Summer 2004 Trust Magazine
Three years ago, the board of The Pew Charitable Trusts posed a galvanizing and visionary question: Are the Trusts best positioned to serve the public interest? Are there more strategic and effective tools to achieve our goal of informing and advocating solutions to important issues facing the American public? The board members were encouraging and vigorous as we looked at our future, using such phrases as “Play to our strengths,” and “Leave no stone unturned.”
When the board put forth this challenge, there was reason to let good enough alone. Externally the economy was still robust, and when times are flush, organizations are understandably inclined to enjoy the ride rather than rock the boat. Internally, our grantmaking, thanks to our stellar staff, was well designed, rigorously detailed, successful—and accountable. Driven by our principle of “investing in ideas, returning results,” we have earned a solid reputation for sponsoring balanced, nonpartisan research and forums that give policy makers, the media and the public at large the information they need to make important decisions on crucial issues of the day. In short, our systems and structures were in place and functioning well; there was every incentive to coast a bit.
But coasting during good times was not really in the Trusts’ blood. Our founders were entrepreneurs whose inventiveness and skills constantly advanced not only their own business but also the economy and their community. The Trusts reflected those qualities when they were established in 1948 and have drawn on them through the decades, as the needs of American society have evolved.
The task was large, but the opportunity immense. The Trusts’ board and management, in conjunction with our colleagues at The Glenmede Trust Company, which was established in the 1950s to administer the seven Pew family trusts that now constitute The Pew Charitable Trusts, met to examine a new corporate structure that would better serve our respective missions. As part of the extensive due diligence in considering a new legal structure, the Trusts’ board explored numerous options with the guidance of management and independent legal counsel. IRS and court approval was sought, and received, for a new status that more closely meets our needs and goals.
The result is that The Pew Charitable Trusts have made the transformation from a private foundation to an independent public charity—one of the nation’s largest, with over $4 billion in dedicated assets and more than $200 million in 2004 revenues committed to serving the public interest. Under this governance structure, the Trusts will have greater ability to fulfill our core mission—informing the public with credible, fact-based research on key issues of the day; advancing policy solutions when the case for change is compelling; and supporting America’s civic life and communities, with special emphasis on the Philadelphia region.
We are very excited about what this restructuring means as we strive to better serve the public. It provides us more administrative flexibility and efficiency—important as we improve our ability to fulfill our programmatic and institutional objectives. It also enables us to raise funds from new sources for charitable initiatives, just as universities, think tanks and other nonprofits do. And we will be able to partner with a wide range of donors to create joint ventures and pooled funds that can magnify the impact of what individuals or organizations might accomplish on their own.
In this new structure, The Pew Charitable Trusts will continue the philanthropic activities that we have carried out for more than 50 years. Our relationships with our current grantees remain largely unchanged; all of our existing grants have been assigned to, and are honored by, our new organization. Yet our new status as a public charity has the potential for tremendous possibilities—both for the Trusts and for our existing and future partners. Indeed, we are only beginning to envision some of the paths where our newfound flexibility might lead us, as we consider innovative ways that our new structure offers to achieve our shared goals.
We have also restructured internally in order to take full advantage of our new governance structure and to provide maximum clarity and transparency about who we are, what we do and why we do it. Our work is gathered into three clusters, which is reflected on this site.
Projects in our information cluster provide the public and policy makers with independent, credible, nonpartisan research, polling and forums on key issues and trends facing this country and its citizens. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press is the most established of these initiatives; but our projects in global attitudes, the Latino community, religion and public life, state politics and policy, and the Internet’s role in American life are also well known for their expertise and significant contributions.
To advance policy solutions on pressing issues facing the American people, the Trusts bring together talented experts who have helped our nation’s leaders, as well as the public, make informed decisions based on impeccable research. Prominent initiatives include campaign finance reform, responsible responses to global climate change, protection of forests and oceans, issues raised by reproductive genetics, reform of the foster care system and universal access to pre-kindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds. It is worth emphasizing that we have always maintained a wall between our informational initiatives and efforts to educate the public and our work to advance policy solutions—and we will scrupulously preserve that separation.
In the arena of civic life, we remain firmly committed to supporting the arts, heritage, health and well-being of America’s civic life and communities, with particular emphasis on the Philadelphia region.
Our legal and organizational transformation best positions us to carry out our mission and excel in advancing our goals, just as, a decade ago, we were at the forefront in developing focused, results-oriented strategic philanthropy to respond to the challenges of that era. Now we are building on that work, and on our well-grounded 55-year heritage, to become an even more effective institution. We are very excited and enthusiastic about the future and our role in serving the public interest.