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The Real Deal: Extraordinary Results at Providence St. Mel

The Foundation’s mission is to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment. We frequently invest in early education because it is the key to post-secondary success. One of our better investments is in Providence St. Mel, a private school in Chicago.

Providence St. Mel has an enrollment of about 600 students, from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. As the name suggests, the school was started by the Catholic Church and, until 1978, was owned and operated by the Sisters of Providence. The Catholic Archdiocese discontinued funding for the school and wanted to obtain the building and land for other purposes. Instead, the Sisters sold it to a group headed by the school’s principal, Paul AdamAdvertisement for Providence St. Mels.

Paul Adams was born in 1940 and brought up in Alabama. He attended Alabama State University and was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He could not get a teaching job in Alabama and moved to Chicago in 1971, to take up employment as Director of Guidance at Providence St. Mel. A year later he became principal.

Paul Adam’s campaign to raise money to buy Providence St. Mel attracted local and national attention. President Reagan visited the school in the early 1980s and came back later for a second visit when he remarked that educators across the country who don’t know what to do should come to Providence St. Mel. The Governor of Illinois has visited and made similar comments, as has Oprah Winfrey. President Barack Obama visited the school years ago, when he was a State Senator and a book by noted educator Samuel Casey Carter profiled Providence St. Mel among the best 12 schools in the nation, from 3500 studied.

Providence St. Mel is a political and media darling because it produces unusually good outcomes for disadvantaged students. Last year 100% of its high school graduates qualified for university entrance to tier one institutions. Standardized test scores are well above national averages.

So what is the secret to this success?

Predictably, Providence St. Mel succeeds because it employs basic sound principles of education in a systematic and straightforward manner. Teachers are selected with care and monitored. The good ones are rewarded. The weaker ones are weeded out. Teachers are supported professionally. Students are accountable. When a student is not performing, advice and criticism come from the teacher, not the parents. Students spend more time in the classroom and academic standards (and disciple codes) are rigorous.

Providence St. Mel is a private school and receives no government support. It gets its money from tuition and private grants and contributions. Students are subsidized according to need but every family pays something, regardless of financial circumstances.

Families realize that Providence St. Mel can provide a ticket out of poverty. Students come to believe, correctly, that with hard work they can be the equal of anyone.

Providence St. Mel is the real deal, a place where good people and good ideas intersect to produce extraordinary results. It is an excellent investment for anyone seeking to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education. Check it out at

Class of 2016 graduates

Class of 2016 graduates

Diversity Includes Disability

One of the keynote speakers at the COSD conference in October 2008 was Dr. Paul Longmore, a critically acclaimed historian and the Director of the Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University, now named the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability. The thesis of Dr. Longmore’s speech was that history shows us that we require the “minority model”, and not just the traditional “medical model”, to understand and address the situation of people with disabilities in America.

At the time, most disability advocates subscribed to the “medical model”. This concentrates on fixing the disability. In order to help people with disabilities to become productive, participating members of society, we need to give them medical treatment and/or equipment. Treatment and equipment are necessary but they do not fully address the experience of people with disabilities.

In particular, the medical model cannot account for society’s prejudice against people with disabilities. Dr. Longmore gave numerous examples of public opinion over the last 100 years. So-called authorities have ascribed the following personal characteristics to deaf people: foolish, improvident, and given to drunkenness. “The Blind” have been described as “dishonest”. Feeble minded people were regarded as a menace and were incarcerated in order to protect the public. One of the leading orthopedic surgeons of the early 20th Century emphasized the need for special moral training for the physically disabled, without which they would be dangerous. At the time, many American cities had laws to prohibit people with physical disabilities from appearing in public.Ability Not Disability illustration

Prejudice against people with disabilities can be best understood by comparing their experience with other minority groups. Prejudice against minorities (including people with disabilities) is irrational and comes from fear and ignorance. It cannot be explained or cured by treating the person with the disability. The cure is to change existing attitudes by education and communication.

