criteria.

In an interview with The Chronicle. Mr. Dorfman said he had spoken with Mr. Yates by telephone, but could not change his decision.

“I understand he felt the need to ask for those funds back,” Mr. Dorfman said. “It’s not that big a deal, and I don’t anticipate that other funders are going to follow suit. I think most people understand that when they give a grant to NCRP they may agree with our positions some of the time and they may disagree with our positions some of the time, but that it’s good for the health of the sector that there be an independent watchdog of foundations.”

He said the loss of the California Wellness Foundation grant would not hurt the committee’s operations.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said Mr. Yates was not immediately available to comment about the decision.

In its report, which was released this month, the committee made about a dozen recommendations for good grant making. In addition to the 50 percent threshold for giving to “marginalized communities,” it pushed foundations to provide 50 percent of their grant dollars to pay for the operating expenses of charities, 25 percent to support advocacy efforts, and to give away a total of 6 percent of their assets in grants each year. The California Wellness Foundation was praised in the publication as a grant maker that awards a significant portion of its giving as operating support.

Several groups have opposed the benchmarks.

The Council on Foundations, an association of about 2,000 grant makers, said the criteria would stifle the diversity in philanthropic approaches and causes.

Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, called the report “breathtakingly arrogant” on his Huffington Post blog.

Mr. Dorfman said he did not expect the harsh reaction.

“I was surprised by the venom of some of the responses,” he said.

He said many people have misunderstood the report and that the committee has put a “myth-busting page” on its Web site to challenge some of the criticism.