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Christy Morse Carries on Margaret Cargill’s Legacy
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Christy Morse has devoted the latter portion of her career to carrying out the philanthropic wishes of Margaret Cargill, the granddaughter of the founder of Cargill Inc. and an intensely private and humble person. The heiress repeatedly told Morse, “I just have the money; I don't do the good work.”
“We personally connected before we actually got involved in any business or philanthropy discussions,” Morse recalls of her early relationship with Cargil. Morse’s role became formalized after Cargill’s passing in 2006, when Morse took on the role of CEO of Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies—comprised of the Anne Ray Charitable Trust, the Akaloa Resource Foundation, and Margaret A. Cargill (MAC) Foundation. Together, these three grantmaking organizations pursue a common vision: To provide meaningful assistance and support to society, the arts, the environment, and all living things.
Steered by her deep understanding of Cargill’s philanthropic philosophy, Morse guides MAC philanthropies’ approach to grantmaking so that attention stays on the grantees that are “doing the good work.” Included among Cargill’s values is the importance of candid grantor-grantee relationships. “Honest feedback going in both directions between funder and grantee is critical,” Morse says “to learn what really works.”
To support learning for the Foundation and its grantees, Morse has hired a Director of Evaluation to work closely with program officers. Morse wants measurement to be an early part of conversations with organizations; she reports that efforts such as developing measurement techniques to define success amid changing times represent a recent learning curve that has been both “very steep” and “wonderful.”
Although Morse invested a significant amount of time in helping Margaret Cargill communicate her donor intent before her passing, she is realistic about the difficulty of ensuring that Cargill’s core values outlast both Cargill and her own tenure. “I think that's the big challenge for us here—to create a culture and a group of people that can carry that on,” Morse says.
Margaret wanted her giving to be done anonymously. She wanted the attention...to be on the beneficiary; to be on the people who were actually doing the work and not on her. She would comment to me, ‘I just have the money. I don't do the good work. Those people do the good work.' And so she approached everything that way.
I think it's important for philanthropists, as they go into developing their own philanthropy, to [ask], ‘What are the core values [behind] the issues that I want to deal with? And then go up a level...Go deep and surround yourself, as Margaret did, with people who have similar values and who can adapt to the changes that are bound to come.
Philanthropy has been my way of growing. And that is thanks to Margaret allowing me to do that ... She and I grew together as she began thinking about her wealth and ... the good things that could be done [with it]."
We want to know as a grantee what works and what doesn't work. It doesn't mean we're going to leave. It doesn't mean we're going to turn away from your organization. It means that hopefully we can both learn what worked and what didn't.
Margaret was not one who said, ‘I am the powerful and you are the subservient.' She was one who said, let me provide the resources so that you can do your good work as a grantee. And we pay attention to needs and we try, actually, to avoid the recognition for ourselves.