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History of Philanthropy Case Study: The Founding of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Suzanne Kahn, a consultant who has been working with us as part of our History of Philanthropy project, recently finished a case study on the founding and growth of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a well-regarded D.C. think tank that focuses on tax and budget policy with an aim of improving outcomes for low-income people.

We were interested in learning more about the history and founding of CBPP because:

The report’s account of CBPP’s history and founding mirrors, in many ways, that of Center for Global Development (the subject of another upcoming case study). In particular:

  • It was a funder (in this case Dick Boone, Executive Director of the Field Foundation, along with his associate Robert Stein) who first proposed the basic idea of the new organization, and approached another person (in this case Bob Greenstein) to become the founder and leader of the organization.
  • The funder seems to have had little doubt about whom to approach: “Stein recalls that as they began to discuss providing seed funding for the new organization they had conceived, he and Boone never considered anyone but Greenstein for the position of executive director.” As in the case of Center for Global Development, it appears that the funder was well-connected in policy circles, and that this was helpful in identifying the right person to approach.
  • The funder committed up-front support without formal restrictions and gave the founder wide latitude.
  • I have the general impression that the funder put a great deal of time and energy into the organization in its early years, despite ultimately leaving most important decisions in the hands of the founder.

A couple of other things that struck me in this case study:

  • The Field Foundation had previously worked with Bob Greenstein on a smaller project, and this was apparently an important input into its confidence in him. I think this is a good example of how grantmaking can improve one’s networks and lay the groundwork for future work.
  • The report notes that the Field Foundation committed $175,000 in the first year and $150,000 in the second year, and asked CBPP to find other supporters so it could reduce its support after that point. I’m struck by the relatively small size of these grants, given that they were for a new organization led by an accomplished, senior founder; I would be surprised if grants of this size (even adjusted for inflation) could have a similar effect today. (By contrast, Center for Global Development had a $25 million commitment when it was started in 2001.)

Read the full case study here (.pdf)


Hi Holden and Suzanne, I was trying to track down the identify of the Field Foundation you reference (since there seem to be multiple organizations of that name), but wasn’t able to get good information. Could you clarify? - I initially thought this refers to the Field Foundation of Illinois, but searching their website for CBPP, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, or Dick Boone, returns zero results. On the other hand, this article… suggests that the Field Foundation you reference is the Field Foundation of Illinois (the name of the founder matches up with that on the Field Foundation website, and it profiles Richard Boone). - Searching the CBPP website donor lists for the Field Foundation turns up a few references to a different Field Foundation: the Joseph and Marie Field Family Foundation, which does not even appear to have a website. My best estimate right now is that even though Boone was the Executive Director of the Field Foundation at the time, the money to seed CBPP did not come from the Field Foundation, and that therefore CBPP gets no mention on the Field Foundation website. That still doesn’t explain why Boone himself gets no mention on the website, if he was as pivotal to the foundation as the Atlantic Philanthropies article claims. I am also guessing that the second Field Foundation in the donor list is just a coincidence. Could you provide a clarification?

Hi Vipul,

Suzanne writes:

The Field Foundation that provided the seed money to start CBPP and for which Dick Boone served as director was actually, technically, the Field Foundation of New York (usually just referred to as the Field Foundation). That Field Foundation spent down its money and closed in the late 1980s. The New York and Chicago Field Foundations were initially the same organization, founded in 1940 by Marshall Field III. That organization split into the Chicago and New York Field Foundations in 1960. Only the Chicago foundation still exists. You can read about the history of the split here: The Field Foundation that Boone directed has its archives at the University of Texas; you can see the finding aid for the archives here:

She also told me that she isn’t familiar with the Joseph and Marie Field Foundation, and that her guess as to why the Field Foundation of New York isn’t listed as a donor is that it was long ago. (Here is a video from CBPP that acknowledges the Field Foundation as the founding donor, though.)

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