Random Reminiscences of Men and Events


The Benevolent Trust—the Value of the Coöperative Principle in Giving

Going a step farther in the plan of making benefactions increasingly effective which I took up in the last chapter under the title of "The Difficult Art of Giving," I am tempted to take the opportunity to dwell a little upon the subject of combination in charitable work, which has been something of a hobby with me for many years.

If a combination to do business is effective in saving waste and in getting better results, why is not combination far more important in philanthropic work? The general idea of coöperation in giving for education, I have felt, scored a real step in advance when Mr. Andrew Carnegie consented to become a member of the General Education Board. For in accepting a position in this directorate he has, it seems to me, stamped with his approval this vital principle of coöperation in aiding the educational institutions of our country.

I rejoice, as everybody must, in Mr. Carnegie's enthusiasm for using his wealth for the benefit of his less fortunate fellows and I think his devotion to his adopted land's welfare has set a striking example for all time.

The General Education Board, of which Mr. Carnegie has now become a member, is interesting as an example of an organization formed for the purpose of working out, in an orderly and rather scientific way, the problem of helping to stimulate and improve education in all parts of our country. What this organization may eventually accomplish, of course, no one can tell, but surely, under its present board of directors, it will go very far. Here, again, I feel that I may speak frankly and express my personal faith in its success, since I am not a member of the board, and have never attended a meeting, and the work is all done by others.

There are some other and larger plans thought out on careful and broad lines, which I have been studying for many years, and we can see that they are growing into definite shape. It is good to know that there are always unselfish men, of the best calibre, to help in every large philanthropic enterprise. One of the most satisfactory and stimulating pieces of good fortune that has come to me is the evidence that so many busy people are willing to turn aside from their work in pressing fields of labour and to give their best thoughts and energies without compensation to the work of human uplift. Doctors, clergymen, lawyers, as well as many high-grade men of affairs, are devoting their best and most unselfish efforts to some of the plans that we are all trying to work out.

Take, as one example of many similar cases, Mr. Robert C. Ogden, who for years, while devoting himself to an exacting business, still found time, supported by wonderful enthusiasm, to give force by his own personality to work done in difficult parts of the educational world, particularly to improving the common school system of the South. His efforts have been wisely directed along fundamental lines which must produce results through the years to come.

Fortunately my children have been as earnest as I, and much more diligent, in carefully and intelligently carrying out the work already begun, and agree with me that at least the same energy and thought should be expended in the proper and effective use of money when acquired as was exerted in the earning of it.

The General Education Board has made, or is making, a careful study of the location, aims, work, resources, administration, and educational value, present and prospective, of the institutions of higher learning in the United States. The board makes its contributions, averaging something like two million dollars a year, on the most careful comparative study of needs and opportunities throughout the country. Its records are open to all. Many benefactors of education are availing themselves of these disinterested inquiries, and it is hoped that more will do so.

A large number of individuals are contributing to the support of educational institutions in our country. To help an inefficient, ill-located, unnecessary school is a waste. I am told by those who have given most careful study to this problem that it is highly probable that enough money has been squandered on unwise educational projects to have built up a national system of higher education adequate to our needs if the money had been properly directed to that end. Many of the good people who bestow their beneficence on education may well give more thought to investigating the character of the enterprises that they are importuned to help, and this study ought to take into account the kind of people who are responsible for their management, their location, and the facilities supplied by other institutions round about. A thorough examination such as this is generally quite impossible for an individual, and he either declines to give from lack of accurate knowledge, or he may give without due consideration. If, however, this work of inquiry is done, and well done, by the General Education Board, through officers of intelligence, skill, and sympathy, trained to the work, important and needed service is rendered. The walls of sectarian exclusiveness are fast disappearing, as they should, and the best people are standing shoulder to shoulder as they attack the great problems of general uplift.


