March was kidney month. April was cancer. May was mental health month, and June is the month for multiple sclerosis. But at the headquarters of the Chicago chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the two people in charge of the month's fundraising are having a few problems.
"These disease months are for the media," said Abbey Davis, Chicago's MS publicity director. "It gives radio and television and newspapers a chance to do spots for all the diseases without favoring one over the other. That's very important, because all the diseases want equal time." I nodded.
"Anyway, said Davis, "for some reason, we had our annual meeting in May, and we got a lot of time for that. But now our really big June drive is coming up, and we're afraid the media are going to be slow about getting our regular spots on."
Chicago MS field representative Phyllis Ward said there is another problem: "We hire all these semiprofessionals to come in here and work for us," she said, shaking her head. "There are a group of women in this town who happen to be very good at recruiting volunteers over the phone, and they just go from one disease to the next, just doing this recruiting. Well, let me tell you, it's hard to keep any fundraising secrets when that goes on. I know at least one of our big successes of last year, our suburban pass-along pack, is going to be copied this year by cancer."
I nodded again. I had come to the MS headquarters to find out a little about charity and philanthropy in Chicago. I guess I should have been prepared for this whole conversation—there are obviously more organs and organisms and organizations than there are months, and competition has to be the final result—but somehow it seemed sort of eerie.
"The competition is tremendous in Chicago," said Phyllis Ward, looking at me with an earnestness bordering on sadness. "We try to honor the other diseases; if they're having a-thon, like a bike-a-thon, we try to schedule around it. But there are so many organizations with so many events, it's just getting harder and harder. And some diseases—I won't mention which —don't even do that."
"We'd like to do more," said Abbey Davis.
"But we have to restrain ourselves," said Phyllis Ward.
"Yes," said Abbey Davis. "Like, when I write one of our radio spots, I might say, 'Can you imagine what it's like not to be able to throw a ball? You could if you had MS.' That usually lays a nice guilt trip on people. But there are certain things I won't do: I never use a picture of an MS victim who's showing the disease's bad symptoms. That kind of thing might get some sympathy, but we've found it actually scares MS victims when they see it. All this is not to say we won't use them: we like to show them bowling, and a picture of them in wheelchairs is always good. That does the trick, but it doesn't scare the patients as much."
"Yes," said Phyllis Ward, shaking her head sadly. "We always have to think of the patients, not matter how tough the competition gets. That is very important."
Philanthropy and charity and Good Samaritanism have been with us, a part of our religious and social heritage, since the earliest days of our private enterprise economic system. Since the time when churches were the chief backers of hospitals and universities and social welfare, philanthropy—simple generosity—has been part of our basic concept of "doing good." And it is an idea that is hard to dismiss: we are touched by it, our religious sensibilities (where they exist) and our social sensibilities respond to it. For myself, when I think of generosity and giving to the needy I come about as close as I ever do to a universal feeling of any kind toward anyone. I watch public television and enjoy the museums and benefit from the medical research and a thousand other philanthropically supported things. To me and to us all, giving has been so important, held our affection and support for so long, that it has become much more than a matter of simple generosity. Good Samaritanism has grown into a big business.
Last year, Americans gave away $27 billion and nearly 6 billion hours of voluntary time—making philanthropy, next to government, the biggest undertaking in the country. And that doesn't even count the professional fundraisers and advertising firms and others who have gotten in on the act. The money still goes mainly to religion and health and education, and it still comes mainly from the individual—rather than foundation or corporate—donors. But even with all this giving and support, philanthropy may be running into trouble—the kind other big businesses have known about for some time.
Many charities have been found to be abusing their tax-exempt status by raising more money than they spend, or by raising money for one cause and giving it to another—often to themselves, for staff salaries and "administration" costs. Many people have become upset by that kind of abuse, causing several—largely futile:—attempts to pass laws regulating charities.
Another problem: a recent Gallup poll showed that Americans think big-time philanthropy by the wealthy is one of the biggest abuses of our income-tax laws. The 1969 tax reform, for example, was passed partly due to pressure to stop rich people from putting money into their own private foundations, enjoying the tax-exempt status, then "donating" the money to their own children's education.
