During the 1980s, Ewing Kauffman had started to think and plan seriously as a philanthropist. He called in expert advisors, such as Waldemar Nielsen and others, and tapped the talents of executives from Marion. His foundation, which had been little more than a pass-through for assorted kinds of giving, began turning into a focused entity. It designed and launched innovative programs in youth development and education. By the time of Mr. Kauffman's death in 1993, programs in entrepreneurship were taking shape as well.
Our trustees' recollections give a closer view of this process—and of the man himself.
Anne Hodges Morgan: Mr. Kauffman Focused on Novel Solutions to Root Causes
ANNE HODGES MORGAN, a trustee from 1996 to 2007, also has served as an officer and trustee of several other foundations. A professional historian and author, she came to know Mr. Kauffman while writing his biography, Prescription for Success. In conversation, she recalls that the end of the 1970s marked a turning point in Ewing Kauffman's thinking about philanthropy:
"In 1979, Mr. Kauffman was approached by community leaders about participating in Project Warmth, which was to help people pay their heating bills in that bad winter. Having grown up in tough times [during the Depression], he very quickly agreed to give $50,000. The next year, they came back to ask again. And he said, 'No, we didn't solve the problem. The problem is, people still don't have jobs, so they can't pay their bills. Instead of taking palliative approaches, what we need to do is help people get jobs and have a sustainable lifestyle.' And from that time he started focusing on root causes and finding novel solutions to problems."
Dr. Morgan notes that Ewing Kauffman seemed an enigma to some. On the one hand he was well-known for his generosity—starting at Marion Laboratories, where he paid well. He was an early adopter of profit-sharing and stock-option plans that created more than 300 millionaires, and often said that one of the best business principles was "those who produce should share the wealth." Yet he could also stun people with a quick turn-down:
"Early in his career, when he was immersed in business, he would sometimes make surprising statements when people asked him for money: 'I don't give to art museums. I create jobs for the community.' Later, once he had become a public figure, he declined honorary degrees from a number of universities. To their horror he'd say, 'You're not interested in me. You want my money.' And he was probably correct."
One reason for this behavior, says Dr. Morgan:
"He was not interested in being part of the business or social elite. In fact, he enjoyed playing the role of the outsider. It gave him a different sort of cachet to be this public curmudgeon from time to time."
Moreover, there was method behind the brusqueness. Well aware that no fortune was large enough to meet every need, Mr. Kauffman marshaled his funds for the fields that interested him most: youth, and support of entrepreneurship. Dr. Morgan explains:
"He believed in social action programs. But he understood that getting young people through school, or helping them stay away from drugs and alcohol, didn't really matter if those kids ultimately couldn't earn a living. And that's the connection between youth development and the entrepreneurial efforts. He never saw any dichotomy between the two.
Siobhan Nicolau: Ewing Kauffman Was Open to Change
SIOBHAN NICOLAU was a trustee from 1993 to 2002 and has recently rejoined the Board. In the 1980s, when Mr. Kauffman was doing a great deal of thinking about the Foundation, he brought in Mrs. Nicolau, who is nationally known as a consultant to donors and foundations, and as a scholar and writer. She remembers him as an astute learner—and as a donor who thus grew quite sophisticated:
"When wealthy business people go into philanthropy, they tend to believe that the principles, approaches, and skills that supported their business success will apply and can be directly translated to their foundations. They sincerely believe that they can show others how it ought to be done. What this leads to is a top-down view of philanthropy that often means operating programs as opposed to making grants to support others.
"Mr. Kauffman actually started with that philosophy. Then, as his initial programs were being implemented, he was surprised and dismayed to see that his better mousetraps weren't necessarily going to work as he imagined. He quickly recognized that he didn't have all the answers and mid-course corrections were needed. Most importantly, he understood that you just can't do good for or on people; he learned that he had to do good with them."
In 1991, Mr. Kauffman began making tapes with instructions to his board as to how the Foundation should be managed after his death. Mrs. Nicolau remembers:
"He had a list of 'thou shalts' and 'thou shalt nots.' For example, thou shalt not do bricks and mortar funding; he wanted no grants for big institutional buildings, such as hospitals or dormitories, named for him. He wanted no pledges to the universities attended by board members or senior staff. He wanted no grants to religious organizations for religious purposes, no overseas funding, and no family members on the board.
"As for 'shalts,' he wanted us to strive for excellence. He wanted programs that could uncover new widely replicable solutions to fundamental societal problems. He wanted an emphasis on entrepreneurship and youth education but recognized that needs would change over time, and he left it in the hands of future boards to set program priorities.
"Mr. Kauffman had strong views on the kind of people he wanted inside the Foundation. He instructed his boards to judge new hires on three criteria: Are they intelligent? Are they of good character? And are they caring? I had never heard a donor speak of or read a donor statement that dealt with that very fundamental issue."
Overall, says Mrs. Nicolau:
"His basic funding interests and the basic shalts and shalt nots never changed. He was very clear and consistent about them, to the end of his life. What changed were his views of implementation. How to do what he wanted to have done was the area in which his own thinking progressed, and it was the area he left open to us for making further progress in the future."
Thomas J. Rhone: Ewing Kauffman Connected With Ideas and People
THOMAS J. (TOM) RHONE, a trustee since 2003, was one of the Foundation's first program directors. In the 1980s, Mr. Kauffman hand-picked Mr. Rhone, a former high-school teacher and principal, to develop an idea that Mr. Kauffman himself had conceived: the dropout-prevention program Project Choice. Mr. Rhone recalls the project evolving much as a start-up company does, with constant give-and-take:
"Everything became a learning process for Mr. Kauffman. He had strong views of his own, and he would test you, but he was flexible. For instance, he'd admit there were problems facing young people that he was not aware of when he went into this. He understood that for the program to work, he might have to go the extra mile financially. But it was not an open checkbook. You had to explain all the things that you were doing, and why they were needed. When we disagreed about anything, he would always say, 'Okay, then convince me.'"
Mr. Kauffman got motivated about new ideas and creative approaches, Mr. Rhone remembers:
"Whenever we added a new or unique touch to the program—like a special Saturday school during the school year for students who had fallen behind in grade levels—that's when Mr. Kauffman would really light up. He'd say, 'That's pretty innovative, isn't it? Who else is doing that? And we're getting the school district involved, the teachers, the kids, everyone.' That kind of thinking, plus results, was what he liked to see."
Mr. Kauffman meets Project Choice students
In addition to being engaged with program decisions, Mr. Kauffman was extremely hands-on when it came to the kids he was trying to help:
"Those Project Choice kids knew Mr. Kauffman was the man who would pay for their college education, but they really thought of him more as their good friend. Mr. Kauffman would attend their drug screenings, show up for visits at school, and invite the students to come by his office any time—he would make them a priority. And boy did those kids respond. They'd drop by Marion to show him their gradecards, or to talk about a new summer job, or to give him some little token they'd made in woodshop class. They felt very comfortable with him, and he with them. So, yes, he had high expectations for the programs, but he also had a knack for connecting to people, especially his Project Choice kids. They still talk about him today."