29 posts categorized "Giving Pledge"

Version 2.0: The Giving Pledge Globalizes

March 01, 2013

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Headshot_brad-smith2They said that the Giving Pledge was "made in America," they said that Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett didn't understand other cultures, and that their brand of philanthropy was inappropriate for (substitute the country of your choice). They were wrong: on Tuesday, February 19, the ranks of the 93 American billionaires who have already signed the Giving Pledge -- a public commitment to dedicate more than half their fortunes to philanthropy -- were joined by a dozen more representing eight countries. In one fell swoop, the Giving Pledge has gone global.

How could the skeptics have gotten it so wrong? Since the Giving Pledge launched in 2010, wherever my travels have taken me, I have heard Brazilians, Mexicans, Europeans, and Chinese go to great lengths to explain why it would never catch on in their countries. On the eve of the Gates/Buffett visit to China, I was interviewed on CCTV2 (the English language channel of China's state-controlled media conglomerate) by a reporter who bombarded me with question after leading question to prove that theirs was a fool's errand. It was all I could do, in vain I suppose, to tell her that as hyper-developed as philanthropy may be in the America, it is alive and well and growing in China.

Here's what the skeptics fail to understand about the Giving Pledge:

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2012 Year in Review: The Giving Pledge Gains Momentum

January 02, 2013

Yir_2012The Giving Pledge, the effort launched in 2010 by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to encourage the world's mega-wealthy to devote at least half their wealth to philanthropy, saw a significant increase in signatories in 2012, as well as at least one effort to bring greater transparency to the campaign.

The additional visibility was a welcome development, coming as it did after Carlos Slim Helu, the wealthiest man in the world, announced in 2011 that he wouldn't be signing the pledge. In April, the campaign announced that twelve more families or individuals had agreed to participate. They included hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and his wife, Karen; businessman and film producer Steve Bing; Home Depot co-founder and Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank; Canadian-American businessman Edgar M. Bronfman; hedge fund manager Glenn Dubin and his wife, Eva; Texas businessman Red McCombs and his wife, Charline; British-American venture capitalist Michael Moritz and his wife, novelist Harriet Heyman; South African-American entrepreneur Elon Musk; SAS co-founder John Sall and his wife, Ginger; Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli and his wife, Susan; real estate developer John A. Sobrato and his wife, Susan; and MBI founder Ted Stanley and his wife, Vada.

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Of Fire Trucks, Obama, Romney and Philanthropy

October 15, 2012

(Bradford K. Smith is president of the Foundation Center. In his last post, he announced the launch of the Reporting Commitment, an effort initiated by a group of the largest U.S. foundations to develop more timely, accurate, and precise reporting on the flow of philanthropic dollars.)

Gilpinlib_sign"I live in a rural community where the Tea Party dominates, no new taxes can be passed without a super majority, and government is cutting back on everything. The other day someone asked me how I can help the fire station find money to buy a new fire truck. What do I tell him?"

I was recently asked that question by a librarian at "Network Days," an annual live/virtual gathering of the librarians, nonprofit resource center administrators, and community foundation leaders that are the human face of the Foundation Center's Cooperating Collection Network. In all fifty states and fourteen countries around the world, CCs help struggling nonprofits, those who want to create nonprofits, and people who want to work in nonprofits connect with the resources they need. Except when there are no resources to be found.

Despite being president of the Foundation Center, the world's largest source of information on organized philanthropy, my response to that librarian's question was pretty feeble. All I could really muster is a few words to the effect that, around the country, there are small, local foundations which, on occasion, are willing to contribute to the purchase of a fire truck, an ambulance, emergency medical equipment, and the like. You can find some of them through the Foundation Directory Online or by searching 990-PF tax returns. Most of them don't have Web sites.

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Taking Private Philanthropy Public: Eye on the Giving Pledge

August 08, 2012

(Janet Camarena is the director of the Foundation Center's San Francisco office and leads the center's Glasspockets effort.)

Pledge_wordleTwo years have passed since Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates launched the Giving Pledge, an effort to convince the world's wealthiest families and individuals to commit more than half their assets to philanthropy. Initially, four families signed the Pledge, and after two months thirty-six more had joined them. Since then, the size of the list has more than doubled, with eighty-one families or individuals having now signed on.

Given the high profile and net worth of those involved, the launch of the Giving Pledge was accompanied by much fanfare and enthusiasm. Indeed, because philanthropy is often viewed as a private, family affair by those who engage in it, one could view participation in the Giving Pledge as a sort of Public Philanthropic Offering. So now that the bell has been rung, what's next?