An illustration of this has been led by our friends at the Statler Center of the Olmsted Center for Sight. Through their Business Fundamentals, Hospitality, and Contact Center Customer Service programs for students and adults, the Statler Center is bridging a gap between people with disabilities and the workplace. Adaptive technologies and creative training techniques equip the blind and visually impaired to learn essential skills and develop their independence, professionalism, and confidence. Simultaneously, attitudes are shifted toward recognizing the unique people-oriented abilities and valuable self-motivation that blind and visually impaired people offer to their field of work. As the Olmsted Center says, there is now available a world of possibilities never before dreamed!

Society needs to understand that people with disabilities, like many other minority groups, have a distinctive experience that enriches us all. Values derived from people with disabilities are useful. For example, contrast the ethic of individualism and independence with the disability experience of human interdependence. Or take the concept of universal design, which is based on the idea that there are differences among us and there is no “standard” person or way of doing things.

Dr. Longmore believed that we are witnessing the birth of a new social order in which values that come from the disability experience (and other minority experiences) are celebrated as part of human diversity. But changing deeply rooted patterns and values is neither quick nor easy.

None of this is news to people with disabilities. However, for me the “minority model” is a perspective which gives a deeper understanding of the experience of people with disabilities and will help us to better serve them.

statler center logo

Social Justice Through Education

This week we re-post an article by Cheryl Crazy Bull, President of the American Indian College Fund. The American Indian College Fund is an important grantee partner of the Foundation and we had a chance to see Cheryl (and a lot of other good friends) earlier this month in San Diego at the Annual Conference of Native American’s in Philanthropy.

The Foundation’s mission is “to assist disadvantaged people to obtain education and employment.” A big part of our grant making – over $19 million to date – is directed to indigenous peoples, mainly for education.

Cheryl Crazy Bull’s article resonates with the Foundation’s mission. The status quo is iniquitous and it is untenable. Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada (or anywhere else) should not have to endure subpar social and economic conditions. Education is the means by which Indigenous Peoples can achieve a decent standard of living and scholarships are indeed an instrument of social justice.

We also share Cheryl’s admiration of tribal colleges. The Foundation has been providing scholarship support to students of tribal colleges for over 20 years and they form an important part of our investment in education. Our scholarships are not restricted to the best and the brightest. They are available to anyone with a passing average. Like the tribal colleges, we believe that education must be available to anyone who needs and desires it.

We have noticed positive change over the past 25 years. Tribal economies have improved as have education rates. There is still much to be done. We commend Cheryl’s article to you and implore our fellow education funders to include grants for scholarships to Indigenous Peoples in the portfolios.

Social Justice Through Education a Shared Sentiment for Empowering Nations

By: Cheryl Crazy Bull, President of the American Indian College Fund

I was inspired to see Hilary Pennington’s article, “Rethinking scholarships as social justice” in the Ford Foundation’s Equals Change blog. Her article examines the approach in action through the implementation of the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program, which spans 22 countries and a decade to support emerging leaders who face discrimination because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, economic status, or physical ability. Her essay opens the door to discussing and examining further why scholarships are particularly important to indigenous people as tools of social justice and opportunity.

Here at the American Indian College Fund scholarships are the underpinning for social justice in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) communities. Scholarships support students in their path to better lives for themselves, their families, and their tribes.

Pennington speaks to the importance of educating leaders in marginalized communities to further social justice in some of the world’s poorest countries. Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East were routinely plundered for raw earth minerals, timber, rubber, and oil. The history of colonization undisputedly left a swath of poverty and dis-empowered individuals in its wake with regard to political contributions, education, and control over the nation’s resources. The College Fund shares The Ford Foundation’s mission of social justice through scholarships and empowering citizens from nations that were weakened through colonization, however, we focus within the borders of the United States. Like peoples of other colonized nations, AIAN people were and still are sovereign nations, and in many cases their experiences parallel those of peoples living in countries in Asia, Africa, and South America as external nations imposed political systems that excluded and oppressed original inhabitants to wrest control of valuable land and resources.

