Rockefeller Foundation and NY Times Win "Just Awards"

Other industries have their "Worst Dressed" awards, the "Golden Fleece" awards for public waste, and the Ig Nobel Prizes for dubious science-related achievements that "first make people laugh, then make them think." Until now, the nonprofit sector has lacked its own such award program. The new Just Awards have announced the "winners" for the first year's awards: one for Abominable Press Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector, and the other for Narcissism in Philanthropy.

Award for Abominable Press Coverage

For Abominable Press Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector the Just Awards panel of judges chose Stephanie Strom's November, 2009 article in the New York Times: "Charities Rise, Costing U.S. Billions in Tax Breaks."

The article reported that the I.R.S. approved 99% of applications for charity status last year, and picked some easy targets to suggest that there are too many nonprofits, and that many or most of them are frivolous. The article asserts that the U.S. government lost $50 billion in taxes due to donations given to nonprofits . . . making the false assumptions that a) contributions to the nonprofit sector would remain the same without the tax exemption, and b) government could ignore the enormous financial impact of demand for services (such as emergency room visits) that would inevitably follow from fewer nonprofit programs. A better headline: "Charities Rise, Saving U.S. Billions."Furthermore, the article neglected to provide, as a basis for comparison, information on the many billions more in tax breaks provided to the commercial business sector. The article can be found here.

In making the Award, the judges did praise the New York Times for covering the nonprofit sector, and Stephanie Strom as "generally a very good reporter." But judges felt this story was the "worst story of the year" and that its lack of research led to "bad journalism." A better headline, said one of the judges, would have been, "Charities Rise, Saving U.S. Government Billions."

Award for Narcissism in Philanthropy

For the much-anticipated Narcissism in Philanthropy Award, the Just Awards panel of judges chose the Rockefeller Foundation, citing the "overwhelming and relentless promotion" of its president, Judith Rodin.

Additional research confirmed this consensus among the expert judges based on their experiences and observations. A comparison was made of online mentions of three top foundations and their presidents: the Ford Foundation and Luis Ubinas, the Kellogg Foundation and Sterling Speirn, and of course, the Rockefeller Foundation and Judith Rodin. Looking only at mentions since 2008 (when Ubinas, the newest of the three, started his tenure at Ford) we find that, in proportion to their online mentions in general, Rockefeller promotes its president more than 12 times as often as Ford and more than 176 times as often as Kellogg.


As a runner-up to the Abominable Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector Award, the panel chose to cite "all of journalism" for the coverage of ACORN over the past several months. "It was a giant frame piece," commented one of the judges.

And the judges chose two funders as runners-up for the Narcissism in Philanthropy Award. One is a California community foundation that gives out approximately $4 million in grants each year, and is building an "$8 million plus headquarters." The nominating statement commented, "They are openly touting the building and have architects' plans displayed in their offices for nonprofit grantees to see as they grovel for grants of $5,000 and $10,000."

The other runner-up is a large bank that gives out funding based on American Idol-like popularity contests where nonprofits must urge their supporters to vote for them on the bank's website. Judges noted wryly that this type of giving is a demonstration of "successful corporate philanthropy," which inherently involves large doses of self-promotion.

The Just Awards are sponsored by Blue Avocado and Nonprofit Online News. Nominations were received from the public; a nominator was required to submit his or her name to the sponsors, but could request anonymity in public. Winners were notified of their upcoming selection but did not respond by press time. For a complete description of the awards and a roster of the panel of judges, please see

For more information or to share a laugh, contact:

  • Michael Gilbert of Nonprofit Online News: info at gilbert dot org or 206-201-1726.
  • Jan Masaoka of Blue Avocado: jan at blueavocado dot org, at 415-722-4703 or click here.

Comments (51)

  • Anonymous

    Just stumbled on the Just Awards, which are Justly named and Just perfect. Naming and shaming the Rockefeller and its demise as a respected institution under Judith Rodin is itself a public service worthy of an award. In the few years of her tenure, she has managed to see off (fire or drive off) a very large proportion of the staff, demoralized and disempowered those who endured the regime change and destroy a brand that was a century building. I'm truly disappointed however that in the all-too-easily captured world of philanthropy, the whistle wasn't blown earlier (or more soundly) about Rodin. Having heard her preen in many international fora where the previous RF presidents had been thoughtful, engaging and scholarly, I weep for the lost opportunities. How they could have terminated their brilliant agriculture program, with its decades of experience in nurturing fine partnerships, and passed the baton to a completely inexperienced and vastly less nuanced Gates Foundation beggars belief. RF had a great brand. Rodin trashed it. Ah well....

    Oct 18, 2010


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