Rebuilding the Community

Restitution, recommendations, and reconciliation

June 9, 2012,
members of the Vanguard Community Justice Council organized a community gathering at the Native American Healing Center in San Francisco to delve into the issues associated with the demise of Vanguard.  This was the first public meeting of Vanguard’s former stakeholders. 

Over fifty participants—including Vanguard donors, staff, board members, grantees, and other interested parties--came together for a half-day meeting to uncover the history of Vanguard as a social justice institution, to piece together the parts of the puzzle leading to Vanguard’s demise, and to discuss what a process of reconciliation might look like. 

In order to pursue answers to the many questions that surfaced at the community dialogue, three committees were created:

Restitution for Grantees

This committee was tasked with reading the court testimony from Mouli Cohen’s trial, preparing a report, and using the underlying facts to pursue strategies for making grantees whole.

During the years that encompassed the investment fraud (2003-2008), Hari Dillon made countless promises to social justice organizations that their grant requests to Vanguard had been approved. Grantees—many of whom waited years without receiving payment—were warned not to complain or they would risk being branded “troublemakers.” 

The number of outstanding grants is difficult to quantify without foundation records, but the total ranges from $250,000—$500,000.

The Vanguard Justice Community Council is keenly aware that during these difficult economic and political times, grassroots organizations are in dire need of funds meant to benefit social justice movements. The non-payment of these grants remains a stain on the community as they represent an abuse of power by a social justice funder.

In order to redress the wrongs committed by Vanguard, the Council pursued a number of strategies for restitution, including:

  • Reaching out to the community to locate grantees promised funds
  • Encouraging grantees to write Judge Charles Breyer to ask for restitution of funds that went into the investment schemes
  • Establishing a special fund to distribute grants to unpaid grantees after a vetting process

Recommendations for Best Practices  in Philanthropy

Members of this committee have reviewed information that has surfaced on the demise of Vanguard and interviewed foundation experts in order to prepare this downloadable report:

Recommendations for Best Practices in Philanthropy

The report will be distributed to foundations and resource organizations associated with philanthropy.

In addition to the report on best practices, the committee has produced a concept paper for the creation of a national ombudsman office:

Ombudsman Concept Paper 

With an advocate, staff, board members, donors, and especially grantees would have a safe place to go and file complaints and inquiries when there are questions about the internal operations of a foundation. Committee members are actively seeking an appropriate progressive institution and will encourage them to create an ombudsman position to make this recommendation a reality. 

Reconciliation and Healing

As the lawsuits fly amongst the various parties trying to reclaim lost assets, the Vanguard Justice Community has chosen another route: reconciliation and healing. We did not adopt this position with ease, especially after discovering the extent of the fraud that Hari Dillon carried out in the name of taking Vanguard to the “next level.” But once we recognized the common purpose that brought us together, we embarked on a more positive course.

We started with educating ourselves about the facts of the fraud (reading the court documents, interviewing key individuals) in order to counter the years of silence and misinformation that obscured the truth about the investment schemes. 

We have reached out to grantees whose grants were not honored and assessed our ability to make them whole and repair the damaged trust between funder and grantee. We established a fund and made grants to 24 organizations that did not receive funds promised to them by Vanguard. To see the list of grantees, click on the Grants tab on the top menu.

We developed a series of recommendations for responsible philanthropy (including the adoption of an ombudsman position to referee claims of abuse at foundations). 

And met individually and in small groups to air our stories, a process that helped to repair the damage and rejuvenate the progressive spirit that was a hallmark of Vanguard Public Foundation.

We have done all of this on a shoestring budget, with the bulk of the work done by volunteers. We hope that participation in this effort will go a long way toward regaining trust and rebuilding social-justice philanthropy in the Bay Area and beyond.