But perhaps the biggest problem of all is that people have begun to ask themselves about the public good of big-time philanthropy, which is, of course, encouraged by our tax laws. People have begun to wonder about the way wealthy donors decide to give to older, more established institutions. Some critics have even been calling this sort of thing elitism.
It was probably never easy to tell how much altruism was involved in philanthropy, but now, with the tax laws and the disease months and Gallup polls, altruism seems like that last thing to look for. That may seem like a bad attitude, but the millions and billions can assault your sensibilities and "universal feelings" until you're left with a lot of questions without answers and a lot of conflicts without resolutions.
Chicago, with its Fields, McCormicks, and Rosenwalds, with its museums and universities and its population and central location, has for years been a center of philanthropy and charity. There are about 1,500 private foundations in the area and the Donor's Forum of Chicago—an agency set up by the city's foundations to help keep track of this kind of information (the whole thing has become that big)—says these foundations give about $40 million a year. But here, as in the country as a whole, the big foundation figures probably account for less than a quarter of all Chicago giving.
The Donor's Forum says philanthropy is growing in Chicago—but more in some places than others. Large foundations such as the Joyce, the Community Trust, the Spencer have been giving more and more, even throughout the recession. But more than a few of those small, family foundations aimed at by the 1969 tax law have been forced out of business, and Chicago's corporations—the few that give anything at all (there are few clear figures)—have been giving less and less. One corporate giver told me the decline was due to the recession, but another, at Borg-Warner, one of the city's more generous businesses, told me it was because corporations finally decided they weren't making money when they gave it away.
Along with these donors go the individual givers, and when you put them all together, you can see right away where Chicago's philanthropic money goes.
"Well, of course you're always stuck with the question of what an older, more established institution is," explained Eleanor Petersen, president of the Donor's Forum, "but I would say that at least 75 percent of Chicago's philanthropic money goes to such places, The rest gets divided between newer, smaller community and cultural organizations."
That is somewhat ironic, because those newer, smaller organizations are the one element of Chicago philanthropy that is really growing. Neighborhood recreation groups, theater groups, and development groups have spring up all over the city and have been receiving small grants from a few of the more daring donors. Still, they have had to watch the bulk of contributed money go to the places that, right or wrong, it has always gone to.
"We have to keep a low profile," the Borg-Warner executive said when I mentioned the small organizations. "We'd like to do more for them, but requests for contributions—from the big and little places—have been doubling early. And the more people who come in here for money, the more we have to turn away."
Regardless of what this says about philanthropists' claims that private giving does more innovative and creative things than government giving, the situation it has created for the people on the other end of Chicago philanthropy—the getters—is not the most pleasant or pretty. The women at the MS headquarters know that, and so does Karen Shabel, of the Chicago Better Business Bureau.
"Right now I'm working on the Animal Protection Institute," Shabel said when I talked with her recently. She is a young woman, with a direct, rapid-fire speech. "They are sending out advertising to different media. You've seen their ads:'Save the Whales,' 'Save the Cats,' 'Save the Seals.' Those may be worthy causes, but we don't approve of this group. They have no governing body, they issue no financial statements to show where the money goes, and as far as we can tell, they provide no services. We've found they've been using the money to lease the organization's president a car and to pay for salaries and more advertising."Shabel flipped quickly through a folder and pulled out a copy of an advertisement picturing a cruelly carved boy whose skin was patched with sores. "If you don't think charities and not-for-profits agencies are pulling out all the stops," she said, "look at this. These poor-hungry-children ad campaigns are often a bit shady. Notice," she said, pointing to the ad, "that there isn't one statistic about what they're doing with their money. They don't want you to think. They want you to feel guilt and sorrow and just rush right out and give. We don't approve of this group either."
Now in high gear, Shabel continued: "We've had a major institution, a children's hospital, that holds big fundraising events and gets big-name stars to make their please, and yet this place has virtually no controls over the money it gets. They've got bad accounting, bad supervision, and nobody really knows where their money goes. They're too busy raising it; for all they know, the promoters they hire to run the event pocket 90 percent of the money.