Just here it occurs to me to testify to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church, as I have observed in my experience, has advanced a long way in this direction. I have been surprised to learn how far a given sum of money has gone in the hands of priests and nuns, and how really effective is their use of it. I fully appreciate the splendid service done by other workers in the field, but I have seen the organization of the Roman Church secure better results with a given sum of money than other Church organizations are accustomed to secure from the same expenditure. I speak of this merely to point the value of the principle of organization, in which I believe so heartily. It is unnecessary to dwell upon the centuries of experience which the Church of Rome has gone through to perfect a great power of organization.

Studying these problems has been a source of the greatest interest to me. My assistants, quite distinct from any board, have an organization of sufficient size to investigate the many requests that come to us. This is done from the office of our committee in New York. For an individual to attempt to keep any close watch of single cases would be impossible. I am called upon to explain this fact many times. To read the hundreds of letters daily received at our office would be beyond the power of any one man, and surely, if the many good people who write would only reflect a little, they must realize that it is impossible for me personally to consider their applications.

The plan that we have worked out, and I hope improved upon year after year, has been the result of experience, and I refer to it now only as one contribution to a general subject which is of such great moment to earnest people; and this must be my excuse for speaking so frankly.


The reading, assorting, and investigating of the hundreds of letters of appeal which are received daily at my office are attended to by a department organized for this purpose. The task is not so difficult as at first it might seem. The letters are, to be sure, of great variety, from all sorts of people in every condition of life, and indeed, from all parts of the world. Four-fifths of these letters are, however, requests for money for personal use, with no other title to consideration than that the writer would be gratified to have it.

There remain numbers of requests which all must recognize as worthy of notice. These may be divided, roughly, as follows:

The claims of local charities. The town or city in which one lives has a definite appeal to all its citizens, and all good neighbours will wish to coöperate with friends and fellow townsmen. But these local charities, hospitals, kindergartens, and the like, ought not to make appeal outside the local communities which they serve. The burden should be carried by the people who are on the spot and who are, or should be, most familiar with local needs.

Then come the national and international claims. These properly appeal especially to men of large means throughout the country, whose wealth admits of their doing something more than assist in caring for the local charities. There are many great national and international philanthropic and Christian organizations that cover the whole field of world-wide charity; and, while people of reputed wealth all receive appeals from individual workers throughout the world for personal assistance, the prudent and thoughtful giver will, more and more, choose these great and responsible organizations as the medium for his gifts and the distribution of his funds to distant fields. This has been my custom, and the experience of every day serves only to confirm its wisdom.

The great value of dealing with an organization which knows all the facts, and can best decide just where the help can be applied to the best advantage, has impressed itself upon me through the results of long years of experience. For example, one is asked to give in a certain field of missionary work a sum, for a definite purpose—let us say a hospital. To comply with this request will take, say, $10,000. It seems wise and natural to give this amount. The missionary who wants this money is working under the direction of a strong and capable religious denomination.

Suppose the request is referred to the manager of the board of this denomination, and it transpires that there are many good reasons why a new hospital is not badly needed at this point, and by a little good management the need of this missionary can be met by another hospital in its neighbourhood; whereas another missionary in another place has no such possibility for any hospital facilities whatever. There is no question that the money should be spent in the place last named. These conditions the managers of all the mission stations know, although perhaps the one who is giving the money never heard of them, and in my judgment he is wise in not acting until he has consulted these men of larger information.

It is interesting to follow the mental processes that some excellent souls go through to cloud their consciences when they consider what their duty actually is. For instance, one man says: "I do not believe in giving money to street beggars." I agree with him, I do not believe in the practice either; but that is not a reason why one should be exempt from doing something to help the situation represented by the street beggar. Because one does not yield to the importunities of such people is exactly the reason one should join and uphold the charity organization societies of one's own locality, which deal justly and humanely with this class, separating the worthy from the unworthy.

Another says: "I don't give to such and such a board, because I have read that of the money given only half or less actually gets to the person needing help." This is often not a true statement of fact, as proved again and again, and even if it were true in part it does not relieve the possible giver from the duty of helping to make the organization more efficient. By no possible chance is it a valid excuse for closing up one's pocketbook and dismissing the whole subject from one's mind.


