Elise Westhoff – Defending The Foundation Of Civil Society
The Philanthropy Roundtable’s President & CEO, Elise Westhoff, has become one of the most important and persuasive, if little recognized, defenders of one of the foundations of civil society – private philanthropy.
Few conservatives, and fewer still among the general population of America, recognize the Philanthropy Roundtable, an organization of philanthropists and foundation leaders devoted to advancing “liberty, opportunity and personal responsibility.”
But in today’s philanthropic environment, where donor intent may not align with “woke” political objectives, having an advocate for ensuring that foundations remain true to their donors’ intent, rather than changing their missions to keep up with the latest political fads, is fundamental to maintaining the role of private philanthropy in civil society.
In a recent interview with Naomi Schaefer Riley for the Wall Street Journal Ms. Westhoff explained and defended the charitable impulse, which is often idiosyncratic, this way: “I think when you start imposing those ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds,’ you really limit human generosity,” she says. “There are a lot of different kinds of people in this country, and there are a lot of people in need. And, by the way, there are people who want to help animals, and they should be able to do that. And people who want to work on climate change.”
She attributes the scope and success of American philanthropy to the freedom to “find unique causes [we] care about and invest in those causes.”
We found Ms. Westhoff’s argument against further government intrusion into the philanthropic and not-for-profit sector particularly compelling.
Increasingly, there are calls for the government to direct the flow of charitable dollars. Ms. Westhoff has spoken out against the Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving and the self-described Patriotic Millionaires, which urge Congress to mandate foundations and donor-advised funds to pay out their accounts more quickly.
The rationale behind many of these efforts seems to be that the government acquires an interest in your charitable contribution by allowing you to deduct it from taxable income. “To suggest that somehow because you get a deduction, now the government gets to tell you everything about it is misguided,” Ms. Westhoff says, “and is not true in other parts of the tax code.” If you take out a mortgage to remodel your house, you can deduct the interest. But the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t get to vet your architect.
Besides, when it comes to helping people in need, charities do better than the government, Ms. Westhoff says.
Of course, Ms. Westhoff is right about the effectiveness of charities in delivering life-changing and life-saving services to people in need, and the pandemic reminded us of how arbitrary, capricious, and politically motivated government can deprive those in need of charitably generated services.
Just think back to the darkest days of the pandemic in New York, when Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy of sending COVID infected patients into nursing homes full of vulnerable seniors appeared to be overwhelming New York City’s intensive care facilities.
Into that breech stepped Samaritans Purse, a Christian medical charity, headed by Rev. Franklin Graham, that delivers medical care to all in need regardless of race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation. After setting up one of their field hospitals in Central Park, New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio pulled the welcome mat on Samaritans Purse because of their Christian foundation, depriving New Yorkers of much needed emergency medical care.
At the time, it seemed no one, particularly in the establishment media, was prepared to defend Samaritans Purse and say, “wait a minute, government shouldn’t be depriving people of the benefits of charitable giving because they don’t like the politics of the donor.”
And while she wasn’t speaking specifically about Samaritans Purse, today things are different in large measure because of Elise Westhoff’s message that when it comes to helping people in need, charities do better than the government and that imposing government ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds,’ really limits human generosity.
Philanthropy Roundtable’s President & CEO, Elise Westhoff
Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Rev. Franklin Graham