"In this city, there are all sorts of Fagin operations, named after the Dickens character, because they do things like pay a kid 25 cents a day to stand out on the street and sell overpriced candy." She shook her head. "And God knows there are a lot of weird religious organizations springing up in this town. I've been looking into one that makes people ministers through the mail for the right contribution." Then she shook her head again. "Maybe the worst in Chicago is the police," she said."
"Huh?" I said back.
"Police organizations," she said. "You know, a lot of charities and not-for-profit organizations use real pressure, intimidation, to get donations. Many times a gang of kids may come into a store and offer tickets to some fundraiser for some local organization and the owner knows damn well what to expect if he doesn't buy. Well, in Chicago the police do the same kind of thing. If you don't buy a ticket to one of their fundraisers, you get these subtle hints that you might not get the best police protection. We've seen it lots of times. And we've also found that a lot of times they'll ask you to give to their police widows and orphans fund. Do you know where that money goes?"
"Where?" I asked.
"They use it to rent auditoriums for their meetings and parties or for picnics or something else. They are just fraternal organizations, and there's nothing wrong with that, but they raise their funds by saying it's for widows and orphans. Imagine!"
Shabel said that part of the problem, in Illinois and the entire nation, is that there are so few laws regulating charities and other not-for-profit organizations. Illinois, in fact, has only a pair of statutes, and about all they do is require not-for-profit organizations to file annual financial reports with the state's attorney general. These laws are so thin that it took a private accountant, working on his own a few years ago, to find that Illinois charities—the good ones—spent an average of 26 cents of every collected dollar on themselves and not on their causes. The bad ones can spend anywhere from 50 to 100 percent on themselves.
"The laws are very vague, and the agencies that are supposed to be watchdogs—the state's attorney general, the IRS, the Post Office—really kind of run around and don't know who's doing what," said Shabel. It is because the Better Business Bureau is a private agency, she said, that she can do the amount of investigation she does. "We send out questionnaires to every charity registered with the state—event he religious ones, which are protected by the First Amendment—and if they answer all our questions about fundraising and where the money goes, and if they look okay, then we approve them," she said. 'But if they look fishy or don't even bother to return our questionnaire, we get big mouths and tell everybody who asks."
The trouble with that plan, of course, is that it is completely voluntary: it assumes, in effect, that real action against bad charities would begin at home. But how many people in Chicago actually look out for themselves when they donate?"
"People who give the most money—individuals—seldom call us to find out what we have to say," Shabel told me. "Take a group like the Kiwanis: I've just looked at a case where they held a fundraising circus. All they wanted to do was have a good time, drunk some beer, so they turned over their whole operation to a professional fundraiser who ended up charging about 90 percent of the take. I told them they could have checked the guy out through us, but they didn't care, not even that it is unethical for a professional promoter to charge a percentage. They just wanted to have their good time."
But even though Schabel attacked the lack of public attention and legal restrictions, she said she thinks more regulations would be a bad idea. "You hurt the good charities when you regulate the bad ones," she said. "If you require all sorts of fancy disclosures with each contribution, or big, new accounting methods, you add to the costs of the not-for-profit organizations and defeat your whole purpose." She waved her hand through the air. "Besides," she said, "if a charity is going to be abusive, no law in the world is going to change it; those kind of people will always do that kind of thing."
At the Charitable Trust division of the sate attorney general's office in Chicago, one staff member, an attorney, told me he disagreed with Shabel. "There should be more regulations," he said. "There are a few federal bills being considered now that would require not-for-profit organizations to make a disclosure of their finances to every person they solicit. I'm sure that would stop a lot of charities from operating, and it would probably shrink up a lot of other ones, but only the ones who shouldn't be in business in the first place."
One of the attorney's biggest complaints—and an aspect of philanthropy that has gone largely unnoticed—is the profession that has sprung up around not-for-profit organizations. A look through the Yellow Pages give a hint of the size of this business in Chicago: there are fundraising merchandisers that sell candy and popcorn for fundraising events; there are fundraisers who specialize in schools, scouts, and little leagues, and fundraisers for picnics and carnivals.