Because the Foundation Center's Glasspockets site focuses on philanthropic transparency, we decided earlier this year to create a new feature, Eye on the Giving Pledge, to help track the charitable activities of Giving Pledgers and highlight some of the demographic trends and giving interests of pledge participants. Things like: Who has signed the Pledge? In which industries did they make their fortunes? Where are they based? What causes do they support? "Eye on the Giving Pledge" provides a way to follow how those who have made commitments are fulfilling their pledges.

The decision by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to use their influence and networks to drive more dollars to philanthropy should be celebrated. In addition to the leadership they've demonstrated with the Giving Pledge itself, the Gateses also are providing an excellent example for other Pledge participants by making their family foundation the principle vehicle for their philanthropy. At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Web site, the public can readily access a complete record of the foundation's grantmaking via its 990-PFs, determine whether its grantmaking is limited to pre-selected organizations, read press releases about noteworthy new grants, check out Bill Gates' annual letter detailing many of the foundation's successes (and some of its failures), and listen to a regular podcast featuring staff members sharing insights about the foundation's evolving grantmaking strategies.

Of course, many Pledgers will opt or continue to use other vehicles for their giving, vehicles that do not have the same reporting requirements as foundations. In those cases, we've done our best to capture examples of that giving from public information sources. Since we expect there will be gaps in our coverage due to the challenges inherent in tracking individual giving, we invite you to help us surface additional knowledge through an online form provided for that purpose.

With a combined net worth of roughly $400 billion, the eighty-one signatories to the Giving Pledge could end up contributing an additional $200 billion or more to charity over time. In addition to the tangible benefits of all that giving, we think it's refreshing to see some of the world's wealthiest people celebrated not just for the next deal but for their next gift -- and for publicly committing to use their wealth for the public good. Or, to put it another way, shouldn't actual giving be as celebrated as the intention to give?

-- Janet Camarena

Weekend Link Roundup (August 4-5, 2012)

August 05, 2012

London2012_goldOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Communications/Marketing

In a guest post on the Communications Network blog, Dan Cohen and Edit Ruano offer five ideas for livening up your summer communications efforts.

  1. Brainstorm with staff on how to engage your audience/community, and then delegate the implementation of those ideas to tap into staff creativity.
  2. Program e-blasts; content could include previews of the work planned for the fall or reflections on your organization's previous accomplishments.
  3. Write (or coordinate with grantees to write) op-eds about your organization's work before heading out on vacation.
  4. Develop a schedule of pre-programmed social media content: at least one Facebook post and two or three tweets per week recommended.
  5. Host a get-together with potential partner organizations and individuals to strengthen your networks and bring a fresh perspective to the work you do.

Kivi Leroux Miller highlights the evolution of one nonprofit's annual reports -- from more than twenty pages of financial details to four pages of accomplishments. In 2009 "[i]t was a lot more 'here's all the stuff we've done' vs 'here's what we accomplished,'" Katie Bryan, of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, told Miller. In contrast, in 2011 "[w]e started out with the top accomplishments we had to share, then filled in images...and then worked the theme and letter around those."

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Eye On: Bill and Karen Ackman

July 31, 2012

(This is the first in a series of short profiles of individuals, couples, and families that have signed the Giving Pledge, the well-publicized effort spearheaded by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage the wealthiest Americans to commit the majority of their assets to philanthropic causes. For more about the Ackmans and the other eighty Giving Pledgers, visit the Foundation Center's brand-new Web portal, Eye on the Giving Pledge.)

Ackmans-lgSome of Bill Ackman's earliest memories "include my father's exhortations about how important it is to give back." That disclosure is included in the "pledge" letter Ackman wrote on joining the Giving Pledge campaign earlier this year. 'These early teachings were ingrained in me," the letter continues, "and a portion of the first dollars I earned, I gave away. Over the years, the emotional and psychological returns I have earned from charitable giving have been enormous. The more I do for others, the happier I am."

A happy man, indeed. An "activist" investor whose Pershing Square Capital Management (PSCM) has made strategic investments in some of North America's best-known companies, Ackman, 46, has amassed a considerable fortune in his two decades as a hedge fund manager -- and is already busy giving it away, even as he continues to be a force on Wall Street.

