BC Professors Work to Foster an Open Dialogue on Philanthropy, Law and the Public Good

October 2015 saw the commencement of the Forum on Philanthropy and the Public Good, a brand new, nonpartisan think tank that seeks to examine whether the rules that govern the philanthropic sector best serve the public good, and whether Congress and regulators must take action to temper and curtail illicit activities.

The forum is the brainchild of Boston College Law professors Ray Madoff and William Bagley, who hope to explore the aforementioned questions, and others, by establishing a comprehensive and far-reaching discourse about an issue that is seldom discussed.

Professor Madoff, who has spent 22 years at BC Law, teaches classes on tax policy, property rights and death as it relates to wealth and the issue of inheritance. Her current work is geared towards gauging how public policy interacts with the philanthropic sector. Madoff has authored a series of op-eds published in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Washington Post that sought to determine if policies that affect the philanthropic sector ensure that the money invested actually meets charitable ends and ensures the good of the collective.

Kaley Bent / Gavel Media

Kaley Bent / Gavel Media

With her colleague William Bagely, an adjunct faculty member at BC Law who teaches classes on philanthropy law, Madoff decided to establish and promote an open discourse that discusses key issues such as whether or not Donor-advised funds, a growing vehicle for charitable givings, serve the public good, whether or not the law should be changed to encourage a faster payout for private foundations, which pay out only income under the current endowment model and whether or not there exists a point at which bigger university endowments are necessarily better for society.

The forum held its first event in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 23, titled “The Rise of Donor-Advised Funds: Should Congress Respond?” The conference gathered a group of experts for discussion and debate. The group presented position papers to Congress from opposing sides of the issue. An essay by Victoria Bjorklund, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, presented a staunch opposition to congressional action on the grounds that the growth of DAFS was the expected outcome when Congress decided to include DAFs in the IRS tax code in the first place.

On Nov. 17 the forum held a “Philanthropy Boot Camp for Journalists” in which leading experts on philanthropy and public policy offered their expertise to help aspiring journalists explain and understand the complex rules that govern the philanthropic sector. In April 2016 the forum will host a conference at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society entitled “Giving in Time: Perpetuity, Limited Life, and the Responsibility of Philanthropy to the Present and the Future,” which will examine questions regarding the lifespan of foundations and the moral imperatives of the past, present and future of the nation’s philanthropic resources.

Madoff spoke poignantly and eagerly of the conference that is to occur at Stanford. “The rise of tech money in San Francisco has led to a lot of people questioning how to use philanthropic capital, so [Stanford] seemed like a good location.”

“Our goal is to promote conversation with the ultimate goal that there are better policies,” said Madoff. “We believe that an open discussion of these issues will eventually strengthen the role of philanthropy in enhancing the public good.”