American Indian and Alaska Native nations in the United States remain sovereign nations. They have a special relationship with the federal government based on treaties. Tribes share the experiences of other former colonized nations. The struggle continues today because the political and social inequality rooted in colonization has led to deeply entrenched poverty among indigenous peoples. The many other issues in the news: health care inequalities, substance abuse, lower high school and college graduation rates, and the like, are all merely side effects of endemic poverty (The U.S. Census Bureau reported its 2014 one-year estimates at 28.3% of AIAN people are living below the poverty line, compared with 15.5% of the overall population). Rather than treating the many symptoms related to poverty, the American Indian College Fund believes that education is the answer to empowering individuals and creating thriving Native communities.

Pennington referencing significant recent scholarship gifts to prominent institutions says it remains to be seen whether scholarships reach non-traditional candidates to “actually challenge entrenched systems of inequality,” stating that too many scholarships reach students who are already at the top. At the American Indian College Fund, we know that in addition to the best and the brightest students in AIAN communities there are many deserving students who have aspirations for a higher education. These students, too, can and should be encouraged to make important contributions. In Native communities where poverty is endemic, it is AIAN students who are often left with few options for a higher education.

While scholarships provide access to institutions of higher education, their symbolic value cannot be taken for granted. Scholarship support, coupled with the student services developed for AIAN students by tribal colleges, signals to our students that they are seen, that they are heard, and that we stand with them. We agree that non-traditional students are necessary for any movement to dismantle systems of oppression. Thirty-nine percent of the students the American Indian College Fund supported in 2014-15 with scholarships were first-generation students, and of those 49% had dependents and 38% were single parents. In addition, the students we support are non-traditional in that they are older, with an average age of 29.

Current and future leaders of social justice movements for racial and gender equity have and will continue to have tribal college degrees.

Tribal colleges and universities were created during the Civil Rights movement by tribal nations for just that purpose. Tribal leaders saw the need to educate the next generation to prevent “brain drain” and to lead their communities in business, health care, law, education, and science. These leaders knew that access to an affordable, quality higher education while preserving their cultures was the key to their endurance and success. Today the American Indian College Fund provides monetary support for 35 tribal colleges and universities serving AIAN communities nationwide and also provides students with scholarship support to attend them. It is interesting to note that tribal colleges and universities led the way with grass-roots, tailored education programming that reached deep into the community, serving the needs of many community members other than just students, in the same model that the United States Agency for International Development has found to be most successful today. Led and staffed by dedicated local community members, tribal colleges have also established culturally based early childhood education programs, health clinics, libraries, adult education courses, and more, which has expanded the sustainability of Native communities, their cultures, and their traditions.

Like the Ford Foundation, we find that scholarship recipients develop the skills needed to make a positive global impact and find solutions to increasingly complex world challenges, such as environmental degradation and sustainable business development. Indigenous communities are often ground zero for observing the effects of global climate change, and Native scientists educated at tribal colleges and participating in NASA and College Fund research programs are studying first-hand the impacts on water and soil quality, impacting not just the community and region, but the entire nation.

We are passionate in our belief that a higher education will ensure that the inequities of colonization can be remedied and that our current and future generations in Native communities succeed. Tribal colleges educate teachers who serve as role models in schools in Native communities, where today the majority of teachers are still non-Native. They educate health care providers who integrate traditional and western practices of medicine for effective healing practices for their communities. They educate community leaders like Kevin Killer, a member of the Lakota nation who grew up in Denver but went back to his community to attend and graduate from Oglala Lakota College. Today he serves his community as a South Dakota state legislator. Killer recognizes the importance of education in creating economically sustainable communities, saying, “Oglala Lakota College and tribal colleges in general help provide educational opportunities to members living on reservations. Without these opportunities there would be an even steeper hill to climb towards social justice. Having an institution of higher learning in so many communities around the nation is a privilege that many younger tribal members have only recently gained access to in the last 40 years. Tribal colleges serve as the impetus to many opportunities, including my own story of running for elected office. That would have been difficult at a larger institution.”