But then, Ackman was marked for success from a young age. The son of a successful real estate executive in New York City, Ackman was raised in the wealthy Westchester County suburb of Chappaqua and earned a B.A. (graduating magna cum laude) in 1988 from Harvard College and an MBA from Harvard Business School in 1992. (Cambridge is also where he met his wife, Karen, nee Herskovitz, who received a master's in landscape architecture from Harvard and subsequently worked for the Central Park Conservancy.)

That same year, Ackman and David Berkowitz, a friend from Harvard, co-founded the hedge fund Gotham Partners and, using a wide-ranging investment approach, grew it into a half-billion-dollar concern. The two split when Gotham closed in 2003, and Ackman wasted no time launching New York City-based PSCM in 2004.

From the beginning, PSCM's activist approach to making money was straightforward: identify an undervalued and/or underperforming company using proprietary research, build a large equity position in the company, and use that position to pressure management to make changes -- typically by liquidating assets, closing down non-core businesses, or eliminating inefficiencies -- that improve the company's profitability and boost its share price. Over the years, Pershing Square "targets" have included the likes of Wendy's International, McDonald's Corp., Fortune Brands, Borders, Target Corp., JC Penney, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Procter & Gamble. And while not all of Pershing's campaigns have succeeded in the way Ackman and his partners had hoped, enough have to make Ackman a wealthy and -- in some quarters -- feared man.

Which is all the more surprising given Ackman's low-key demeanor and penchant for progressive causes. Already philanthropically active in their thirties, Ackman and his wife began to think about ramping up their philanthropy as they neared forty and created the Pershing Square Foundation in 2006 as a vehicle to that end. Since then, the foundation has announced more than $145 million in grants and social investments in the areas of economic development, education, health care, human rights, the arts, and urban development. In 2010, for example, the foundation pledged $25 million to support K-12 education reforms in Newark, New Jersey, helping to match Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to the city's schools.

Other significant grants announced by the foundation include commitments of more than $6 million each to the One Acre Fund and Root Capital, innovative organizations working to transform the lives of smallholder farmers in parts of Africa and Latin America; $10 million over five years to Human Rights Watch, the highly respected watchdog and advocacy organization; and $25 million to the Signature Theatre in New York City to help ensure that affordable tickets are available for every Signature production over the next twenty years.

And of course, with a little friendly encouragement from Warren Buffett, they were among the twelve new families or individuals to sign the Giving Pledge in April. As Ackman told Fortune at the time:

"While my motivations for giving are not driven by a profit motive, I am quite sure that I have earned financial returns from giving money away. Not directly by any means, but rather as a result of giving money away. A number of my closest friends, partners, and advisors I met through charitable giving. Their advice, judgment, and partnership have been invaluable in my business and in my life. Life becomes richer, the more one gives away."

-- Mitch Nauffts

Last updated: August 6, 2012

2011 Year in Review: Return of the Mega-Gift

December 31, 2011

As we noted back in the spring, 2011 will be remembered for the unusually large number of eight- and nine-figure gifts and bequests that were announced, as an aging cohort of successful Americans moved to secure their philanthropic legacy.

Indeed, before May was even over, nine nine-figure gifts had been announced by either an individual, couple, or family foundation: an $800 million endowment gift from the Walton Family Foundation to the brand new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the brainchild of Walmart stores heiress Alice Walton; a $200 million "spend down" gift from Las Vegas-based investor Kirk Kerkorian's Lincy Foundation to the University of California, Los Angeles; an unrestricted $200 million endowment gift from long-time supporters Dana and David Dornsife to the University of Southern California and a $110 million gift, also to USC, from John and Julie Mork; a $100 million gift from retired South Dakota banker and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford to Sanford Health; a $100 million gift to the Mayo Clinic from patient and long-time supporter Richard O. Jacobson; a $100 million gift to Ohio State University from Leslie Wexner and the Limited Brands Foundation; a $100 million gift to the Los Angeles-based Petersen Automotive Museum from Margie Petersen and the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation; and a $225 million endowment gift from Raymond and the late Ruth Perelman to the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania -- the largest-ever naming gift to a medical school in the United States.

And that's not counting a $100 million gift to Western Michigan University from a group of donors that wished to remain anonymous, or a $100 million endowment gift to Teach for America from philanthropists Steve and Sue Mandel and the Broad, Laura and John Arnold, and Robertson foundations.

Things settled down a bit after that, as the eurozone debt crisis, the debt-ceiling battle here in the U.S., and reports of a slowing global economy cast a shadow over the economic recovery and contributed to a gut-wrenching few months of volatility in the markets.