Surely it is wise to be careful not to duplicate effort and not to inaugurate new charities in fields already covered, but rather to strengthen and perfect those already at work. There is a great deal of rivalry and a vast amount of duplication, and one of the most difficult things in giving is to ascertain when the field is fully covered. Many people simply consider whether the institution to which they are giving is thoughtfully and well managed, without stopping to discover whether the field is not already occupied by others; and for this reason one ought not to investigate a single institution by itself, but always in its relation to all similar institutions in the territory. Here is a case in point:

A number of enthusiastic people had a plan for founding an orphan asylum which was to be conducted by one of our strongest religious denominations. The raising of the necessary funds was begun, and among the people who were asked to subscribe was a man who always made it a practice to study the situation carefully before committing himself to a contribution. He asked one of the promoters of the new institution how many beds the present asylums serving this community provided, how efficient they were, where located, and what particular class of institution was lacking in the community.

To none of these questions were answers forthcoming, so he had this information gathered on his own account with the purpose of helping to make the new plan effective. His studies revealed the fact that the city where the new asylum was to be built was so well provided with such institutions that there were already vastly more beds for children than there were applicants to fill them, and that the field was well and fully covered. These facts being presented to the organizers of the enterprise, it was shown that no real need for such an institution existed. I wish I might add that the scheme was abandoned. It was not. Such charities seldom are when once the sympathies of the worthy people, however misinformed, are heartily enlisted.

It may be urged that doing the work in this systematic and apparently cold-blooded way leaves out of consideration, to a large extent, the merits of individual cases. My contention is that the organization of work in combination should not and does not stifle the work of individuals, but strengthens and stimulates it. The orderly combination of philanthropic effort is growing daily, and at the same time the spirit of broad philanthropy never was so general as it is now.


The giver who works out these problems for himself will, no doubt, find many critics. So many people see the pressing needs of every-day life that possibly they fail to realize those which are, if less obvious, of an even larger significance—for instance, the great claims of higher education. Ignorance is the source of a large part of the poverty and a vast amount of the crime in the world—hence the need of education. If we assist the highest forms of education—in whatever field—we secure the widest influence in enlarging the boundaries of human knowledge; for all the new facts discovered or set in motion become the universal heritage. I think we cannot overestimate the importance of this matter. The mere fact that most of the great achievements in science, medicine, art, and literature are the flower of the higher education is sufficient. Some great writer will one day show how these things have ministered to the wants of all the people, educated and uneducated, high and low, rich and poor, and made life more what we all wish it to be.

The best philanthropy is constantly in search of the finalities—a search for cause, an attempt to cure evils at their source. My interest in the University of Chicago has been enhanced by the fact that while it has comprehensively considered the other features of a collegiate course, it has given so much attention to research.


The mention of this promising young institution always brings to my mind the figure of Dr. William R. Harper, whose enthusiasm for its work was so great that no vision of its future seemed too large.

My first meeting with Dr. Harper was at Vassar College, where one of my daughters was a student. He used to come, as the guest of Dr. James M. Taylor, the president, to lecture on Sundays; and as I frequently spent week-ends there, I saw and talked much with the young professor, then of Yale, and caught in some degree the contagion of his enthusiasm.

When the university had been founded, and he had taken the presidency, our great ambition was to secure the best instructors and to organize the new institution, unhampered by traditions, according to the most modern ideals. He raised millions of dollars among the people of Chicago and the Middle West, and won the personal interest of their leading citizens. Here lay his great strength, for he secured not only their money but their loyal support and strong personal interest—the best kind of help and coöperation. He built even better than he knew. His lofty ideals embodied in the university awakened a deeper interest in higher education throughout the Central West, and stirred individuals, denominations, and legislatures to effective action. The world will probably never realize how largely the present splendid university system of the Central Western States is due indirectly to the genius of this man.

