Thursday, May 27, 2004

Using private foundations as an intelligence resource

On Wednesday of this week, The New York Times reported that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had donated $15 million to NYC institutions. Noted in the column, (available at was the fact that the Mayor made the gift to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Yes, that Carnegie Corporation - the independent foundation established by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 and steward of almost $2 billion in assets.

This little fact doesn't seem to have stirred up a lot of attention, but it should. Why would Mayor Bloomberg, already an active, experienced philanthropist, make a gift to an independent, endowed foundation? Well, I haven't had the chance to ask either the Mayor or President gregorian of Carnegie (though I'd like to), but I would guess its because both sides recognized the value of this kind of exchange. The Mayor gets - for no cost - the experience, wisdom and due diligence of the Corporation's professional staff. Carnegie's folks get more money to support the causes they know best. The only thing that didn't work out was the Mayor's hoped-for anonymity .

What is so smart about this? Many big endowed foundations have invested lots of money in hiring experts and commissioning research. These folks know what they're doing and how to do it. Other philanthropists don't need to reinvent the wheel - they can actually use the expertise of the staffed foundation to advise (and manage) their giving, and not build their own duplicative, expensive infrastructure to do so. Similar deals have worked at the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, a long time supporter of programs serving people with learning disabilities. The Schwab Foundation has been able to use its staff to guide the financial resources of other interested donors, without causing those other donors to spend time or money to learn what Schwab knows. Its efficient and it works. There should be more of it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Inflection Point

What would you say if you had the chance to speak directly to a hundred or so potential philanthropists? What matters about philanthropy today?

Some thoughts:

Its a $240 billion a year industry in the United States, yet each individual piece tends to act in isolation from the others

People starting to think about philanthropy now have the chance to ask some hard questions about how they use their financial, human and intellectual resources:
-- Which financial product(s) make the most sense for me in terms of organizing my philanthropy and achieving my social goals? Do I start a foundation? Work with others in a giving circle? Join an online community of donors focused on my issues? Buy a gift fund from my private bank or work with my community foundation?
-- How do I know which of these financial products will help me achieve my goals? How to I assess them? How do I manage a portfolio of these options to the best ends?

And what about the people? How does human capital best work to achieve philanthropic ends?
How do I to be involved in the work? With whom do we need to work? How do we capitalize on the changing demographics of our communities to ensure the work is done in just, equitable, and effective ways, whether I'm interested in environmental preservation or human services?

Finally, where is the "philanthropic industry's brain trust?" How do I find out what else is being done and who else I can work with? How do I learn about trends and pressures on philanthropy? What have others who've worked in this field learned about saving whales, bringing technology to low income communities, feeding the hungry, or conducting medical research in ways that get drugs to poor people?