Karl Zinsmeister

Karl Zinsmeister

Author, Journalist, Researcher, and Consultant

Karl Zinsmeister  is an experienced executive, original researcher, and productive author with deep analytical, communications, public-policy, creative, and marketing skills—including high-level experience managing a range of publications, businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. He is currently a consultant to major business figures and wealth creators as a designer of large-scale philanthropy projects, historian of American civil society, and expert on social reform and culture change.

He has written a dozen books—embedded war reporting, histories, political analysis, reference works, a novel, literary collections, academic volumes, a storytelling cookbook, even a book-length Marvel comic book.  Two of his works have recently been optioned for development into a television series and a documentary film. He has edited or co-produced many other books.

Zinsmeister's magazine and newspaper journalism totals several hundred articles. These have been published in a wide range of national publications, from cover stories for The Atlantic to essays in the Wall Street Journal, where he is a frequent contributor. Karl also has more than two decades of experience as an Editor in Chief, managing writing, artistic, and business teams producing nationally circulated magazines of thought and culture.

He created The Almanac of American Philanthropy—the authoritative 1,342-page reference on private giving that is often referred to as “the bible” documenting America's distinctive tradition of solving major problems through civil society and voluntary action. Between cash contributions and volunteer labor, philanthropy is approaching the trillion-dollar level as an annual undertaking in the U.S., and it is one of our country's most potent sources of social innovation and improvement.

Zinsmeister established the nation's first independent advisory on philanthropy for veterans and servicemembers. He raised $15 million and designed an unprecedented randomized-control experiment to prove out better ways of assisting men and women injured during military service.

He created the “Sweet Charity” podcast, presenting 5-10 minute stories on important achievements in philanthropic creativity. He wrote and edited a series of “Wise Giver's Guides” offering donors practical help in specific fields. The volumes he authored himself include one analyzing charter schools, and another on the relationship between philanthropy and public policy.

In response to national concern over polarization and government stalemate, Zinsmeister researched and released a political/historical work What Comes Next?, describing how America can be dramatically improved by private actors even amidst political gridlock, documented by encouraging examples from our past.

From 2006 to 2009 Zinsmeister served in the West Wing as President George W. Bush’s chief domestic policy adviser. His responsibilities stretched across many issues: the formulation of new immigration policies, the mortgage and student-loan credit crises, stem-cell and biotechnology innovation, improving care for military veterans, school reform, issues in health, transportation, environmental quality, and national competitiveness.

Earlier in his career Karl was a U.S. Senate aide to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He has been an adviser to many public policy groups, and has testified before Congressional committees and Presidential commissions on topics including family issues, economic policy, and the Iraq war.

For more than a decade, Zinsmeister occupied the J. B. Fuqua Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, a premier Washington, D.C. think tank, where he researched economic, demographic, and cultural topics. While there he created an acclaimed national monthly magazine of politics, business, and culture, The American Enterprise. Author and former Cabinet Secretary William Bennett called it “one of America’s finest magazines.... intellectually interesting, well-written, lively, wide-ranging, and above all useful.” Zinsmeister wrote nearly 300 articles for the magazine, and conducted interviews with public figures extending from Rudy Giuliani to Pat Moynihan, Andres Duany to Rupert Murdoch. 

In concert with his wife, Zinsmeister conceived and produced a feature documentary film entitled Warriors that aired nationally on PBS in 2007. The film won $450,000 of funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in a major international competition. It presented personal profiles of America’s fighting forces via on-the-scene footage that Zinsmeister and two combat cameramen shot in Iraq. The New York Times described Warriors as “entirely compelling.” Footage from the film was used as a plot item in the final week of the HBO television series The Sopranos.

In the private sector, Zinsmeister was an executive in his native region of upstate New York at the Stickley company—an historic firm that designs, manufactures, and markets iconic American Arts & Crafts furniture designs worldwide. His responsibilities included marketing and sales, advertising, catalogs, photography, websites, communications, the Stickley Museum, some product design, and the modernization of many business and data systems. Zinsmeister has also operated his own businesses over a period of years, including designing, financing, renovating, and building eight properties with historic appeal, in Washington and New York.

A graduate of Yale University, Zinsmeister did further studies at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. During college he won national rowing championships in both the U.S. and Ireland. He has given hundreds of public lectures, originated a weekly radio commentary syndicated to 100 stations, and appeared often on a wide variety of national television and radio programs. He has lived, worked, or traveled in 40 countries, and nearly every U.S. state. He holds the highest U.S. security clearance.

Zinsmeister is married and has three grown children. He is an active outdoorsman, enjoys extended wilderness backpacking trips, and swims, bicycles, sculls, skis, and hikes often. He has been an avid photographer, woodworker, gardener and keeper of hens, taught Sunday school, and sung in church choirs. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. on a houseboat he designed and built himself.