Philanthropy Column

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Although the White House stopped doling out daily "Points of Light'' awards after President George Bush left office, a related foundation designed to boost volunteerism nationwide is still around and back in the news.

Launched in 1990, the Points of Light Foundation was created to engage more Americans in community service. The name stemmed from President Bush's comparison of volunteers around the country to "a thousand points of light."

Although no longer a high-profile organization, the foundation has successfully attracted the Clinton Administration's support. Last year, it received $6.5 million under the National and Community Service Act. It has also won support from private donors.

But a Jan. 8 article in the Los Angeles Times questioned the Washington-based foundation's financial practices. The article said the foundation spent millions on "glitzy promotions, consultants, salaries, travel, and conferences."

The foundation allocated only 11 percent of its budget for grants to volunteer programs, the newspaper reported, and had a payroll of $4.1 million. Its chief executive, Richard F. Schubert, received a $160,000 salary.

But the leader of a charity watchdog group suggested the criticism was off target. Robert O. Bothwell, the executive director of the National Center for Responsive Philanthropy, said it is not unusual for a nonprofit group to allocate most of its budget to salaries, benefits, travel, and conferences.

A Points of Light Foundation spokeswoman, Barbara Lohman, said the average salary of its 60-member staff was just under $45,000, including benefits. She said the newspaper's criticism of the foundation's spending was misguided.

"The suggestion was that we don't give enough money away," Ms. Lohman said. "We are an operating foundation, not a grantmaking foundation." About 80 percent of the group's budget goes to programming, she said.

Among other activities, the foundation helps local volunteer-recruiting centers in 500 sites across the nation, and works with 3,000 companies to increase employee volunteerism.

"They do an incredible job of mobilizing and training young people," said Michael H. Evans, the director of constituent programs at Youth Service America, a Washington-based group that promotes community service.

But Mr. Bothwell and other philanthropy experts said that while they were familiar with the group's general mission, they knew little about its specific accomplishments.

---Meg Sommerfeld

Vol. 14, Issue 19

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