There are fundraisers who specialize in direct mailings. "This field is very competitive," one such fundraiser told me over the phone. "I'm not about to say how big we are; let's just let everybody think we're real small."
There are even firms that specialize in arranging for charities to "rent" lists of names—which are classified into hundreds of categories such as age, type of work, official title, and income. The lists are owned by companies like Sears and Montgomery Ward, who themselves do business through the mail, and charities use them for more than direct-mail solicitation. Phyllis Ward, of the MS Society, told me she uses the lists to map out strategic door-to-door campaigns. "We want to hit only suburban neighborhoods and downtown apartment buildings where the people earn at least $10,000 a year," she said.
Not all these professional fundraisers are small: I visited one, Donald Campbell and Company, one of the two or three largest in Chicago. In their sleek, modern offices overlooking the lake from the 24th floor of the United of America Building, with secretaries and vice presidents and accountants walking around nearly humming with efficiency, Donald Campbell himself told me, in the firm, steady voice of a business leader, that his company concentrates on large, established institutions such as universities and hospitals.
"We go into the institution and evaluate its salability," Campbell told me. "We can do the research to tell if a hospital's new ambulatory care unit will sell, and to what kind of people it will sell. This obviously means you're going to get different kinds of care in some hospitals than in others. A hospital that cures wealthy people, for instance, will have an easier time raising funds than one in a poor neighborhood." He said one of the reasons his firm concentrates on big institutions is that they are the only ones that can afford his services. "Don't lump us in with the circus barkers," he said. "We are not hired solicitors; we are very skilled marking and fundraising consultants."
Campbell was very serious in his 24th floor office, and because I wanted to break some ice, and because Karen Shabel's stories were sticking in my throat, and finally because the idea of a fundraiser decided the future of a community's health care seemed a little haywire, I told him a story I'd heard about this guy who had developed severe guilt feelings from writing ads for a hard-to-place-child adoption agency. This person had started feeling a little weird about marketing children.
"Yes," said Campbell, frowning, when I finished the story. "But of course, we're very serious about our business up here."
The Development Office of the University of Chicago is another one of those serious places: it raises the millions of philanthropic dollars the university spends each year. It is, for Chicago philanthropy, an important place, because the university is one of the major money-getting institutions in the area.
The office fills up Robie House, the landmark home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright near the university campus. The home's big living room has been preserved; its elegance, I was told, is perfect for entertaining alumni and "friends" (the Development Office's term for non-alumni who make nice gifts anyway). But much of the building is now filled with the fast-paced, file-filled works of one of the biggest and most sophisticated fundraising operations in the country.
On the third floor, in an office decorated with new and old pictures of the university, Clyde Watkins, head of development for the university, sat talking on the phone when I entered.
"Have you got her yet?" Watkins asked into the phone. He is young, big, and has a friendly, fraternity-brother face. (In fact, Watkins was in a fraternity when he was in school—at the U. of C. Besides that, his father was once a vice president there.) "Yes," Watkins said into the phone, "we though we had her sewn up, but we just talked to her, and she said all she wanted to know is what we are doing with laetrile. Her husband had cancer, and she thought he got relief from one of those drugs, and she's been into herb remedies ever since. So why don't you get back to her with some herbs."
Watkins hung up, turned to me, and smiled. "We've heard she'd worth a million," he said. "That's good. Very good." He and the rest of the staff were especially busy and a bit anxious the day I visited: the university's "alumni weekend" was to start the next day. "They'll be in town," Watkins told me, "but we won't solicit them. But we don't like them to get very far out of our sight either."
I asked him about the Development Office.
"We're sophisticated," he said, "but nowadays you've got to be. We have about 40 professionals in this office, and we also have offices in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco." These branch offices, he said, all have substantial staffs. "We want to be wherever our friends and alumni are," he said. "We just like to be as close as possible to our friends."
