The Smithsonian, Ralph Lauren and a Lesson in Philanthropy

This past weekend, I traveled to Washington, DC for a family event. We had a half-day free before we flew back to Boston, and decided to do some sightseeing along the National Mall. At my daughter’s request, we went to the National Museum of American History. I explained in the car ride downtown that the Smithsonian Museums were all free, in part due to government support because of their role as a repository of our nation’s historical and cultural treasures. Given what I do, I also went into a detailed explanation about the role of private philanthropy – from “Friends” groups to individual, foundation, and corporate sponsorships – in subsidizing the insufficient (and some might argue inadequate) government funding for the exhibition, interpretation, and conservation of our nation’s cultural treasures. (My family is used to these monologues).

The Smithsonian was founded through the bequest of a British scientist who died in 1829. His will stipulated that, should his nephew and heir die without heirs, his estate would go to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” In 1836, Congress accepted the gift, then the equivalent of $515,169, and established the Smithsonian in 1846. The total number of objects in the collection is estimated at nearly 155 million, and its museums hosted nearly 29 million visitors in 2018. Yet its federal funding is only 62% of its annual $1 billion budget. (source

On the flight down, I had just finished reading Phil Buchanan’s Giving Done Right. Walking into the Museum of American History, there could not have been a more fitting example of his central thesis: that philanthropy, however flawed and challenged, is a critical component of our nation’s social, cultural, and educational fabric. Phil writes “In the United States, giving has done more good than even many givers realize, and though many challenges remain, it has contributed to much of what makes this a great country….Giving has made a huge difference in all of our lives.”

Our first stop inside the Museum was the gallery housing the original “Star Spangled Banner.” It is one of the most treasured artifacts in the Stars and StripesSmithsonian’s collection. It owes its conservation and restoration to a generous public/private partnership, with lead gifts from the Ralph Lauren/Polo Corporation, coupled with the dozens of donors listed on the plaque on the way out of the exhibit. The Star Spangled Banner was literally playing in the background as I read the plaque that explained what that funding was able to do for this important piece of American history. Without private funding, would they only have conserved 9 of the 15 stars on the flag? Or only been able to stop 62% of the deterioration?

As we walked through the galleries displaying countless American artifacts (from native communities, immigrant neighborhoods, and every day people) that explain our complex American history, I couldn’t help but think of the archivists, historians, preservationists, and educators whose work allowed us to breeze in and out of exhibits and reinforce what my 6th and 9th graders learn in their American history classes. Private philanthropy from generous individual, corporate, and foundation donors has enabled detailed analysis, interpretation, and preservation efforts, at the Smithsonian and in thousands of institutions nationally. The public viewing those exhibits – from all parts of the country and the world, based on the voices I heard – likely wasn’t reflecting on the complexities of private foundations, donor advised funds, or charitable trusts. Yet charitable gifts are as much a part of the American legacy as the artifacts on display, and allow us to connect to our past and chart a course for our future in tremendously important ways.

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About the Author:

Gioia PeruginiGioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Read Gioia’s full biography.

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Women in Philanthropy

Women in Philanthropy

As we kick off Women’s History Month, I would like to take some time to discuss one of my favorite topics – women in philanthropy.

Women have been philanthropists since the beginning of time – giving of their time, talent, and treasure to those in need and to those helping society address its most difficult and pressing issues. In the United States, the history of female philanthropists dates back to 1643 when Ann Radcliffe Moulson donated funding for the first scholarship fund at Harvard University. Through their philanthropic efforts women alleviated poverty, promoted religion, increased education, fought against slavery, influenced public policy, and secured the right to vote.

Fast forward to 1991 when two female fundraisers, Sondra Shaw-Hardy and Martha Taylor, founded what is now the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI), part of Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. These women recognized the need to dive-in to two issues: the difference in the way women approach giving and how that is an important factor in fundraising, specifically in cultivating women donors. The WPI and a myriad of other institutions and organizations have conducted studies and released reports on women’s impact on philanthropy in recent years.

Here’s what we know: Women control more than half of the wealth in the United States. We are more likely to give to charity and to give higher amounts than men. We are more emotionally invested in our causes, tend to want to donate time as well as money, are more driven by impact, and prefer to plan out our giving.

Given these facts, I’d like to address two trends in philanthropy that are being driven by women.

The growth in collective giving

The concept behind collective giving is that pooled giving has a greater impact on the community. It is also a way to democratize philanthropy by giving all women a voice in the grantmaking process. The number of giving circles in the US tripled between 2007 and 2017, with women making up the majority of members. One such local organization is The Philanthropy Connection (TPC). TPC’s mission is to inspire, teach, and enable women to engage in collective philanthropy in order to provide grants to charitable organizations that improve the quality of life for low-resource individuals and families living in Massachusetts. What makes TPC unique is its effort to foster the next generation of women philanthropists. In fact, it has a Fellowship program for 21-35 year-olds, which provides sponsored membership to young women who want to help change the face of philanthropy in Boston and contribute to and learn from TPC’s Give.Receive.Learn model of collective giving. Hemenway & Barnes is a sponsor of TPC’s Young Philanthropist Initiative (YPI), and I have served as co-chair of the YPI since 2016.

Creating a legacy of giving

At Hemenway & Barnes LLP, many women with whom we work are interested in leaving a legacy for their families, focusing on how to instill philanthropic values in their children and grandchildren at an early age. We are in the midst of the largest transfer of wealth in U.S. history, a large portion of which will be allocated for charitable purposes. The next generation will have unprecedented financial resources and will transform philanthropy – choosing to give now rather than wait to give while they accumulate wealth. Women see this as an opportunity to help influence and shape how their children and grandchildren approach philanthropy. Families might choose to create an advisory board to engage and educate the next generation before they are formally invited to be Trustees or board members. Others might choose to set up Donor Advised Funds for each member of the next generation. Whatever path they take to creating a legacy for the families, women are influencing how their households, and in some cases extended family, are thinking about giving.

We hope you will join us in helping women make their mark in philanthropy.

Additional Resources

About the Author

Jessica CoakleyJessica Coakley is a Philanthropy Associate at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Jesse advises or manages a number of New England-based family foundations that support nonprofits working in education, youth development, workforce development, human services and the arts. She is also a board member of The Philanthropy Connection.

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Making Room for the Unexpected in your Charitable Giving

Now that the holidays are behind us, we have all turned our attention to 2019. For some, this includes acting on New Year’s Resolutions. For others, it’s a time to assess what worked best in 2018 and what to improve in 2019. These decisions are playing out against a backdrop of uncertainty – in the financial markets, in the operation of the federal government, and in the impact of the changes in federal tax law. The uncertainty can make setting a charitable giving budget challenging.

We’ve written here before about strategies to maximize your charitable giving in light of the higher threshold for the standard deduction that a taxpayer can deduct from their income each year if they choose not to itemize. What are other ways to manage through the uncertainty of the new year?

Plan for the unexpected:

Increasingly, donors are setting aside a portion of their charitable giving budget each year for disasters or emergencies. In recent years, these have included natural disasters like the devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean or the wildfires in California. In early 2019, some donors used these charitable dollars to aid government workers impacted by the shutdown of the federal government. Whatever the issue, planning for these emergency needs, even if they represent a relatively small portion of your giving budget, can help donors feel like they don’t have to reduce their giving in one area that is important to them to be responsive as new needs emerge. It can help address immediate need while not pulling donors off their anticipated giving course. Read more about disaster giving here: How to Help Neighbors and Communities in Time of a Natural Disaster.

Consider the full spectrum of generosity:

As we all know, generosity goes far beyond your charitable giving. You may be generous with your time, volunteering on a nonprofit board, serving in a volunteer capacity in local government, or with your children’s school. You may provide support for students who are in need of financial or other types of support to get an education or launch their careers. You may be launching a business or purchasing real estate to help further a social or community need. All of these decisions can help you calibrate your total generosity index. It can also help guide your choice of philanthropic vehicle, ranging from direct giving to more deliberate structures like donor advised funds, charitable trusts, foundations, or LLCs. Read more about How to Allocate Your Charitable Giving.

Let your passion lead you:

You can find joy in more than cleaning out your closets. What if you took all the buzz around Marie Kondo’s approach to organizing your life and applied it to your giving? What in your giving “sparks joy”? Many donors choose to reserve a portion of their giving budget each year for projects, issues, or organizations that spark their interest and their curiosity. In this case, uncertainty can lead to fulfillment and not distress.

We hope that the new year brings you fulfillment, a renewed sense of purpose, and joy.

Additional Resources:

About the Author:

Gioia PeruginiGioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services. Read Gioia’s full biography.


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