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Behind the Book: An Interview with Author Martin Morse Wooster


In February, the Capital Research Center officially published How Great Philanthropists Failed and You Can Succeed at Protecting Your Legacy, by Martin Morse Wooster. CRC’s new communications officer, Christine Ravold, sat down with Martin, who shares what he has learned after three decades of research on the Great Philanthropists and their wayward legacies.

Q: You’ve written the book on donor intent—three times! Why write the 4th edition?

A: It’s been 24 years since I wrote the first edition. The foundations I wrote about haven’t reformed. A lot of the stories continued to unfold… the Barnes Foundation was moved to downtown Philadelphia, the Robertson Foundation case collapsed.

Many foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur—are all larger than ever before, but still, they are divorced from their original mission. There was more to tell about these issues.

Q: What’s new in this edition?

A: The Packard Foundation was one great story I never researched, so I decided to write the case study. David Packard acted as a mediator between Herbert Hoover and Stanford University—that was the first great collegiate donor intent crisis. He also saved the American Enterprise Institute from collapse in the 1980’s.

The case study for The Daniels Fund shows that donor intent can be recovered. It is not an inevitable slide away from the donor’s intent. It’s a good foil. So is the Hilton Foundation.

Q: How has charitable giving changed since the last edition of your book?

A: I’ve seen a trend towards sunsetting foundations—this is a good solution. Term-limits for gifts are important and catching on. It’s a minority position, but I’m seeing a shift away from perpetual foundations—in part due to Chuck Feeney’s example.

Q: What’s the most troubling case you’ve studied in the writing of this book?

A: The Pew Charitable Trusts: the Pew Family had 7 trusts—including the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust, dedicated to conservative and libertarian causes and limited government. After their deaths, the individual trusts were folded into a nonprofit with a self-funded think tank and the organization is no longer dedicated to the founders’ values.

This was sad because Howard Pew’s instructions were explicit and still ignored. Later on, the Pew Charitable Trusts also helped undermine the intent of the Barnes Foundation.

Q: What is the smartest donor or smartest tactic you’ve uncovered to protect donor intent?

A: James B. Duke had a deed of trust that listed the causes and listed the percentages of giving that went to his chosen causes. He was the smartest of the traditional era of givers. Mission-drift has been less noticeable because of his foresight. If he was alive, he would still recognize the causes that his legacy is funding.

Q: How are younger philanthropists changing their giving patterns?

A: Younger donors seem to have a more hands-on approach to charitable giving. They aren’t the industrialists of old, but they have a clear vision for how they want to give and they want to be involved in their giving.

Q: If donors were to take away only one thing from your book, what should it be?

A: Donors should make their wishes as explicit as possible. Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller were some of the smartest businessmen of their time, but they still made mistakes when it came to dispersing their wealth.

To learn more about the Great Philanthropists and how their donor intent was violated, watch CRC’s video here:

To learn more about how you can protect your philanthropic investments read Mr. Wooster’s Book, now available on Amazon.

Christine Ravold

Christine is the Captial Research Center’s Communications Officer. She writes, edits, and serves as a press contact. She is a graduate of Rosemont College in Pennsylvania.
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