Still, the second half of the year was marked by a number of very large gifts and bequests, starting with the annoucement, in late June, that reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark, who died in May at the age of 95, had left the majority of her estate, worth an estimated $400 million, to establish a foundation that will support the arts. In August, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Virginia Commonwealth University announced a bequest from the trusts of Arthur Graham and Margaret Branch Glasgow that will provide the two institutions with a total of $115 million and thirteen other nonprofits with $10 million. And in November, the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University announced a $150 million gift from alumnus Robert King and his wife, Dorothy, to establish the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED).

Two other eye-opining gifts were announced as the year was coming to a close: In December, Stony Brook University on Long Island announced a seven-year, $150 million gift from former math department chair and hedge fund quant genius James H. Simons and his wife, Marilyn, who received her Ph.D. from the school. Awarded through the Simons Foundation, the gift surpassed a previous gift of $60 million to the university from the couple and is the largest gift ever to a State University of New York school and the sixth largest ever to a public university in the U.S.

A few weeks later, Cornell University announced the largest gift in its history, a $350 million gift from alumnus and Atlantic Philanthropies founder Charles F. Feeney -- a recent signer of the Giving Pledge and a vocal advocate of the "giving while living" approach -- in support of its proposal to build a two-million-square-foot graduate science campus in New York City.

And then there was the remarkable story of William S. Dietrich II, a Pittsburgh industrialist who, late in life, made a series of planned bequests to higher education institutions in the Pittsburgh area. In early September, Carnegie Mellon University announced that it had received a $265 million gift from Dietrich -- the largest gift in its history and, like Feeney's, one of the ten largest gifts ever to higher education. Two weeks later, the University of Pittsburgh, from which Dietrich graduated and which he had served as a trustee since 1991, announced that it had received a $125 million gift from Dietrich. Mr. Dietrich passed away on October 6 at the age of 73, but two weeks later it was Duquesne University's turn to announce it had received a gift, $12.5 million, from the industrialist. And then a few weeks later, tiny Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania, announced that Dietrich had left it $25 million, bringing the total dollar amount of his bequests to area institutions to a remarkable $472.5 million.

Somewhere up in that Duquesne Club in the sky, Andrew Carnegie is smiling.

Related Links:

Sanford Health Receives $100 Million to Target Breast Cancer (1/27/11)

Teach for America Receives $100 Million for Endowment (1/28/11)

Mayo Clinic Receives $100 Million Gift From Iowa Businessman (2/07/11)

UCLA Announces $200 Million Gift From Lincy Foundation (2/16/11)

Ohio State University Receives $100 Million Gift (2/17/11)

University of Southern California Receives $200 Million Gift (3/10/11)

Western Michigan University Receives $100 Million Gift (3/24/11)

Petersen Auto Museum Receives $100 Million Gift (4/27/11)

USC Receives $110 Million Gift for Undergraduate Scholarships (4/28/11)

Walton Family Foundation Awards $800 Million to Crystal Bridges Museum (5/06/11)

UPenn School of Medicine Receives $225 Million Gift (5/12/11)

USC Receives $150 Million From W.M. Keck Foundation (6/14/11)

Copper Heiress Estate to Benefit the Arts (6/24/11)

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University Announce $125 Million (8/2911)

Carnegie Mellon University to Receive $265 Million Bequest (9/08/11)

University of Pittsburgh to Receive $125 Million Bequest (9/23/11)

Duquesne University Receives $12.5 Million From William S. Dietrich II (10/22/11)

Thiel College Receives $25 Million From William S. Dietrich II (11/07/11)

Stanford Launches Institute to Alleviate Poverty With $150 Million Gift (11/07/11)

Stony Brook University Receives $150 Million Gift From Former Professor, Alumna (12/15/11)

Cornell University Receives $350 Million Gift for New York City Tech Campus (12/20/11)

 

2011 Year in Review: The Giving Pledge Advances

December 30, 2011

Although the Giving Pledge, a campaign launched in 2010 by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to encourage the nation's wealthiest individuals to commit the majority of their wealth to philanthropy, picked up a number of new participants in 2011, its biggest accomplishment may have been to inspire others to launch similar campaigns.

The positive buzz around the campaign was deflated a bit in January when Mexican multi-billionaire Carlos Slim Helu, the wealthiest individual in the world, declined to sign on, saying in a CNBC interview that he believed businesspeople should help fight poverty but that he wasn't convinced giving to charity was the best way to do so. A couple of weeks later, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported the somewhat surprising news that relatively few of the American billionaires who had signed the pledge made large gifts in 2010.

