Article Summary

Are Foundations For Ever?

Are Foundations For Ever?

Rupert Graf Strachwitz

Summary by Karel de Leeuw

Donors are driven by at least one of the following three basic impulses:

  1. The impulse to give (philanthropy)
  2. The impulse to be remembered (memory)
  3. The impulse to impose one’s will on other people’s actions (hierarchy)

Foundations are commonly created for perpetuity. However, nothing that man has made will last forever, and this does not exclude foundations. Founders might want their foundation to live forever, but there is also resistance against this notion of the ‘dead hand’ reigning over the living.

It is a common misconception that foundations are predominantly grant making institutions. A foundation is a philanthropic institute because someone has set it up in that spirit, not because the institution itself acts philanthropic.

Foundations can have two different forms of institutionalization. If a foundation is controlled by one group (a single person, a family) it is institutionalized as a hierarchy. In the form of a heterarchy several groups control the foundation, making it more democratized. It is not true that one form is more legitimate than the other and both forms appear in the present day. Though it must be said that an associative body is more readily susceptible to change than a body grounded in the will of the founder.

Classification of foundations:

  • Owners
  • Grant makers
  • Operators
  • Benevolent

All of these classes have in common that in order to perpetuate they will need additional funds. Most often these funds are acquired through donations.

Foundations chase perpetuity, but because it is impossible to foresee the future this will never be reality. Accidents can happen, the political climate can change, funds can deplete and the foundation can be neglected. In this sense, aiming for perpetuity is like a dog chasing cars.

Notes on the article

The article appeared to try and answer the question as to why foundations may demise, but for a large part it attempted to give an overview of what foundations are and in what kind of forms they appear. The writing is messy because the structure is all over the place. Sometimes the author tries to go in depth about a subject, but than halts his attempts halfway. At certain points it also seems as if the author is contradicting himself. If we look at the conclusion of this paper I don’t think it had to be this long, because he is mainly stating the obvious.


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