The phone rang again. Watkins answered and talked. I picked out a few words about a woman, another million dollars, and a party. When he hung up, Watkins laughed, "We just heard about this woman in San Francisco who's got a million dollars she feels like giving to a fine school," he said. "But we also heard that there are several other school trying to get to her. So we have to move: we're sending out one of our trustees to be her date at the party, and a friend who worked for the same company her dead husband worked for. One thing I've learned: cover every possible angle."
To cover all the angles, the Development Office has rigged up an impressive system. "First," Watkins told me, "is our research department." Located in another building (There's not enough room for it in Robie House), this massive research department keeps files on all the university's past donors, friends and future prospects. I sneaked a peek at one of the files: there was a work-up on the subject, a biography, a list of personal items, such as his special interests and sicknesses he and his family had suffered, a note from the university people who had last contacted him describing the best kinds of pressures to put on him, and dozens of newspaper clippings about the subject. "Those things are very important to us," said Watkins of the files. "We like to know as much as possible about our friends."
The Development Office has its own publicity department to grind out the hundreds of different brochures and mailings the university sends out each year. In a room just off Clyde Watkins's office, I saw stacks of these things, with paragraphs asking for gifts of life insurance, appreciated property, tangible art objects, real estate, bequests, memorials, and, my favorite, an offer to small, family foundations that wish to "terminate their tax-free status" to do so by "distributing their assets to the University of Chicago."
Between the phone calls (" … am I correct? We're talking about another million? She's not interested in Russian studies is she?" "Hey, this is Clyde; you got the phone-a-thon stuff yet?"), Watkins told me his office uses Charles Feldstein, Inc., one of Donald Campbell's two or three major competitors for Chicago's big-time fundraising business.
"We have to treat this school just like it were a business," Watkins said. Feldstein and the Development Office have done all the marketing research and salability tests, Watkins said, and they know where to go when they want money and what programs the friends of the University of Chicago are especially interested in.
"The graduate business school is always easy to get money for," Watkins told me. "Corporations tend to give there; to them it's just an investment in their future. The law school sells, and all the medical research programs and hospitals do well, because every donor has been sick or has known someone who has been. What's not easy to sell are the humanities: let's face it, it's a lot easier to make someone a corporate executive than a professor of linguistics."
But the pride of Watkin's operation, the thing that assures him of not missing an angle, is the structure of the office staff. "We are divided into three categories," he told me. "One for corporations, one for foundations, and one for individual donors. We don't have to work as hard on the first two, because what little they give, they are almost sure to give. What we concentrate on are those big, individual donors. They require the most effort, because you're got to get them to do something completely unnatural: give away their money. And you never know if or how much they'll give. That's our job as professionals: present our case as well as we can."
That presentation and the "unnatural act" that often follows doesn't just happen by accident. The Development office works on its individual donors from at least three directions. First, Watkins said, the potential donors are classified by the size of their generosity: there are the "President's Fund" donors, who give at least $1,000 a year every year (the university sends them a nice little brochure annually, listing all donors by the amounts they give); next come the people who make gifts between $10,000 and $100,000 ("we try to spend a little more time on them," Clyde Watkins told me); and finally come the really important donors: those who give $100,000 or more.
"For those people," Watkins said, "we almost always try to arrange meetings with the president or a dean, or sometimes just a tour of the campus to see what students look like or look through an electron microscope. That has always been good for getting people to separate from their money."
The second part of the university's attack is a massive research system: "We have task forces that approach our subjects from almost every conceivable angle," Watkins told me. "We can see if a person is interested in cancer or has had a friend or relative who's been victim of it, and then we'd know to offer them a chance to give to our cancer research program." He said there is another task force that concentrates on the special interests of potential donors. "If a guy has had a life-long interest with some field or has a relative on campus studying a certain subject—we hate to miss those—we make sure to try to get to him." There is also a task force concentrating on the age of donors. Certain age groups make certain kinds of gifts. Old people, for example, go in for bequests, memorials, and special trusts the university manages for them while they live, then keeps when they die.
