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
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/26/nyregion/26gift.html) 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 http://www.schwabfoundation.org/, 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.