Growing up in the Washington, D.C., Metro area, with the Smithsonian Institution in my backyard, I would often spend afternoons visiting its numerous museums. Popular items such as Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, the Hope Diamond, the First Ladies Dresses, and the Betsy Ross Flag were, and still are, some of my favorite items on display. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that, one day, as a 20+ year employee of Foundation Center (now Candid), I would have an opportunity to help make a donation to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History actually happen.
How did this happen?
In December 2015, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History began The Philanthropy Initiative, a long-term project to collect, research, document, and display materials relating to the history and impact of American philanthropy. The Philanthropy Initiative includes an annual symposium, The Power of Giving: Philanthropy’s Impact on American Life, as well as a changing permanent exhibit, Giving in America. Unveiled in November 2016, Giving in America looks at the historical role of philanthropy in shaping the United States.
In June 2017 (nearly two years before Foundation Center and GuideStar joined forces to become Candid), my colleagues and I were given a tour of Giving in America by Amanda Moniz, curator of philanthropy at the National Museum of American History. Amanda’s job as curator is to collect objects related to the history of giving by and for Americans. Viewing the exhibit and learning more about its purpose, I had an “ah ha” moment. Could Foundation Center, with its 60+ years of advancing knowledge of philanthropy in the U.S., donate an object to the Smithsonian’s philanthropy collection?
After the tour, Amanda took to us to her office on a top floor of the National Museum of American History for a meeting that I wasn’t expecting and hadn’t planned for. As we took the elevator to her office on the top floor of the Museum, my mind raced in anticipation of the questions Amanda, an early American historian with a specialty in philanthropy history, might ask.
After learning more about the work of Foundation Center, Amanda agreed that it would be interesting to explore the idea of Foundation Center donating an object to the philanthropy collection. (She did not guarantee that the donated object would be put on display in the Giving in America exhibit.) But, what?
Choosing an object
Choosing an object to suggest to the curator was not an easy task. Amanda was clear that whatever artifact was donated to the Smithsonian's philanthropy collection had to have a compelling story. One thought was to find a letter or other item that would explain how and why Foundation Center was first established. If it existed, correspondence between founders F. Emerson Andrews, first president of Foundation Center, and John W. Gardner, president of the Carnegie Corporation at the time, would be an interesting object to suggest. So, I contacted an archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center where Foundation Center’s archival collection, mostly on microfilm, is housed. Unfortunately, the archivist told me that, as far as he knew, no original artifacts still exist.
Back to the drawing board, my colleagues and I put our heads together to create an extensive list of possible Foundation Center objects worthy of donation. The list included historical 7" x 3.5" microfiche aperture cards of the Form 990-PF—an annual report that foundations must file each year with the IRS; the Foundation Center’s first annual report; the book Foundation Watcher, which includes a chapter on how Foundation Center got its start; and the first Foundation Directory published in 1960. In the end, the first Foundation Directory was the perfect choice to donate to the Smithsonian's philanthropy collection.
Why the Foundation Directory?
Work on the first Foundation Directory began in 1957 one year after Foundation Center was established. It took three years to publish. F. Emerson Andrews, author of Foundation Watcher and one of the editors of the first edition, stated at the time that “the greatest single service the Center performs in making its information about foundations broadly available consists in publication of its periodical Directories.” The first Foundation Directory published in 1960 showcases the work of foundations and, for the first time, made this information available in an easily accessible format to those foundations, nonprofits, and individuals that needed it.
Transporting and donating the Foundation Directory
I picked up the first Foundation Directory in person when I attended a meeting at our New York office in May 2018. I carefully wrapped it in bubble wrap and gently placed it in my suitcase for the trip back to Washington, DC, on Amtrak. I placed my soft-sided suitcase in the overhead compartment, just like you would during any train ride. I noticed my colleague, Melissa Grannetino, was getting ready to put her hard-cover suitcase on top of mine in the overhead compartment. “No,” I shouted, a little too loudly I’m afraid. “There’s precious cargo in my suitcase!”
By July, I had confirmation that the curator would accept the object. So, later that month, Melissa and I hand-delivered a copy of the first edition of the Foundation Directory to Amanda Moniz, curator of philanthropy, who accepted it into the Smithsonian's permanent collection to be stewarded and conserved for future generations. I was beyond excited to physically hand the Foundation Directory over to Amanda, who accepted it willingly. “This is a part of history,” Amanda told us.
The Foundation Directory is currently on view in the exhibit Giving in America at the National Museum of American History alongside iconic items such as a March of Dimes Collection Can from the mid-to-late 1900s and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Bucket from 2014.
As I look at the exhibit, I think about how far Foundation Center came over its 60+ years in publicly providing information about foundations. I think F. Emerson Andrews and John W. Gardner would be proud to see the Foundation Directory in the exhibit, a publication that had to overcome numerous obstacles to get published, such as publication delays, cost overruns, and the possibility of lawsuits from foundations that did not want to be included. And, keep in mind, it wouldn’t be until several decades later that computers and the Internet would make an impact on how Foundation Center made its information available through online databases, such as Foundation Directory Online.
There are approximately two million objects in the collections of the National Museum of American History. Candid is honored to have donated the first Foundation Directory to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, have it on view in the Giving in America exhibit, and be a part of The Philanthropy Initiative. Through this donation, Candid’s Foundation Center will forever be linked to the history of philanthropy.
Foundation Center is not the only Candid ancestor to be part of the Smithsonian collection. In April 1999, the GuideStar website (www.guidestar.org) was nominated for the Computerworld Smithsonian Award. It became part of the Permanent Research Collection on Information Technology, which, like the Giving in America exhibit and The Philanthropy Initiative, is at the National Museum of American History. At Candid we look forward to making more history for philanthropy.