Killer is particularly interested in representing young people, as he serves a reservation with many challenges and a high birth rate (in Shannon County, half of the population was under the age of 18 in 2013) and he wants to ensure his constituents receive the representation, health care, and education they need and deserve. This past session Killer sponsored successful bills to create a paraprofessional tuition assistance scholarship program, a Native American achievement schools grant program, and instruction on South Dakota’s tribal history, culture, and government.

We at the College Fund believe that scholarships are the ultimate tool in social justice, helping to heal the wounds caused by poverty and injustice by giving students who otherwise could not afford an education opportunity and hope for a better future. The process is slow and inequality persists today—still only slightly more than 13% American Indians aged 25 and older have a college degree according to the U.S. Census—less than half of their non-Native peers (28.3%) counterparts. But like the Ford Foundation, the College Fund is committed to social justice by creating opportunities for all, and creating awareness about the transformative power an education has on entire communities and the need to support educational opportunities for all.

Global injustices exist within our own borders.  At the American Indian College Fund we stand with Native students to support scholarships and programs that help them get a higher education. We invite you to join us as we help our students to excel and go on to rebuild prosperous Native communities for today and for future generations.

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Hedgehogs & Foxes

Years ago I first saw the idea of the “hedgehog concept” in a business book, Good to Great. The authors had borrowed it from Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.”

The idea is that the world can be divided into two types of people, hedgehogs and foxes. The fox is graceful, cunning and fleet. The hedgehog is slow and should be easy prey for the fox. But this is not the case. Despite its advantages, the fox cannot overcome the hedgehog. This is because the hedgehog knows that, no matter what happens, all that he has to do in order to defeat the fox is to curl himself into a ball and he becomes an impregnable “sphere of sharp spikes”.

a fox and a hedgehogCheckmate fox.

The lesson for the rest of us is that we must, like the hedgehog, ignore life’s many distractions and see the world for what it is. Like the hedgehog, we must know and understand ourselves. What is it that we have or know that makes us unique? What can we do better than anyone else? If we can understand what we do best (our hedgehog concept), then our program decisions should naturally flow fro
m that understanding.

The UCF Direct Connect project is an excellent illustration. The University of Central Florida (UCF), together with Valencia, Seminole, Eastern Florida State and Lake-Sumter colleges, has worked to build scholarship endowments for students to go to state college and then on to UCF to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Investors, including the Foundation, supported the program through our ideas, experience, money and reputation. This instance of joint philanthropy displays the unique qualifications and endeavors of each participant doing their best work. It is our hope that fundraising for these scholarship programs – and others like them – will continue long after the Foundation’s involvement has ended as others recognize their hedgehog concept and step up in support of the Direct Connect project’s purpose.

A few years ago, the 5 Presidents of the schools each spoke to the value and importance of this project. The most telling evidence of its importance, however, came from an incident occurring before the final agreement date. About a week before the signing was to take place, the foundation board of one of the partner colleges voted not to participate. When this message got back to the college president, she simply overruled the foundation board and signed the agreement. Opting out of this agreement was not an option for this partner college.

Grantee projects may not be dazzling feats of innovative philanthropy. Like the hedgehog, however, they should capture the essence of what we each do well in our area of philanthropy. As a result of following the hedgehog concept, philanthropic programs can make a compelling impact in their unique niche.  We should continue our efforts to nurture and improve this model.

Doing Good

Sometimes it seems impossible to tell the difference between good grants and bad ones. If we feed the hungry and house the homeless, it feels good but the lasting result is to encourage dependency. If we fund groundbreaking research on how to address poverty, the connection between our grant and the end result is usually hard to see.