Stilll, a total of sixty-nine individuals and families had signed on to the campaign by April. Newcomers to the group included Joyce and Bill Cummings of the Cummings Foundation; Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio and his wife, Barbara; oil tycoon Harold Hamm and his wife, Sue Ann; Silicon Valley entrepreneur Vinod Khosla and his wife, Neeru; and Atlantic Philanthropies founder Charles F. Feeney, a vocal advocate of "giving while living" and the source, at year's end, of a huge $350 million gift to Cornell University, his alma mater.

Indeed, it was easy to argue, though the evidence is anecdotal, that the campaign was having precisely the kind of impact -- in the United States as well as in countries such as China and India โ€“- that Buffett and the Gateses had hoped it would. In March, Indian entrepreneur Grandhi Mallikarjuna Rao, chairman of the Bangalore-based GMR Group, pledged $340 million to improve education among the most underserved segments of Indian society. A few months later, a report from global consulting firm Bain & Company found that private charitable giving in India had risen from 0.2 percent of GDP in 2006 to between 0.3 and 0.4 percent in 2011, putting it ahead of other countres with rapidly growing economies.

Back home, sixty-one of the sixty-nine signers of the pledge arranged to meet at an Arizona resort in early May to compare notes on their giving. The meeting, which covered a broad range of topics, was an opportunity for those present to meet and learn from each other. As energy tycoon George Kaiser, chairman of BOK Financial Corporation, founder of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, and the largest contributor to the Tulsa Community Foundation, told the Associated Press, "Being able to share with other people who are agonizing about the same decisions is extraordinarily useful."

As the economy weakened over the summer, media coverage of the Giving Pledge all but dried up. The campaign did not announce any new signers after April, and, as the nation began to focus on issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement, it received few mentions in the press after September.

But others were paying attention. In June, the Give Back Hollywood Foundation paid tribute to the campaign by launching its own Hollywood Pledge to encourage celebrities to publicly declare their support for charities nearest to their hearts. And a week later, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., launched Philanthropy's Promise, an effort to encourage leading U.S. foundations to dedicate a majority of their grant dollars to underserved communities and a significant amount of those dollars to strategies that address the root causes of social problems.

As NCRP executive director Aaron Dorfman said in September when announcing that an additional thirty-two foundations had signed on to the campaign, bringing the total number of participants to nearly a hundred: "We hope that the foundations of Philanthropy's Promise inspire others to think about how their philanthropic dollars can truly make a difference in people's lives and our communities. At this time of great need, it's not enough to give. We have to give smartly. We are delighted and grateful to have these thirty-two organizations on board."

Related Links:

Carlos Slim Declines to Commit to Giving Pledge (1/21/11)

Giving By Top Donors Fell in 2010, Survey Finds (2/08/11)

Atlantic Philanthropies Founder Commits to Giving Pledge (2/23/11)

Indian Entrepreneur Pledges $340 Million to Improve Education (3/24/11)

Gates, Buffett Set to Meet With Indian Billionaires (3/23/11)

Ten More Families Sign 'Giving Pledge' (4/29/11)

'Giving Pledgers' Meet to Discuss Their Giving (5/10/11)

Give Back Hollywood Foundation Asks Celebrities to Take 'Hollywood Pledge' (6/02/11)

National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy Launches 'Philanthropy's Promise' Campaign (6/09/11)

Philanthropy in India on Upswing, Report Finds (7/09/11)

Questions Raised About Jobs' Philanthropy (8/31/11)

Tom Steyer Steps Up His Philanthropy to Advocate for Change (9/19/11)

Thirty-Two Foundations Join 'Philanthropy's Promise' (9/20/11)

Foundation Had Jobs in Mind When It Invested in Solyndra (9/28/11)

Community Action Project Receives $22 Million From George Kaiser Family Foundation (11/18/11)

Cornell University Receives $350 Million Gift for New York City Tech Campus (12/20/11)

George Kaiser Family Foundation Acquires Woody Guthrie Archives (12/30/11)

Weekend Link Roundup (November 12-13, 2011)

November 06, 2011

NYCmarathon_verrazanoOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Arts

In his most recent president's letter , Jim Canales, president and CEO of the San Francisco-based James Irvine Foundation, sheds some light on the process that led to "significant changes" in the foundation's arts grantmaking strategy.

