When Christie Herrera, President and CEO of the Philanthropy Roundtable, was new to the philanthropy world, she was struck by the number of people working for nonprofits who hated philanthropy.  

“Many of them regarded philanthropy as just another way for the wealthy to impose their views on society,” Herrera says, “and they loathed capitalism, which is, after all, what makes philanthropy possible.”

Many major foundations now put a heavy focus on addressing “systemic racism” and promoting “equity.” Herrera believes that injecting identity politics into philanthropy misses the mark. “It all goes back to Alexis de Tocqueville,” Christie tells IWF. “He visited America two hundred years ago and revered it. He wrote about the thriving civil society that’s made up of charities, religious institutions, and all of our voluntary associations.

“That charitable network exists today,” she continues. “It’s a lifeline for churches, educational institutions, the arts, museums, culture. And philanthropy is everything to them. And we need to preserve it rather than tear it down, which sadly many in the sector are trying to do.”

Foundations, woke foundations in the sector, want to tear down capitalism,” she says. “I think they’re focusing on the wrong stuff. Instead of focusing on ‘racial justice,’ we want to focus on making sure people of all races and backgrounds can read, can get into college, and have opportunities.

“Some major foundations have been the drivers of wokeness in America,” Christie continues. “They’ve bought into the culture of DEI. When you look at 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 30 years ago, 10 years ago, there was a sense that no matter what your background was, you can always reach your dream, and we’re always getting better. That’s the framework that we need to preserve, this idea of free markets and capitalism, and the philanthropy that it makes possible. 

“Foundations, woke foundations in the sector, want to tear down capitalism. I think they’re focusing on the wrong stuff. Instead of focusing on ‘racial justice,’ we want to focus on making sure people of all races and backgrounds can read, get into college, have opportunities to get into the workforce, have good-paying jobs, and take care of their families. Those are not racial issues; those are economic issues. 

“We are seeing the country’s most significant foundations committing billions of dollars to social justice grantmaking. And we also see foundations using their massive endowments to invest in ESG. You have to ask the question—have those billions of dollars, invested in social justice and invested in ESG, resulted in greater equity and greater quality of life for people who need it the most? I think the answer is no.” 

The Washington-based Philanthropy Roundtable has as its vision “to build and sustain a vibrant American philanthropic movement that strengthens our free society.” The Roundtable works with donors to help them shape their philanthropy. Herrera joined the Philanthropy Roundtable in 2019 and was promoted to the top job in October.

Herrera says frequently that philanthropy should help individuals realize their dreams. “In recent years, we’ve seen otherwise effective charities on the ground get infected by wokeism—pulling their staff and resources away from pursuing their original intent and valuable missions. 

“What we do at the Roundtable is connect donors with organizations that not only do great work on the ground but also put our values—liberty, opportunity, and personal responsibility—at the heart of what they do. So, we’re able to advise donors and help them make great investments that really, again, align with their values. We also work with donors to help them with the nuts and bolts of philanthropy.”

Herrera grew up in the Philly-New Jersey area, the daughter of a mother who was a first-generation American and a father who was a career police officer. “My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Italy. They came on a boat through Ellis Island in 1929,” Christie says. “They knew no English when they arrived, but they did know how to cook. Typical Italian story. So, they opened up a hoagie shop in South Philadelphia. This is Rocky territory. And did what they knew how to do, which was feed people, and through that built their business.

“I am a blue-collar kid and have done everything from clean rooms at a motel,” Christie continues, “to waitress, to—gosh, like every blue-collar job, I have done it. That work ethic and perseverance brought me to where I am today, and that is why I am so passionate about getting government out of the way and letting people work hard and pursue their dreams. Philanthropy is a big part of that.” 

Herrera is a graduate of Florida State University. She was inspired to activism after a professor lowered her grade because she had cited the conservative Heritage Foundation as a source. She wanted to help other students see the other side. “I was fortunate enough to run a campus group called the Institute for Conservative Studies,” she tells IWF. “We brought in Ward Connerly, Dinesh D’Souza, and Bay Buchanan to speak on campus. We had a campus conservative newspaper. We held rallies in support of conservative women during Women’s History Month.”

Generally speaking, philanthropy has not had its head in the game when it comes to advocating for the freedom to give,” Herrera says. “It’s a quiet sector. I want us to kind of disrupt it a little bit, and make sure that we’re on the Hill, and in state capitals, and working with attorneys general across the country to protect charity and to protect philanthropy.

Herrera describes herself as a “lifer in the think tank world.” She has worked with elected officials and nonprofit organizations around the country. She has specialized in helping people move from welfare to good-paying jobs and accessing health care. “I moved to D.C., it will be 25 years ago in May, and I have always had a strong interest in ideas, but not just the ideas, but putting the ideas into action. And so, when I came to Washington, I thought, gosh, there are a lot of great white papers, not a lot of great laws. Why is that? And let’s change that. So, I came to the Roundtable after a long career in advocacy and said in order for us to protect this amazing charitable sector that is so central to our free society, we need laws in place and protections in place so that givers can give how, where, and when they choose. And so, at the Roundtable, I focused on protecting philanthropic freedom.”

“Generally speaking, philanthropy has not had its head in the game when it comes to advocating for the freedom to give,” Herrera says. “It’s a quiet sector. I want us to kind of disrupt it a little bit, and make sure that we’re on the Hill, and in state capitals, and working with attorneys general across the country to protect charity and to protect philanthropy.”  

When asked recently by the Associated Press what are the key challenges for the Roundtable, she cited this. “It’s one thing and one thing only and that’s protecting philanthropic freedom,” she said. “That is what makes generosity possible—allowing donors to give where and when they choose. The really interesting thing about this is that we’re seeing threats coming from the left and the right, which puts the Roundtable in a unique position to stand up for philanthropic freedom, for conservative foundations and progressive foundations, because we believe in the right to give no matter what your ideology.”   

As a part of this effort, donor privacy is a key issue for Philanthropy Roundtable, Herrera told IWF: “When you look at social movements in this country, every major social movement from women’s suffrage to civil rights, to gay rights have benefitted from anonymous charitable giving. And so, you know, protecting donor privacy is paramount for everyone, but it’s especially important for conservative donors. There is so much scrutiny of givers on the right these days. And the first step of those who criticize is to say, ‘show us who you are giving to’, and then the second step is ‘we are going to harass and intimidate you’, and the third step is ‘we want to take dollars from the causes that you care about and put them to our politically preferred causes.’ So, donor privacy is of paramount importance.”

Charitable donors are lucky to have the Philanthropy Roundtable and Christie Herrera dedicated to helping them use their money to support causes that reflect their values. To get more philanthropic bang for the buck, you might say.