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09/18/2014 10:37 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2014

The One Dangerous Thing Philanthropy Has In Common With Big Oil And Banks

Sam Edwards via Getty Images

Though this is not the way I would usually describe my career, one way of looking at it is that I spent my first 20 working years trying to raise money, and the next 15 trying to give it away. The transition, which took place when I left Human Rights Watch in 1996 to found the United States Programs of George Soros’s Open Society Institute, was a challenging one.

On the one hand, having dealt with foundations over the years as a supplicant, I felt I knew their ways—and in particular, ways of behaving that I was eager to avoid. On the other hand, suddenly becoming the gatekeeper to many millions of philanthropic dollars altered most of my collegial relationships, and many of my personal ones, infecting all but a few of them with a new power dynamic. I found myself—as various wags have observed about philanthropy staff over the years—a great deal smarter, wiser, funnier, and probably handsomer than I had been only months before.

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