Fundraising

What are charities and nonprofits to do in an environment in which giving is flat, demand for services is growing, and competition for charitable dollars is fierce? Focus on how your organization is different, says Katya Andresen, writing on her Non-Profit Marketing Blog.

Global Health

Gapminder chair/Data visualization wiz Hans Rosling is back with a new presentation that shows that child mortality in Tanzania is rapidly declining, "thanks in part to aid programs that have improved public health and provided access to family planning." (H/t Bill Gates)

Impact/Effectiveness

GiveWell's Holden Karnofsky weighs in with a long post in which he argues that "the best currently available cost-effectiveness estimates -- despite having extremely strong teams and funding behind them -- have the problematic combination of being extremely simplified (ignoring important but difficult-to-quantify factors), extremely sensitive (small changes in assumptions can lead to huge changes in the figures), and not reality-checked (large flaws can persist unchecked -- and unnoticed -- for years)."

Philanthropy

Reporting from Haiti, Canadian-British journalist Doug Saunders, author of the book Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World, finds evidence of a new philanthropic paradigm and is not all that happy with what it portends. "At the top of the pyramid," Saunders writes,

are the new private foundations, dwarfing the largest of the old and playing a dramatic political role: They remake the executive structures of the old charities, forcing many of their activities to be organized in a much more businesslike way, or bypass established charities altogether to make direct links to the poor, diseased and disaster-ravaged.

At the opposite end of the scale are countless micro-initiatives and social networks, leveraging money and effort bit by byte, for causes great and small.

"You have the big givers, the Bill Gateses who've appeared all of a sudden, on the one hand, and then you've got the emergence of philanthropy in rapidly developing countries, and then the whole dimension of direct-giving philanthropy. It's changing everything," says J. Allister McGregor, head of the British-run Bellagio Initiative, created by the Rockefeller Foundation.

[Indeed, it] is not hard to imagine a situation, when the dust clears after the global crisis, in which conventional charities are largely obsolete, squeezed out between the world-improving schemes of billionaires and the surging efforts of lesser people responding to calls for help on Twitter....

On their Values blog, Philanthrocapitalism co-authors Matthew Bishop and Shepley Green respond to the growing number of critics who question the "outsize influence," in the field of global public health and philanthropy more broadly, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and offer this cautionary thought:

One of the mistakes that critics of the Gates Foundation make is to compare its scale and influence with that of other foundations. It is better, we believe, to look at the role that Mr Gates and other philanthropists are playing in the whole system, including government and private sector, where its size is far from remarkable. If philanthropy does not leverage change in public and private decision-making, it is unlikely to have much influence on the world....

And on the Acumen Fund blog, the Gates Foundation's Louis Boorstin argues that "given the scope of their reach and their permanence," governments absolutely have a critical role to play in scaling health and poverty interventions that work.

Social Innovation

Getting into the Halloween swing of things, Social Velocity blogger Nell Edgington has curated a "monster list" of resources for nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, board members, and others involved in creating social change. (Thanks, for including PhilanTopic, Nell!)

Social Media

Guest blogging on Beth's Blog, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark shares three tips for nonprofits that want to improve their social media results.

On the Communications Network blog, Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, communications director at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, shares some tips of her own for those who want to make the most of their social media efforts.

Technology

And on the Personal Democracy Forum's techPresident blog, Jed Miller and Allison Fine remember Rob Stuart, a long-time leader and activist in the nonprofit technology community who passed away suddenly on October 26 at the age of 49.

-- Mitch Nauffts

A 'Flip' Chat With...David Callahan, Co-Founder, Demos

February 15, 2011

(This is the thirteenth in our series of conversations with thought leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. You can check out other videos in the series here, including our previous chat, with Foundation Center president Brad Smith.)

On a snowy January morning, a dozen people convened at the offices of Philanthropy New York to discuss David Callahan's new book, Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America. During the discussion, the Demos co-founder and senior fellow explored a number of topics covered in the book, including the westward shift of wealth creation as the United States has transitioned from a manufacturing- to a knowledge-based economy. Callahan -- who in 2000 co-founded Demos, a public policy think tank dedicated to pursuing a more equitable economy and vibrant, inclusive democracy -- is the author of several books, most recently The Cheating Culture (2004) and The Moral Center (2007).

