In his latest contribution to the study of American foundations titled Putting Wealth to Work, philanthropy scholar and practitioner Joel Fleishman takes his readers on a grand tour of our civil-society institutions, celebrating the independence and vibrancy of these hallmarks of pluralism, especially focused on the dramatic changes that have influenced the charitable sector since the 1990s.

Ever since 1990 prospective donors appear to be favoring either the creation of a time-limited foundation with a lifespan roughly concurrent with their own or the direct disposition of substantial gifts during their lifetimes without the involvement of a foundation at all.

In his recap of organized philanthropy’s evolution, Fleishman looks favorably on the changing habits of older foundations, as well as new vehicles developed for charitable giving by the new billionaires and others of less wealth.

New Philanthropic Trends

Unlike a number of philanthropy critics, ­Fleishman welcomes with refreshing candor the newer vehicles for giving that serve the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike. LLCs, like those created by Pierre Omidyar, Mark Zuckerberg, and Laurene Powell Jobs, offer flexibility to make gifts to both nonprofits and for-profits to advance social benefit, and criticisms of such tools are “based on a lack of knowledge about the new possibilities.” Donor-­advised funds offer a wide range of givers both convenience and flexibility and have aggregate payout rates significantly higher than those mandated for private foundations.

Throughout the book, Fleishman remains a staunch defender of private giving and philanthropic freedom. The charitable deduction, he writes, “permits the diverse values of millions of individual American citizens to balance and temper the collective judgment of majorities, as well as elites, about how best to advance the public good.”

He warns those who suggest revisions in the tax code to favor charities serving disadvantaged populations that such a structure would be “challenging analytically” and disruptive to the “richness and complexity” of the charitable landscape.

Read the full article on Putting Wealth to Work by Joanne Florino at The Philanthropy Roundtable.