Tag Archives: John D. Rockefeller

Foundations, For Better or For Worse

Most of us don’t question the basic operating procedures of private foundations. They are what they are. But if not for a turn of events a century ago, the common business model for foundations could have evolved in a much different – and, to my mind, much better – way. Continue reading

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Real Change

[This post was co-published in Inside Philanthropy on September 10, 2015.]

A friend of mine rolls her eyes whenever I speak skeptically about the value of charitable endowments. “You’re neglecting the future!” she tells me. She thinks that I’m being profligate and short-sighted by advocating for distributing charitable funds rather than letting them build up.

Actually, my skepticism about endowments arises precisely because I care about the future. And I’d like to illustrate my argument by describing the life of Congressman John Lewis – and the philanthropist who helped make Lewis’s achievements possible. Continue reading

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The Greatest Philanthropist You’ve Never Heard Of

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Julius Rosenwald isn’t much remembered today, but eighty years ago he was considered one of the “big three” of American philanthropy, along with John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. It’s a shame that Rosenwald is largely forgotten. He was a remarkable guy, and his approach to philanthropy is worth commemorating and emulating.

Julius Rosenwald was the president and chair of Sears, Roebuck and Co. in the early part of the twentieth century. Today we think of Sears as an aging big box retailer, but a hundred years ago Sears was the Amazon.com of its time, perfecting the new concept of mail order commerce. Customers – most living in rural areas – could find just about anything they could imagine in the 1,000-page Sears, Roebuck catalog, from wheelbarrows to night gowns to pre-fabricated homes, all at prices that undercut local retailers. Rosenwald was, by most accounts, a remarkably down-to-earth and unpretentious man. And he was also an extremely wealthy man. Continue reading

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As Rich as Rockefeller?

All of you who are struggling to get your next foundation grant application pulled together and those of you who work earnestly as foundation staff or trustees may want to pause and think about how these entities – the powerful, life-giving, and capricious foundations – came into existence. Here’s the short version.

Though charitable foundations have a long history in the United States (some credit Benjamin Franklin with creating the first foundation, the progenitor of the Philadelphia Foundation), they did not gain prominence until early in the twentieth century.

The first two permanent foundations of note were created by Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Let’s look at Rockefeller, courtesy of “Titan,” a remarkable biography by Ron Chernow. Continue reading

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