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Our Country’s Founding Fathers Understood CSR Says Historian and Founding President of The Museum of the American Revolution
July 11, 2019
After a successful career which began as deputy director at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, followed by becoming the President and CEO of the James Madison Estate, Montpelier, which he successfully restored as a national historic destination, Michael Quinn was selected by Philadelphia’s legendary philanthropist and community leader Gerry Lenfest to build a museum that would be the first to tell the story of the American Revolution from beginning to end.
He accepted the challenge of creating the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia and oversaw all aspects of its fundraising, construction, exhibit design, and opening to make it a reality. Mike worked extensively with private and corporate contributors who saw the importance of this exciting new Museum. Many of these corporate donors added to their reputation by becoming a “Founding Father” sponsor through this dimension of their CSR.
Remarkably, Mike built and opened the Museum under budget and debt-free, with an endowment of $50 million and an operating reserve of $5 million. This makes him a superstar in the nonprofit community as well as the general community. When he recently retired after his six-year tenure, the Museum’s Board of Directors named him President Emeritus in recognition of his indispensable contributions to its success.
We asked Mike to share his perspective on contemporary Corporate Social Responsibility and its place in American history.
Did the vision of our nation’s Founders include CSR?
Our Founding Fathers’ vision was far more than just carrying out a Revolution—their goal was to build an entirely new kind of society, one based on principles of liberty and equality. Although they would have been baffled by the term “CSR” (for one thing, corporations did not exist at the time), they embodied its values: they understood giving back to their communities to create robust, thriving places, with unlimited opportunities for themselves and for all citizens to live and work. Their personal values, their religious beliefs, their concept of citizenship all supported this deep and direct engagement.
Did you see an alignment between the Satell Institute and the vision of the Founding Fathers?
Absolutely. In a sense, CSR is the essence of the American spirit. The Revolution made the everyday citizen the sovereign power of our nation; that means far more than voting in elections—it means taking on the responsibility to shape the character of our society and our communities. The system our Founders created is the best means invented by the human mind for people to live together, solve problems and define our future. Ben Franklin’s idiom, “When you are good to others, you are best to yourself” captures that concept in plain language.
How did you find out about the Satell Institute?
I met Ed Satell shortly after I came to Philadelphia to take charge of founding the Museum of the American Revolution. Ed has a deep appreciation for the political philosophy of American Constitutionalism and quickly became one of the “Founding Father” contributors to the Museum. In turn, I became intrigued by Ed’s strong commitment to what he calls the “American value” of giving back.
What does that mean?
The Institute he generously endowed is founded on the principles of freedom and nonpartisanship. Individuals have unprecedented opportunity. And the business community is a key part of the American success story. I’m glad that our region’s business community is embracing the vision that Ed’s Satell Institute is framing and the important lessons that our Founding Fathers can teach.
Has the Satell Institute made an impact on you?
Definitely. Members of the Satell Institute now represent many of the leading CEOs in the Philadelphia area. And these are dedicated, committed members. The sense of camaraderie that develops between nonprofits and for-profit leaders is incredible. The CEOs who support us develop a better understanding of the needs and the programs of the nonprofit sector that do so much to improve our communities. The four-year funding commitment that the Satell Institute requires of businesses sounds simple but makes a profound difference to the impact a nonprofit can have.
What do you see as your legacy?
I’ve tried to create and advance institutions that inspire Americans to understand their heritage and strengthen their understanding of their role in upholding our democracy. And I’m pleased to add that I’m still at it—I’ve recently been recruited to help the effort to plan America’s 250th Birthday in 2026 (the Semiquincentennial). I’m equally proud to serve as a member of the Executive Committee of the Satell Institute. I’m watching the early success in Philadelphia motivate the Satell Institute to expand to major cities across the country. Ed’s vision is inspiring: if 10,000 corporations join, the Satell Institute would be the catalyst for the largest source of funding for nonprofits in the nation. What a legacy that would be!
An exceptional leader himself, Mike has been honored by civic, patriotic and nonprofit organizations across the country, including the Sons of the American Revolution. He received a B.A. from the University of Virginia, an M.A. from Yale University, and a M.B.A. from George Mason University.
Satell Institute Growth Continues!
Membership at SI continues to grow with great companies and private foundations choosing to support Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
This week we welcome the almost 80-year old Martin’s Snacks, a legendary success story from the nation’s “snack belt” in Central PA. Martin’s has chosen the Fisher House at Andrews Air Force Base as their four-year nonprofit partner. The Fisher House provides free, comfortable, handicap-accessible lodging where veterans and their families can stay free of charge while a loved one is in the hospital.
Owned by the Potter family, Martin’s uses only the best chipping potatoes and high-quality oils for frying — two of the many factors that make Martin’s Potato Chips taste so great. Their 75,000 sq. ft. Thomasville facility produces over one million bags each month. Martin’s has distribution centers serving Pittsburgh, Altoona, Philadelphia, New York and Virginia and over 50 routes operate from the distribution facilities in Reading, Allentown, Williamsport, Lancaster and Hagerstown, MD. Their delicious quality products are delivered fresh daily.