Accepting accolades and congratulations from a grantee for our generosity, wisdom or hard work should make us skeptical. Are we really so selfless and smart? Or do these grantees need our money so much that they will say anything to get it? And if that is the case, have we done anything to help our grantees become more independent or is our grant just another link in a chain of endless handouts?

One of my favorite stories about philanthropy is a much criticized grant for medical research that was made in the early 20th century by John Rockefeller. Pure medical research was unheard of at the time and one incredulous observer asked, “Why would you do this?” to which the reply was: “Because we have the faith of fools.” It was not until years later that the grant proved its worth and medical research became a new standard in the world.

Effective grant making often involves risk of failure and, worse yet, risk of looking stupid. None of us enjoys being on the receiving end of a critic’s hindsight, “what were you thinking!” In the short run at least, it is much more enjoyable to be the object of a grantee’s gratitude and affection. But for really great grant programs, the ones that we are proud of in years to come, we were usually faced with the prospect of failure and, at some point or other, found ourselves asking ourselves if this program was worth doing.

Scholarships, education and even transition involve relatively less risk and reward. The Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s grants are less likely to be a waste of money (or to revolutionize the world). Our choices usually involve the question of how best we can utilize our limited resources and talent.

On the one hand, we may be overreaching with such programs. We might ask: Is this program too complex and expensive for a Foundation of our size? Can we really be a catalyst for the community support required to sustain this program in the long run? Time will tell and proper evaluation tools and data collection will help understand the impact.

Accolades should always make good grantmakers nervous. But striving for honest relationships and insightful data can ease the nerves and take the spotlight off of the funders and onto what really matters: doing good.

Malcolm Macleod is the president and CEO of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF). Since joining the Foundation as president in 2001, he has spent the past 18 years working with the Board, staff and grantees to ensure that JSF is a Foundation that makes quality grants serving as catalysts for effective change. Prior to his work with the Foundation, he had a 26-year career in law and is currently a member of the Bar.


Philanthropy & Social Media

As a private foundation with 25 years of experience, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation has recently made the decision to prioritize communication. Toward that end we have hired consultants, taken to social media and revised our website. But who are we trying to reach? Why are we trying to reach them? What do we want to tell them?

The answer to the first question is that we are trying to reach potential, existing and former grantee/ partners, other grantmakers and anyone else who might be curious about what we do.

The need to reach potential grantee/partners is easily understood. We need them to know about us so that they can inquire about a grant. But why do we want to talk to existing and former grantee partners?

A channel of communication with existing grantee/partners will help us to manage our grant agreements. Further, it will give us a means of showcasing results. The Foundation makes investments (grants) but the actual work is done by its grantee/partners. Grantee /partnersgroup of social media company logos will have a forum to publicize successes and milestones and this will inform, encourage and in
spire others. There is an element of advocacy in this. Part of the Foundation’s pursuit of its mission and its support for the work of grantee/partners is to draw attention and resources to them. Increased communication will expose other grantmakers to the work of our grantee/partners.

We also feel the obligation to share what we learn. During the course of investigating and making grants and evaluating their results the Foundation acquires knowledge, which ought to be disseminated. Social media is an excellent tool for this and will help us to maximize our impact.

Like most private foundations, we are not well known or understood. We need to be transparent and more visible in order to do a better job. It is our task to build a larger community of people interested in the Foundation and its mission. Not only will this increase the pool of potential grantee/partners and result in more and higher quality grant inquiries, but it will bring people together to learn, compare and discuss their work.

Communication can no longer be viewed as a marginally relevant byproduct of our work. Rather, it is a core responsibility of the Foundation – and philanthropy in general – to generate interest in its mission and activities.

Faith & Money

The Johnson Scholars Program offers college scholarships to disadvantaged students and helps to prepare them for post-secondary success. Since 2008 it has reached nearly 500 students and awarded 240 students scholarships in value over $3 million.

