For foundations, donor intent is paramount

December 22, 2010

As a community foundation that pursues its goals through grant-making, initiatives and advocacy, the Baltimore Community Foundation applauds Aaron Dorman's call for philanthropies to engage in advocacy ("Smarter grant-making," Dec. 21), but we recognize as well the even more pressing imperative of loyalty to donor intent.

At the Baltimore Community Foundation advocacy is important, but donor intent is sacred.

Mr. Dorman holds up the Annie E. Casey Foundation as a paragon while suggesting that the Weinberg Foundation is lagging in its civic duty by not engaging in advocacy. Yet Harry Weinberg is reported to have said of his foundation, "While others are finding the cures for all the ills of the world, someone will be hungry, someone will be cold. That's our job." The trustees of that great foundation have determined that Mr. Weinberg's intent precludes formal advocacy.

By establishing a sophisticated grant-making program that delivers resources to great nonprofits, Weinberg trustees have set a standard for donor fealty. By creating and supporting superior direct-service efforts, foundations can set standards that government and others may replicate on a larger scale, and that is another form of advocacy.

The Casey and Weinberg foundations are both true leaders for our region, and together with a wonderful and growing variety of foundations, they demonstrate that the true value of our philanthropic sector lies not in one approach or another, but in its diversity.

Tom Wilcox, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Baltimore Community Foundation.

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