Monday, April 21, 2008

Philanthropy's Crucible

"Most of the time philanthropic mistakes begin from the illusion that given enough expertise, program officers can plan a program that produces desirable goals and eliminates undesirable results."
Martin Morse Wooster, Great Philanthropic Mistakes

Arrogance is the culprit -- the unwarranted belief that money and expertise can solve all problems. This little book offers a sobering reminder of the limits, harms, and even folly of great big goals and undisciplined social experimentation. I share some choice quotations gleaned by Wooster.

"It is an American fault to insist on extra big goals." Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S. Senator

"Overblown projects usually turn out badly but failure doesn't get advertised."
William H. Whyte, journalist

"The more we spend, the more complex the problem [seems] to appear."
Donald Kennedy, Food and Drug Administration

"Look, I'm settled on this. Let's not talk about this anymore. I may be wrong but I'm never in doubt." McGeorge Bundy, Ford Foundation

Political Scientist Harold Laski on foundation program officers, " Though none of us felt that he [had] written anything of special importance, we were to treat him as a high authority upon his subject."

"This is a common fallacy -- and even some foundation executives may not be immune from it -- that money can create better ideas, and that a great deal of money can create better ideas."
Raymond B. Fosdick, Rockefeller Foundation

"The solution to philanthopic arroganice is...humility."
Frederick Gates, Rockefeller Foundation

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