The criteria for selection of Johnson Scholars is not based upon academic achievement. Ideal candidates are those who have the ability to graduate and attend college but are not headed in that direction. Johnson Scholars are selected in grade 9 and are given 4 years of preparation in a peer cohort system supported by teachers and outside mentors.

Preparation of Johnson Scholars encourages academic remediation and progress, but this is not an end in itself. Rather it is part of the process that leads Johnson Scholars to believe that a college degree and success in life is within their reach. Children of affluent or college educated parents grow up with this belief. Johnson Scholars must acquire it.

The promise of a scholarship is a show of faith in a student. It says that a prestigious Foundation is willing to invest its money in them because they have what it takes to succeed. Teachers and mentors build on this faith. Students do their part by applying themselves. They see that their effort is rewarded by academic success and come to believe in their ability to succeed.

Take Stock in Children is a scholarship program also designed for disadvantaged students. As the name suggests, it is also based on the premise of investing in young people. Like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, Take Stock in Children invests money and much more. The program begins early in high school (or before) and has a large mentoring component.

Take Stock in Children in Palm Beach County and the Johnson Scholarship Foundation have worked closely for years and this year have decided to merge their programs. In addition to the scholarships, the merged program will serve 600 in the high school system this year. This is just a start. Take Stock and the Foundation will work together to raise money in the community in order to increase that number.

In this week’s blog there are photographs of Take Stock and Johnson Scholars. Take a good look at these excellent young men and women. All of them will get scholarships to go to college and most of them will succeed. The secret to their success will be faith in themselves, not money.

Hands-On Investing

Grantmaking can be likened to investing. The role of strategic grantmakers can therefore be likened to that of a money manager. Instead of a financial return, foundations seek a social change, which is much harder to measure. But the concept is similar. Philanthropy invests in ideas, people and organizations. Good foundations diligently check the people and the organization and debate the ideas and missions behind them. Some investments are relatively safe – matching scholarship programs with universities for example – and others are more risky.

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s investment managers use different operating styles and the style is often dictated by the type of investment. At one extreme are index funds which mechanically folopen hands forming a circlelow the market index for whatever assets they are buying. Managers of these funds do not research or make qualitative judgments. Venture capital or specialized hedge funds can be at the other end of the spectrum. In addition to initial research they can take a seat on the company’s Board and an active role in management and operations. Their specialized knowledge and expertise is just as important as the money that they invest.

Most of the Foundation’s investment managers fall somewhere between these extremes. An equity manager might m
eet with management of a publicly traded company and monitor the company’s progress towards stated objectives. But they don’t take an active role. The Foundation’s grantmaking process also falls within this middle ground. We generally don’t get involved with telling our grantee partners what to do. In fact, we usually defer to them on the basis that they understand their business better than we do.

Should the Foundation become a more involved investor?

This question has been raised by a number of our grantee/partners. Some tell us that our advice on strategy and governance, which we continue to give, has been even more valuable than the money we invested. Our experience and assistance, in addition to our money, has been vital in helping grantees develop fundraising and scholarship programs. We continue to work hand in glove with other organizations on strategy and operational issues. One grantee has asked us to sit on an Advisory Committee its national program. Our consultants have taken leadership roles in developing proposals and have written drafts for particular projects. And still other grantees have invited us to attend Board meetings and to participate in discussions regarding programing.

For smaller, edgier projects the argument in favor of our involvement becomes more cogent. We can give badly needed advice on basic governance and strategy issues. Our presence also helps us to monitor our investment. More direct involvement in certain types of investments takes our social investment model to its next logical step.

Hands-on investing surely has its strengths and pitfalls. There is a delicate balance when it comes to supporting grantees and dictating the operations of their program. Philanthropists must defer to their better judgment, offering advice when asked and relying on the expertise of our partners when not.

