Philanthropy Watchdog Says Choice Donors Do More than Give Money

Published January 1, 2008

A report by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) offers an inside look at the organizations funding school vouchers and tax credit efforts nationwide.

In “Strategic Grantmaking,” released November 27, author Rick Cohen identified more than 1,200 foundations that gave more than $380 million to 104 organizations advocating school vouchers and K-12 education tax credits between 2002 and 2005. NCRP is a watchdog group based in Washington, DC.

The Walton Family Foundation gave the most, donating $25 million in total grants to school choice groups in 2005 alone. The other top five givers for 2005 were the Lynde and Harry F. Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and John Templeton Foundation.

Building a Movement

Foundations don’t merely write the checks that fund parental choice in education, the report noted.

“What impresses me the most about these school choice funders is their movement-building strategy,” said NCRP Executive Director Aaron Dorfman in a November 27 news release. “They’re targeted. They’re organized. They utilize effective grantmaking practices that other foundations can learn from to build more support for other issues they care about.”

Supporting Operations

In his report, Cohen identifies those strategies as:

  • giving more unrestricted general operating support to grantees than most foundations usually do; by giving more than the federally mandated 5 percent of assets, these foundations ensure school choice advocacy groups get more money to use; and
  • making personal contributions to candidates, political parties, nonprofit groups, and political action committees that support the parental choice movement.

Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin all have school choice programs in place. Efforts to create such programs are ongoing in other states.

Meredith Brodbeck ([email protected]) is communications and development assistant at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, DC.

For more information …

“Strategic Grantmaking: Foundations and the School Privatization Movement,” by Rick Cohen, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, November 27, 2007: