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Philanthropic Foundations | Princeton University | Price, Hugh B. | 2008

Foundations are uniquely American institutions. They enjoy privileged status under the law in exchange for the expectation that they will support worthy causes that benefit society. Many foundations indeed provide valued financial assistance to educational, cultural, social service, civil rights, health-related, and other non-governmental organizations that serve as the indispensable infrastructure of communities across the country.
Yet some foundations, especially large ones, have grander and more aggressive ambitions. They aspire to function as proactive change agents that are instrumental in incubating and creating new institutions, fostering and deploying new knowledge, cultivating and spreading innovative ideas, spawning and sustaining social movements, informing and shaping public opinion, reforming major institutions and service delivery systems, and impacting public policy.
This seminar will focus on the foundation as change agent. Among other topics, we will examine: (1) the original and continuing rationale for the existence of foundations; (2) significant examples of this catalytic role achieving its intended purpose; (3) high profile instances where best intentions backfired; and (4) the controversies that can arise when foundations choose sides in ideologically charged debates. The seminar will also concentrate on the spirited criticism that occasionally erupts over whether foundations are sufficiently transparent and accountable for their expenditures and impact; whether they should exist in perpetuity or be required to spend their way out of existence; whether and how they should be held responsible for the dubious actions of grantees; and whether they should be subjected to more rigorous legislative and regulatory strictures and oversight.