My Teacher, Dick Magat
By Willard J. Hertz
Will Hertz, who began work at the Ford Foundation in Dick Magat’s Office of Reports, here looks back on their relationship and, in a separate article, revisits Dick’s “relevant, insightful and beautifully written” history of the Foundation at work.
In 1958 Dick hired me for the Ford Foundation’s Office of Reports and I stayed with the Foundation for 23 years. He was the first of my seven bosses at the Foundation, and by far the best—the most effective, the best informed and the wisest. Further, he was my most important teacher.
My first relationship with the Foundation was as a grantee, a Foreign Area Training Fellowship to study development problems and programs in India. However, I was not a budding academic like the other fellows but a journalist by training and job experience. The Foundation was simply a source of funds of mysterious origin allocated by strangers in far away New York.
But in New Delhi I was impressed by the Representative, Doug Ensminger, his staff and their grantees. I wanted to be part of that universe. I applied for a job in New York and was turned down by Forrest “Frosty” Hill, the international vice president, as lacking the appropriate job skills or experience for development work.
But Dick saw some potential in me and hired me as a writer on his team.
My location changed from New Delhi to Madison Avenue. I soon was turning out annual reports, news releases, summaries of Ford grants by state, and speeches for President Henry Heald, who was an engineer by training and awkward in the use of English. As an experienced journalist, I was well suited for the anecdotal program booklets that were Dick’s gift to the foundation world.
In staff meetings, in Dick’s office, over lunches in the dining room and on walks to Grand Central station, Dick made up for my occupational ignorance about foundations in general and Ford specifically. He was a fountainhead of information and insights.
Years later, McGeorge Bundy, who succeeded Heald as president, told me that on his arrival Dick provided him the same insights and service. Fred Friendly, another transfer student from the world of journalism, had a similar experience.
In 1952, I got the job at the Foundation that I wanted in the first place: a grant-maker in the field of economic development. Dick not only accepted my priorities but talked up my ability with Frosty Hill and George Gant, the director of the program in South and Southeast Asia. My talks with Dick continued over lunch until I was transferred to Pakistan as assistant representative.
My relations with Dick continued when I was on home leave and when I returned for reassignment in the Africa and Middle East program, but they changed in nature. Now it became a two-way stream of communication as I broadened Dick’s understanding of the problems and opportunities of working and living in a developing country.
Now, as I look back on my career, I feel that my 23 years of experience with the Ford Foundation were the most stimulating and rewarding period of my life. And Dick was my most pivotal colleague. He not only opened the door to the Foundation but gave my experience there meaning and inspiration.
Dick Magat’s Timely Book
At its time, the book was unique in the literature of foundations. In its 207 pages it summarized 25 years of grant-making by the nation’s largest foundation in 21 subject matter program areas, and at a time when its assets had grown from $750 million to $2.7 billion. While published 38 years ago, the book is still a valuable reference source on the Foundation’s history, and can be purchased from Amazon and e-bay at a reasonable price.
The book’s origin was a request to McGeorge Bundy, then the Foundation’s president. As told by Bundy in his introduction, “The trustees, aware that there would be a change of leadership at the Foundation, wanted to make a running start in the process of planning for the future. Their first step was to make a study of the great national and international needs that might lie ahead in the next decade and a half, and where and how the Foundation might address them.”
Bundy turned to Dick for help. Dick was in a unique position. From his perch as director of the Office of Reports, he had a bird’s-eye view of the Foundation, and he had worked closely with all its programs. Further, he was on intimate terms with the period’s two presidents—Henry Heald and Bundy—and with their productive cabinets of vice presidents and staff members.
Dick labored over the task for three years in addition to his regular duties and responsibilities, drawing from the voluminous records of the Foundation then stored in the building’s basement, staff members’ recollections, including his own, and interviews with knowledgeable persons outside the Foundation. The result was published by Plenum Press and came at a critical time for Ford and the other major foundations.
In the l960s, there had been a growing hostility toward foundations, much of it addressed toward the Ford Foundation as the giant in the field. This hostility was generated in a congressional hearing on foundations at which Bundy testified. It culminated in the Tax Reform Act of 1969, which, among other things, imposed an excise tax on a foundation’s net investment income and established a new tax on foundations for making grants to individuals or for voter education unless the grants complied with stringent new regulations.
Dick’s book was part of the foundation world’s effort to explain more fully to Congress and the general public what foundations are and do and why they are important. In general, foundations responded by publishing detailed annual reports. Dick’s book led the way in providing a historical look at Ford’s accomplishments and way of doing business over a period of years.
Under the subtitle “Philanthropy, Choices, Methods and Styles”, Dick’s book began with a discussion of how the Foundation had worked, covering its choice of major objectives, the strategies and various modes of action most often used in achieving those objectives, and the relevant results of earlier activities. To illustrate the discussion, the book drew heavily on 16 short case studies selected from various periods of the Foundation’s history and from all of its then broad areas of interest.
It concluded with an appendix that included a selected chronology of the Foundation starting with its establishment in 1936, and a summary with dollar figures of the Foundation’s fields of activity during this critical period of substantial growth.
While the world has changed substantially since Dick’s book, it is significant how little has changed in the Foundation’s principles of operation. Here, for example, is a sample of Dick’s cogent prose:
To make the best use of our resources, we need to pursue a systematic approach to grantmaking. This means careful professional assessment of the intrinsic merits of all proposals considered for funding. It also means the concentration of our grants on a limited number of problems or objectives. Finally, it means an overriding concern for efforts of potential benefit to broad segments of society rather than to narrowly defined groups or limited geographic areas.
Less tangible elements of style also are important to an understanding of how the Foundation has worked. At various points...we attempt to indicate significant organizational and atmospheric features—for example, the fact that we no longer interpret our independence to mean remoteness from what others are doing, the encouragement given to the initiatives of individual Foundation program officers, the collegiality within the staff and between the staff and the trustees, and the exchanges across departmental boundaries within the Foundation.
Dick’s book is still relevant, insightful and beautifully written.