A Lesson in Humility

When FSDB made the request to use JSF funds for a playground I remember thinking that a new playground would certainly be a nice thing for FSDB, but it didn’t seem very high on the priority scale for educating deaf and blind children. It was a close call, but we ultimately deferred to our grantee’s good judgment. And when Tanya suggested during our site visit that we see the playground I almost told her that it really wasn’t necessary. We only had a few hours and it was cold, but I didn’t say anything.

The playgroublind child climbing a playground rocknd was quite the site. Imagine an interesting, safe place for blind children to experience the physical world. Imagine a place where children can learn the consequences of a misstep or a failure to properly interpret a physical cue. This is a place where a child can stumble or fall and not suffer serious hurt or injury. It is ingenious. We watched the children play. They were in a small tactile laboratory. It was completely different from what we expected.

James, orientation and mobility instructor, hosted our tour and explained the playground. He is a former classroom teacher and is obviously a very bright penny. In order to explain the importance of the playground for the education of blind students he told us about something that happened years ago when he was teaching grade 10.

James is a baseball fan and he had a blind student that year who was absolutely nuts about the game. This kid knew every team, every player and where he came from, batting averages, on base percentages, win-loss records of every pitcher and on and on. This student made James look like a baseball novice.

One day James was sitting at his desk when the student came into the classroom to see him. James was busy and, while he waited, the student indulged his curiosity by feeling around the top of James’ desk. There was a baseball glove and a ball. After extensively and carefully feeling each of the objects the student asked James, “What are these?”

At first James could not believe that the student didn’t recognize a baseball and glove and he urged him to identify them. When he finally understood that the student really didn’t know, James was stunned. He explained the items in detail and the next day he took his student to a baseball diamond, around all of the bases, let him feel each one and took him to the infield and outfield. He is still amazed (and touched) that his grade 10 student, who seemingly knew everything about baseball, could not recognize the basic tools of the photo of parents and children at a playground

This is a poignant story and instructive for us. How much do we really understand of our grantees experience? Are we like James, surprised that a blind student can’t recognize a baseball and glove? Are we like the blind student, knowing everything about baseball but not comprehending the basics of what it is to play the game?

The Intersection of Ideas and Pragmatism

Albert Whitaker’s review of the philanthropic tome, Strategic Giving: The Art and Science of Philanthropy, identifies the conundrum of professional grant making. He describes the book as a “powerful attack on professionalism, written in the most professional terms and style.”

Professionalism is attacked because it robs philanthropy of its passion and innovation: “While grant making professionals may have the best of intentions… something is still lost when the delicate balance of public purposes and private values is tipped in the direction of the former to the detriment of the latter.” According to the author, what is lost is “idiosyncratic” and “provocative” giving. The process becomes so dry and bureaucratic that it loses its passion (and its real value).

Dr. Susan Raymond, a senior managing director of Changing Our World, Inc. makes a similar point when she lamentsillustration of a light bulb the unintended side effects of greater transparency and accountability in our industry and decision making that is increasingly process oriented. She compares many modern philanthropists to mortgage brokers, who make grants solely on the basis of probability of success. This leads them away from the most pressing and difficult issues of the day, which they are uniquely suited to address. Foundations should look up from the safety and comfort of their usual work and “come back to the world of ideas, even though there will be no immediate proof of impact.”

But transparency and accountability are necessary. Anyone who has had even a fleeting glimpse of sloth and self-indulgence in our industry knows that we need to be more than “idiosyncratic” and “provocative” in our grant making. We must have “the faith of fools” without being foolish. We must be disciplined without being conventional. We must strive to accomplish big things and not worry too much about immediate results. This is the essential art of philanthropy and it is more easily described than practiced.

Like our peers, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation must grope for it as we develop new programs and evaluate old ones. One of our Core Values is the power of entrepreneurship. This has been an inspiration for us in the past and we should continue to be guided by it. Entrepreneurship is similar to good philanthropy. It values creativity and risk taking and requires realism and hard work. The entrepreneur must find the intersection between ideas and pragmatism or perish in the market place. If we are to remain relevant, philanthropists and nonprofits must also do so.