With all his extraordinary power of work and his executive and organizing ability, Dr. Harper was a man of exquisite personal charm. We count it among the rich and delightful experiences of our home-life that Dr. and Mrs. Harper could occasionally spend days together with us for a brief respite from the exacting cares and responsibilities of the university work. As a friend and companion, in daily intercourse, no one could be more delightful than he.

It has been my good fortune to contribute at various times to the University of Chicago, of which Dr. Harper was president, and the newspapers not unnaturally supposed at such times that he used the occasions of our personal association to secure these contributions. The cartoonists used to find this a fruitful theme. They would picture Dr. Harper as a hypnotist waving his magic spell, or would represent him forcing his way into my inner office where I was pictured as busy cutting coupons and from which delightful employment I incontinently fled out of the window at sight of him; or they would represent me as fleeing across rivers on cakes of floating ice with Dr. Harper in hot pursuit; or perhaps he would be following close on my trail, like the wolf in the Russian story, in inaccessible country retreats, while I escaped only by means of the slight delays I occasioned him by now and then dropping a million-dollar bill, which he would be obliged to stop and pick up.

These cartoons were intended to be very amusing, and some of them certainly did have a flavour of humour, but they were never humorous to Dr. Harper. They were in fact a source of deep humiliation to him, and I am sure he would, were he living, be glad to have me say, as I now do, that during the entire period of his presidency of the University of Chicago, he never once either wrote me a letter or asked me personally for a dollar of money for the University of Chicago. In the most intimate daily intercourse with him in my home, the finances of the University of Chicago were never canvassed or discussed.

The method of procedure in this case has been substantially the same as with all other contributions. The presentation of the needs of the university has been made in writing by the officers of the university, whose special duty it is to prepare its budgets and superintend its finances. A committee of the trustees, with the president, have annually conferred, at a fixed time, with our Department of Benevolence, as to its needs. Their conclusions have generally been entirely unanimous and I have found no occasion hitherto seriously to depart from their recommendations. There have been no personal interviews and no personal solicitations. It has been a pleasure to me to make these contributions, but that pleasure has arisen out of the fact that the university is located in a great centre of empire; that it has rooted itself in the affections and interest of the people among whom it is located; that it is doing a great and needed work—in fine, that it has been able to attract and to justify the contributions of its patrons East and West. It is not personal interviews and impassioned appeals, but sound and justifying worth, that should attract and secure the funds of philanthropy.

The people in great numbers who are constantly importuning me for personal interviews in behalf of favourite causes err in supposing that the interview, were it possible, is the best way, or even a good way, of securing what they want. Our practice has been uniformly to request applicants to state their cases tersely, but nevertheless as fully as they think necessary, in writing. Their application is carefully considered by very competent people chosen for this purpose. If, thereupon, personal interviews are found desirable by our assistants, they are invited from our office.

Written presentations form the necessary basis of investigation, of consultation, and comparison of views between the different members of our staff, and of the final presentation to me.

It is impossible to conduct this department of our work in any other way. The rule requiring written presentation as against the interview is enforced and adhered to not, as the applicant sometimes supposes, as a cold rebuff to him, but in order to secure for his cause, if it be a good one, the careful consideration which is its due—a consideration that cannot be given in a mere verbal interview.


It is easy to do harm in giving money. To give to institutions which should be supported by others is not the best philanthropy. Such giving only serves to dry up the natural springs of charity.

It is highly important that every charitable institution shall have at all times the largest possible number of current contributors. This means that the institution shall constantly be making its appeals; but, if these constant appeals are to be successful, the institution is forced to do excellent work and meet real and manifest needs. Moreover, the interest of many people affords the best assurance of wise economy and unselfish management as well as of continued support.

We frequently make our gifts conditional on the giving of others, not because we wish to force people to do their duty, but because we wish in this way to root the institution in the affections of as many people as possible who, as contributors, become personally concerned, and thereafter may be counted on to give to the institution their watchful interest and coöperation. Conditional gifts are often criticized, and sometimes, it may be, by people who have not thought the matter out fully.