After the classification and research, the real money-getters, Watkin's volunteer task forces, go to work. "We people in the office very rarely go out and do the asking," said Watkins. Instead, the Development Office has unofficial committees staffed by "highly placed" or wealthy people (university trustees, a vice president of Jewel Companies, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a steel company) who either go out and do the asking themselves or find other "highly placed" people even closer to the target to do the asking.
"That is by far the most effective way to raise funds," Watkins said. "At the level of donor we're really interested, peer pressure works better than anything we can do. For one thing, it takes a certain kind of person to just ask for $10,000 and not wince. But more important, a wealthy man i s just going to feel the pressure more if it comes from one of his friends; a friend knows the soft spots to go for.
"It's really a basic part of fundraising in Chicago: one rich man may solicit his friend at lunch one day for us, and the next day the friend may solicit our man for the Museum. It's a part of the civic life in this city; it's how philanthropy works in Chicago."
There is at least one other way it works: "Tax deductions are very important to us in getting people to give," said Watkins. "Tax consideration is at the heart of most giving when you talk about big gifts. you have to understand the wealthy: people of means are just preoccupied with taxes. Our biggest month is December, just before the taxation period ends."
I check out these tax deductions, center of so much controversy, with one of the Development Office's staff attorney's, Ted Hurwitz, who has an office on the first floor of Robie House. Hurwtiz's official job is to "advise" potential donors of the tax breaks they can get, but he told me he was just a "fancy solicitor."
"There are many, many ways we can help the wealthy with their taxes," Hurwitz told me. He said the basic deduction, 50 percent of cash-type gifts and 30 percent of gifts like IBM stock, can—with a good attorney and a willing donor—be "stretched out" and carried over from one year to the next, until eventually the full value of the gift is deducted. An in cases, like the IBM stock,Hurwitz explained, the basic tax deduction can actually be considered a double tax break, because by donating it and then deducting, over the years, the full value of the gift, the donor in effect "sells" his stock and avoids paying a capital-gains tax.
"There's a minimum tax now," said Hurwitz, "so nobody can use gifts to completely avoid paying taxes, but there are still a lot of things that can be done. The deductions do favor the rich, but you have to strike a balance; this school would fold up if there weren't such inequities."
Back in Clyde Watkins's office, I asked about the psychological considerations that go into getting the gift.
"All those things like peer pressure," said Watkins. "But it gets very tricky sometimes: Are we asking too much? Could we get more? How willing is the subject to part with his money right now? Sometimes you've got to use the soft-sell, sometimes you've just got to slap the table and say, "Damn it, we know you can give more.' Sometimes we offer to make them a memorial if they give; you know: we name a quadrangle after you if you give us an unrestricted gift. We don't like to get tacky about that kind of thing, and occasionally you get a cad who considered the gift an investment in integrity, but sometimes it's just the thing that makes the person feel like giving."
I told Watkins his job seemed to have a lot in common with the business of being a salesman.
"Sometimes it's an art," he said.
The millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor. —Andrew Carnegie, 1889.
There are, Donald Campbell told me, there are three or four very wealthy people in Chicago who seem to be feeling especially generous at the moment. One is Ray Kroch, head of McDonald's, who is giving his Big Mac millions to, among others, MS. Another is a man who, Campbell said, "owns a good portion of the Magnificent Mile and is throwing his money around to make friends." A third is Philip M. Klutnick, a former lawyer, member of the Roosevelt administration, and "developer." At 70, he is retired, but still maintains offices on the 40th floor of the John Hancock building where I talked to him recently.
Klutznick, a short man with a worn face, was sitting behind a large desk cluttered with papers. He said he was preparing for a trip to South Africa, but he didn't say why. His office, very modern, was lined with books and family mementos. When I asked him about his wealth, Klutznick seemed disturbed.
"You know the financial breakdown of this country," he said. "About 1 percent are very, very rich. I'm one of them. All you need to know about it is that I didn't steal it."
I asked him about his philanthropy.
