In 1914, Frederick Goff did for philanthropy what halitosis did for Listerine: he created the "The Community." While no one knows who exactly this Community is (The Community does not keep membership records), thanks to Goff, we all know that (1) we owe it a great deal; (2) we are supposed to "give back" to it; and (3) community foundations like Goff's Cleveland Foundation can help us do that. Despite such auspicious beginnings, however, today, community foundations are the ruling elite's answer to the redneck front lawn, little more than parking lots for inoperable giving vehicles. Cut a philanthropist's grass, and you'll find another donor-advised fund his wife didn't know existed.
American corporations sponsor foundations the same way you sponsored that adorable child you saw on TV. Ever wonder what Sally Struthers' camera crew was eating? (Mmm, hey, let's order some pizza. No, you can't have any. This is mine.) Think about that the next time you read a corporate foundation's annual report. Thirty-five cents does go a long way, but if you spent half as much on grants as you did on PR, you could go much further. Company-sponsored foundations, however, are hampered by the fact that corporations are created to maximize shareholder value; hence, they cannot in good conscience give away someone else's hard-earned money. Corporate foundations, thus, have a great deal to learn from family foundation program officers.
For the discriminating philanthropist who truly understands that nonprofits are too stupid to be trusted with your philanthropic dreams, operating foundations allow you to foist your conception of the common good on unsuspecting at-risk folks without the annoying middlepersons. If you're up for "Extreme Makeover: Social Engineering Edition," consider the operating foundation your Home Depot. Sure, it might be better to call a plumber after a toilet explodes, but, hey, you're doing just fine on your own. Thank you very much. It's only medical research that could save millions of lives or none at all, a think tank that can inform Congress or lead it astray, or a museum that can preserve our common human history for generations to come or let it disappear forever - honestly, how hard can it be?
If a foundation doesn't give back to The Community, provide excellent PR for a foundering corporation, or, well, operate, the foundation is considered "independent." This independence, however, is exceedingly tenuous. As long as the your investment manager takes good care of your wallet, regulation isn't overly burdensome, the IRS doesn't order an audit, and the state attorney-general takes his foot off your neck, you're independent. Since none of these conditions currently obtain, "independent foundation," like "civil society," is a contradiction in terms.
Family foundations form the last bastion of the aristocracy in our civilization on the brink of collapse. It’s incredibly important, nay, vital to the continued prosperous existence of our polyarchic society that you hold your considerable wealth hostage to your dysfunctional family dynamic. This incredible power to change the world for the better must be mercilessly tied in perpetuity to your dated dogma, backward values, and mindless idiosyncrasies lest the underclass climb out of the muck in which we so painstakingly keep them.