Criticism which is deliberate, sober, and fair is always valuable and it should be welcomed by all who desire progress. I have had at least my full share of adverse criticism, but I can truly say that it has not embittered me, nor left me with any harsh feeling against a living soul. Nor do I wish to be critical of those whose conscientious judgment, frankly expressed, differs from my own. No matter how noisy the pessimists may be, we know that the world is getting better steadily and rapidly, and that is a good thing to remember in our moments of depression or humiliation.


To return to the subject of the Benevolent Trusts, which is a name for corporations to manage the business side of benefactions. The idea needs, and to be successful must have, the help of men who have been trained along practical lines. The best men of business should be attracted by its possibilities for good. When it is eventually worked out, as it will be in some form, and probably in a better one than we can now forecast, how worthy it will be of the efforts of our ablest men!

We shall have the best charities supported generously and adequately, managed with scientific efficiency by the ablest men, who will gladly he held strictly accountable to the donors of the money, not only for the correct financing of the funds, but for the intelligent and effective use of every penny. To-day the whole machinery of benevolence is conducted upon more or less haphazard principles. Good men and women are wearing out their lives to raise money to sustain institutions which are conducted by more less or unskilled methods. This is a tremendous waste of our best material.

We cannot afford to have great souls who are capable of doing the most effective work slaving to raise the money. That should be a business man's task, and he should be supreme in managing the machinery of the expenses. The teachers, the workers, and the inspired leaders of the people should be relieved of these pressing and belittling money cares. They have more than enough to do in tilling their tremendous and never fully occupied field, and they should be free from any care which might in any wise divert them from that work.

When these Benevolent Trusts come into active being, such organizations on broad lines will be sure to attract the brains of the best men we have in our commercial affairs, as great business opportunities attract them now. Our successful business men as a class, and the exceptions only prove the truth of the assertion, have a high standard of honour. I have sometimes been tempted to say that our clergymen could gain by knowing the essentials of business life better. The closer association with men of affairs would, I think, benefit both classes. People who have had much to do with ministers and those who hold confidential positions in our churches have at times had surprising experiences in meeting what is sometimes practised in the way of ecclesiastical business, because these good men have had so little of business training in the work-a-day world.

The whole system of proper relations, whether it be in commerce, or in the Church, or in the sciences, rests on honour. Able business men seek to confine their dealings to people who tell the truth and keep their promises; and the representatives of the Church, who are often prone to attack business men as a type of what is selfish and mean, have some great lessons to learn, and they will gladly learn them as these two types of workers grow closer together.

The Benevolent Trusts, when they come, will raise these standards; they will look the facts in the face; they will applaud and sustain the effective workers and institutions; and they will uplift the intelligent standard of good work in helping all the people chiefly to help themselves. There are already signs that these combinations are coming, and coming quickly, and in the directorates of these trusts you will eventually find the flower of our American manhood, the men who not only know how to make money, but who accept the great responsibility of administering it wisely.

A few years ago, on the occasion of the decennial anniversary of the University of Chicago, I was attending a university dinner, and having been asked to speak I had jotted down a few notes.

When the time arrived to stand up and face these guests—men of worth and position—my notes meant nothing to me. As I thought of the latent power of good that rested with these rich and influential people I was greatly affected. I threw down my notes and started to plead for my Benevolent Trust plan.

"You men," I said, "are always looking forward to do something for good causes. I know how very busy you are. You work in a treadmill from which you see no escape. I can easily understand that you feel that it is beyond your present power carefully to study the needs of humanity, and that you wait to give until you have considered many things and decided upon some course of action. Now, why not do with what you can give to others as you do with what you want to keep for yourself and your children: Put it into a Trust? You would not place a fortune for your children in the hands of an inexperienced person, no matter how good he might be. Let us be as careful with the money we would spend for the benefit of others as if we were laying it aside for our own family's future use. Directors carry on these affairs in your behalf. Let us erect a foundation, a Trust, and engage directors who will make it a life work to manage, with our personal coöperation, this business of benevolence properly and effectively. And I beg of you, attend to it now, don't wait."

I confess I felt most strongly on the subject, and I feel so now.

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