Fortunes of Change centers around the shifting demographics of the ultra-wealthy in the United States. As the number of tech billionaires and computer-savvy financiers on the Forbes 400 list continues to grow, the "typical" billionaire, says Callahan, is both more educated -- and more liberal -- than ever before. What's more, because many of the new billionaires have come into wealth at a young age, a growing number are adopting a "giving while living" approach to philanthropy. This, in turn, is having an enormous impact on the amount of money flowing into American politics generally and "liberal" causes more specifically. Indeed, during the 2008 election, "Obama...raised more money than McCain in eight of the ten wealthiest zip codes in the United States and...outraised him in any number of industries, including hedge funds, venture capital, private equity, corporate law, investment banking, and high tech," writes Callahan in Fortunes of Change. "In a first for Democratic presidential candidates, Obama even raised more money than McCain did from commercial bankers."

After the event, we had a chance to sit down with Callahan to discuss how the composition of the country's ultra-rich has changed over the past decade and what the implications are for philanthropy.

(If you're reading this in an e-mail, click here.)

 

(Running time: 5 minutes, 48 seconds)

What do you think? Does philanthropy give the mega-wealthy outsize influence in a democratic society? Should government do more to regulate the way private dollars are used to create public good? And what, if anything, should we do to ensure that tax-advantaged dollars are used to address issues of fairness and social justice?

-- Regina Mahone and Nick Scott

Two Cheers for the Giving Pledge!

February 09, 2011

(Bradford K. Smith is the president of the Foundation Center. This post originally appeared on the center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Giving_pledge_montage Two cheers for the Giving Pledge! Why not three? The answer lies in a simple, yet challenging word: transparency. As it stands now, the Giving Pledge is pure potential. And unless we are able to track how all the new money it injects into philanthropy is actually spent, its impact on the world will never be known. But first, the cheering.

More money -- Hooray!

Anyone who cares about philanthropy and its ability to increase opportunity and transform lives cannot help but be ecstatic about the Giving Pledge. You've seen the predictions: if all the billionaires on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans signed the pledge, it would double the $600 billion currently devoted to philanthropy in the U.S. But the architects of the pledge -- Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett -- would undoubtedly be pleased if others around the globe got the bug. The second largest group on the Forbes World Billionaires list are, in fact, Chinese. That explains the Gates/Buffett trip to China and their plans for a similar sojourn to India.

Of course, not everyone will take the Giving Pledge. The China trip got mixed reviews, and Carlos Slim has found a way to get publicity by stating proudly that he will not sign on (because he is too busy improving the world by making money from his businesses). But even Mr. Slim does more philanthropy today than anyone ever expected, so this move may be semantics or a reflection of his desire -- as the world's richest man -- to do things differently than his closet competitors. Anyway way you look at it, though, the Giving Pledge can turbo-charge philanthropy for decades to come, and that is great news.

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Bill Gates' 3rd Annual Letter

January 31, 2011

I'd be willing to bet Bill Gates sat down to write his annual letter long before popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt grabbed the attention of the world. Which makes his introductory remarks in this year's letter all the more powerful:

I believe it is in the rich world's enlightened self-interest to continue investing in foreign aid. If societies can't provide for people's basic health, if they can't feed and educate people, then their populations and problems will grow and the world will be a less stable place.

Whether you believe it is a moral or in the rich world's enlightened self-interest, securing the conditions that will lead to a healthy prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share....

I would have added "economic opportunity," "fair and free elections," "gender equality," and "rule of law" to the list. But the fact they're not on it doesn't lessen the significance of Mr. Gates' remarks. As the dominos in the Arab world start to topple, the global community is a less stable place than it was a month ago -- and is likely to remain so as long as supporters of the status quo ignore the grievances of restive populations in the Arab world and beyond.

The bulk of the letter looks at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's efforts to eradicate polio from the planet; scale up the distribution of vaccines, continue the fight against malaria, and reduce the mortality rate among children under the age of five in developing countries; fund new and cost-effective treatment and prevention approaches for HIV/AIDS; support the development of a new agricultural agenda for the continent of Africa; promote education reform, including an "excellence in teaching" agenda, in the United States; and encourage the spread of private philanthropy globally through the Giving Pledge.

You can download the letter (24 pages, PDF) here.

-- Mitch Nauffts

Foreign Assistance: 'You Can't Throw Money at It'

January 05, 2011

(David Holdridge is president and founder of Bridging the Divide, which provides an Internet-based platform designed to connect American citizens with grassroots organizations in the Middle East working for peace and justice in their communities. Holdridge has thirty years of experience in nonprofit and humanitarian leadership roles in the Middle East, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, and the United States and most recently served as Mercy Corps' regional director for Middle East programs. This is his first post for PhilanTopic.)

