Want to make a gift to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation? Now you can: The $5.5-billion philanthropy unveiled a new policy this week that enables the fund to accept donations from the public.
But don’t expect to receive any direct mail from MacArthur asking for money to help underwrite public radio or support its illustrious “genius” awards program. Joshua Mintz, the foundation’s general counsel, said in a statement that MacArthur will continue to encourage people to instead give directly to its grantees and will accept gifts only in “limited circumstances if a suitable grantee is not identified and the donor believes MacArthur has the expertise to use the funds wisely.”
“Under this policy, we do not actively fundraise. Instead, our focus remains firmly on supporting our grantees but providing flexibility in cases where a donor prefers that we accept funds,” he said.
At least one other private grant maker accepts donations from people other than its founder: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2006, Gates decided to accept money from people other than Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. It was a move the foundation had previously resisted.
“We just really have been touched by some of these offers and think it would be ungracious to flat out turn the gifts away,” Patty Stonesifer, the foundation’s then-president, said in an interview.
“What do you tell a 7-year-old girl?” she asked. “Warren can give, but you can’t?”
The Gates foundation received $319,486 from the public in 2010, the last year for which that information was available.
The MacArthur foundation says the economic downturn played no role in its decision to accept other people’s gifts. But as foundation endowments and giving remain below their pre-recession levels, will more grant makers start looking to the public to help them fill their coffers?
There doesn’t seem to be any big shift in that direction. Three other big foundations—Atlantic Philanthropies, Ford, and Rockefeller—said they do sometimes hear from people who want to donate but that they point those people toward their grantees.
“The Ford Foundation does not accept donations,” said Alfred Ironside, director of communications, in an e-mail to The Chronicle. “When offers are made, we actively direct people to consider the organizations we support, as well as the many available resources for guiding individual giving.”
Send an e-mail to Caroline Preston.