"I give my money to things I respond to: religion, because I'm Jewish and concerned about the needs of my people," said Klutznick. "I also give to education; of course I prefer places that I've had something to do with, places I know about. Well-known places just have better track records; you just know what you're paying for when you give to an older place.
"It's an 'establishment' approach to philanthropy, and it is and is not important. Big donors share one trait: money. And that puts them in common with a small minority: the wealthy. I suppose a certain clubbiness develops around the field of philanthropy because of it, everywhere, but certainly here in Chicago. People like to do things with their peers, they want to be around them and be appreciated by them, respected by them. Some philanthropists do go to charity balls and those big fundraising events just because they want to be in with the crowd. It's often more social than anything else. But is that really so unusual? Don't most people behave that way?
"But there are other factors. You can't just generalize. There are gracious rich people and some who have more specific, less altruistic motives in mind. Some big givers give because they are just stick of having money, some because they are old and getting the feeling they'd better do something good with their money. Some—maybe most—give for reasons so complicated and buried so deep inside them that nobody, not even they, could ever really know why. One reason have noticed more and more and one which I find nauseating, is this business of giving memorials to people who often don't deserve them, just to get a big gift. That's just not right.
"I think a major reason wealthy people give is a feeling of responsibility. If you do well in this country, I think you often feel a responsibility to help it and to help the people who have not done as well; watching out for those people ad living up to your responsibility by giving either $10 or $10,000 makes a person feel good inside."
"For the $10,000 donor, might some of that responsibility be a kind of guilt?" I asked.
"I can't speak for others," said Kutznick, "but I know what you're talking about, and for me the answer is maybe—but how can you really answer a question like that? It's just that events have been good to me—I've had to work hard. Maybe for kids who grow up into wealth there is more guilt. But I'm grateful to this country, this society, for treating me so well. That's reason enough for me to give. There are always other factors, sometimes less gracious sounding, but what can I say about them? We are just human."
"What role does politics play in philanthropy?" I asked.
Klutznick smiled. "It used to be said that most philanthropists were Republicans because they had all the money. I didn't know if you can say that anymore. Maybe to a certain extent. But there are conservative philanthropists and liberal philanthropists. I suppose there might be a common bond, though, between all big givers, and that is they all believe in this country and its people and institutions. There are a few radical philanthropists. The wealthy have enjoyed those institutions and we want to perpetuate them, of course. We feel the need, I think, to give advice and money to less fortunate people, because we believe in them and want them to have the feelings of success we have felt in this country. You've just got to believe in it all"
"And you believe?"
I don't suppose I can come to any final conclusion. Perhaps the problem lies more within me than within philanthropy: perhaps my sensibilities are just too easily assaulted or I expected to see a pure altruism that was really never there. One thing is certain: philanthropy is no accident, from the MS's fight for public service broadcast time to Karen Shabel's fight against less welcome "charities" to the way Clyde Watkins's office files, maps out, and covers every angle. Perhaps the fundraiser who told me philanthropy was one of our national treasures, our more human way of depending on one another rather than on government, was right. But there is something about depending on the wealthy to do it that doesn't seem right to me either, and I end up with all the same old questions and conflicts.
I did try one other time to find answers: Abbey Davis and Phyllis Ward invited me to MS's volunteer appreciation luncheon. Hoping to see the altruistic side of giving, I went. There were many volunteers and many MS victims, and, watching them struggling with their food but laughing anyway, it was hard to see how the whole business became so big.
I was seated next to the women of the MS Society's "expansion board," a "highly placed" group who spend their fundraising time hitting up other such people. They talked about everything but MS (trips to Europe, new cars, new causes).
After the awards had been handed out, with Abbey Davis standing near the podium talking to a reporter from WGN radio, the women came back to our table with their awards—small, shield-shaped pins marked with the MS emblem.
"I didn't expect this," said one of the women. "I feel a little guilty about taking a gift … "
"Don't feel guilty," interrupted her friend. "We're all here because we have to do something, and what's wrong with being appreciated for it?"
"That's right," said another woman. "And I know just what I'm going to do with my pin. I'm taking it to the jeweler first thing. It needs some stones around it."