Naming Rites

It’s not unusual for people to change their names. Last names change with marriage, divorce, career changes, whim, and the urge to assimilate. My maternal grandparents anglicized their surname “Medvedsky” to “Meadow” within a few years of arrival in America. (Family legend has it that my Great-Uncle Harry, who reputedly was a low-level operative in the New Jersey mob, insisted on the name change. His siblings wisely and swiftly complied.) First names change as well, with evolving tastes and preferences. A quick visit to the local magistrate is usually all it takes for a new identity.

But when nonprofits want to change the name on a building, it’s a much more public – and complicated – exercise.

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The False Allure of Charitable Endowments

[Note: This article was co-posted March 2, 2015 at Inside Philanthropy.)

In her recent Inside Philanthropy guest blog post defending donor-advised funds, Council on Foundations CEO Vikki Spruill asserts that those of us who are critics of donor-advised funds and perpetual foundations undervalue the role played by charitable endowments. Spruill writes, “The compulsion to ‘pay it out now’ in order to address immediate needs is woefully shortsighted.” In a comment to Spruill’s piece, Inside Philanthropy blogger Frank Monti agrees, writing, “…the value of the endowment is that resources are available in perpetuity. Jesus said ‘the poor you will always have with you.’”

I’m neither a theologian nor an economist, but I challenge the sacred place held by endowments in American philanthropy. And while I will reluctantly agree that there are always likely to be some poor people, I suggest that our addiction to endowments makes poverty worse, now and in the future. Continue reading

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