Today’s the anniversary of the birth in 1919 of Sally Lilienthal in Portland (OR, US). Ms. Lilienthal was a sculptor who practiced philanthropy and activism. She founded the Ploughshares Fund in 1982; Ploughshares is an influential grant-making organization that is dedicated to preventing the use of nuclear, biological, chemical, and other weapons of war. She (and Philip Lilienthal) founded a chapter of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, served on an ACLU board, and was national vice-chair of Amnesty International.
In an interview about establishing the Ploughshares Fund, she discussed its history.
Q: But you weren’t a Ford or a MacArthur foundation with millions to give away, so what did you do?
A: We started with nothing, I mean really nothing. But in the first year we were able to give away about $100,000 to individuals and small organizations to study the problems of nuclear weaponry, and to get ordinary citizens informed about the issues and the danger.
And by now, today, in the 15 years since we started, we’ve given more than $15 million to fund some pretty important projects, both big ones and small ones. And we have a lot of people around America who really support us, so that the $15 million has come from only about 2,500 people, because we don’t try to raise money with mass mailings. I hate mass mail, because most people just throw the letters away.
So we raise really significant contributions, and one reason people are willing to support us so generously is that every dollar we raise goes directly into projects, and none of it goes for administration. We have a staff of only 4 1/2 people, plus a really fantastic executive director, and a board of directors who pay for all our administrative costs, so everything we raise can go to the programs and people we support. That makes us different from any other foundation I know of.
Ms. Lilienthal died in 2006. There is a nice remembrance of her by Eleanor Friedman at the Jewish Women’s Archive. CommonDreams has a reprint of the obituary from the Los Angles Times. David Perlman of the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Ms. Lilienthal in 1996; the full interview, “SUNDAY INTERVIEW — Sally Lilienthal: Banning The Bomb,” from which I extracted the quote I used in this post is available here.
We are a better people in a better place because of Ms. Lilienthal’s life.