Unclesam_throwing_money In light of the recent announcement by a number of high-profile billionaires to pledge half their net worth to charitable investments -- broadly defined -- I urge some second thoughts.

I've spent a lifetime watching the deleterious effects associated with throwing too much money at tragic and complex issues overseas. Instead of resolving the humanitarian challenge in question, it more often has created a legacy of corruption and dependency.

There are two conditions underlying all successful (i.e., sustainable) charitable investments overseas:

1. The design and intent of the investment must include local ownership (i.e., decisions are made collectively by the local populace rather than an autocrat).

2. Donors cannot push "largesse" into a local system beyond the system's capacity to absorb it.

As to the first, it means that donors must invest in home-grown solutions as opposed to what they think will or should work best. Concerning the second, it means that donor transfers cannot outpace an often-limited local capacity to absorb them. From Live Aid for Ethiopia in the '80s to Tweeting for Haiti in 2010, we in the field have witnessed the terrible waste associated with too much foreign-designated generosity blowing the circuits of local capacity and soon after leaking into the wrong hands or serving to create an unsustainable dole.

So, while the early numbers for the Buffett-Gates initiative are impressive, Giving Pledgers would be advised to spend "smart" -- and "smart" does not necessarily mean "big."

There is another caveat which should be added to the two above: The effort to provide hundreds of millions of desperately poor people overseas with a better life must be supported at home by actively engaging our friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans to do more than just send a check to a mega-charity at year's end. Instead, by virtue of all sorts of new technologies, we have it in our power to deal directly with individual activists and young civil society organizations in poor countries. And, in the end, it is they, not us, who must "own" their development.

We can and should support those efforts -- citizen to citizen, with individual advocacy and "consumer-sized" relief -- without overwhelming them. Indeed, citizen-to-citizen, or "new giving," as some are calling it, already accounts for 7 percent of American charitable giving overseas, and experts expect that to rise to 15 percent over the next few years. Internet-based platforms like Kiva, Global Giving, and Jumo are betting on it. In the process, their efforts as well as those of others will help broaden the base of globally engaged Americans -- one of the surest antidotes for what ails too much of the world.

In short, expanding the base of engaged citizens who want to help those less fortunate is what global philanthropy should be about. After all, money doesn't solve problems; people do.

-- David Holdridge

2010: The Year in Review

December 26, 2010

Pnd_year_review_2010 The year opened on a horrific note, with a January earthquake in Haiti killing an estimated 250,000 people and leaving millions more homeless. While international aid and humanitarian groups rushed to provide assistance, the scale of the destruction, logistical bottlenecks, and bureaucratic red tape seemed to defeat their best efforts. Indeed, by year's end, the situation on the ground had improved only marginally, underscoring yet again the challenges associated with coordinating and sustaining long-term recovery efforts in poor (and poorly governed) countries.

Just a few months later, bad news from Haiti was crowded out by news of a second disaster, this time in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in April. As underwater cameras broadcast live video of the busted well spewing crude into the Gulf at the rate of 50,000 barrels a day, BP and the federal government scrambled to contain the damage. It wasn't until mid-July -- too late for the region's fishing and tourism industries -- that they succeeded in capping the well, but even as the UK-based oil giant pledged tens of millions to clean up the mess and make reparations, the long-term environmental impact of the worst marine oil spill in the history of the industry remained an open question.

As if to confirm the old saying that bad things happen in threes, heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan in July coupled with large-scale deforestation in the Himalayan foothills soon led to unprecedented flooding in the world's sixth-most populous country. As the floodwaters rose throughout the month of August, eventually destroying millions of hectares of crops and upending the lives of some twenty million people, the United Nations moved to mount a relief effort. But whether because of Pakistan's distance from Europe and North America, the problematic security situation in the country, or the relatively low number of casualties, donors in the developed world for the most part responded with expressions of sympathy and turned their attention elsewhere.

On a more upbeat note, a campaign by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates to get billionaires on the Forbes 400 list to pledge half their wealth to charity met with surprising success; a White House initiative to identify and leverage support for innovative social problems was launched and, after a stumble or two, gained its footing; and the U.S. economy continued to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Before we close the books on 2010, the editors of PND look back at some of the important philanthropic stories and personalities of the year just passed.

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    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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