A philippic on the supposed trend toward insularity and self-promotion on the part of the foundation and grant industry, by...

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NARCISSISM AND PHILANTHROPY: Ideas and Talent Denied

A philippic on the supposed trend toward insularity and self-promotion on the part of the foundation and grant industry, by an insider with 40 years of experience. Freund, who has held positions in the MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Whiting foundations, despairs at what he deems the current trend toward narcissism in grant giving. The problem, he explains, is that in the old days, grants were given after worthy recipients were scouted out by a team of experts in the field. Recipients were given openended grants not necessarily for specific goals. Now many foundations use their own small staff to decide who gets narrowly defined grants, often placing the enhancement of an organization's image over the selection of worthy recipients. Applications are no longer accepted at such institutions as the Hitachi and MacArthur foundations. Freund sets up Andrew Carnegie, who trusted only his own wisdom in giving, as the progenitor of such poor planning. And he uses the bankrupt phrase ""cultural elite"" more than once to describe those who misuse their power at foundations, but he names few names and gives little solid, convincing evidence of the trend toward corporate narcissism. One of his best examples of the oafishness of some organizations involves a grant applicant using the biographies of such notables as Beethoven and de Tocqueville. Supposedly, the applications were denied. But this story is 30 years old and may be apocryphal. Freund has a point to make, but his insistence on attacking those who are no longer around to defend themselves, such as Carnegie or Robert Mapplethorpe (whose work he calls ""exhibitionism posing as art"") makes for a weak and shrill argument. This slim volume provides some valuable historical insights into foundations but sheds little light on the real roots of the current problems in philanthropic giving.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996