Schramm Sees the Donor as the Only Real Stakeholder of a Foundation

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Carl Schramm. Source of image: online version of the WSJ interview article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) . . . who are the real stakeholders in foundations? Mr. Schramm can think of only one: the donor. “At Kauffman I think the trustees and I are very, very clear: We work for Mr. Kauffman,” says Mr. Schramm, acknowledging that his boss passed away in 1993. Kauffman not only left extensive writings but also videotape of himself describing how he wanted the foundation to operate. Mr. Schramm says that one board member told him he was hired because he was the only candidate who had read Kauffman’s book.
. . .
. . . within a year of taking over, Mr. Schramm began a serious overhaul of the foundation. He laid off about half of its 150-person staff and cut off funding to some of its biggest grantees, many in Kansas City. There was a public outcry from local nonprofits and from some former members of the board. One told the New York Times that “Carl doesn’t seem to understand that there isn’t an ‘I’ in team.” It reached the point where Missouri’s then attorney general, Jeremiah Nixon, launched an extensive investigation. He determined that Mr. Schramm had not led the foundation astray. What ultimately saved his job, says Mr. Schramm, were the detailed writings that Kauffman left before his death.
“What happened was not atypical in foundations. Often around 10 years after the death of the donor there’s a moment of truth.” People who were close to the donor will say, “Yes, he said that but he didn’t mean that.” Mr. Schramm concludes: “If there was one piece of advice I’d give to someone who was starting a foundation it is this: Think very, very hard of the long term and write down what you want your foundation to look like in 30 years or 40 years.”
Despite the fact that the foundation’s endowment has fallen by $722 million since the end of 2007, Mr. Schramm sees this as Kauffman’s “moment.” While “no one hopes for a recession,” it’s during economic crises that entrepreneurs “challenge companies that have gotten big and lazy.” The downturn, he says, will even challenge Kauffman to “think about how we can do our work better, like every business.” In fact, Mr. Schramm adds, “The only people immune from thinking hard in moments like this are in government.”

For the full interview, see:

NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY. “Opinion; THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Carl Schramm; Giving Capitalism Its Due.” Wall Street Journal (Sat., APRIL 4, 2009): A9.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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