Mike Bloomberg is a man who never knowingly takes the easy route. He could put his feet up and live the good life. Instead he has habitually done the exact opposite, heading straight into challenges because the world could be better for it. Many of his efforts may have seemed foolhardy at the time, but now look to be the choice of an inspired genius. His approach throughout his life has been assertively singular. He has tried on every political party for size, for instance, finally settling on being “independent”. But behind the tough New York politician is a genuinely caring man.
Bloomberg’s success grew from failure, and a desire to do something different, something that no one else had tried. Having lost his job at Wall Street’s Salomon Brothers due to restructuring, he decided not to jump back into the world of finance as might have been expected. Instead, he invested his money in the burgeoning information technology industry, and what is now known as Bloomberg LP was born. By bringing a new level of transparency and efficiency to buying and selling, the company revolutionized the industry, and what was once a one-room office in New York has since become a worldwide company with over 15,000 employees.
Bloomberg proved himself to be up to the challenge of a totally new job once, so why not do it again? And what could be tougher than creating a totally new start-up? Perhaps running for mayor in one of the most politically challenging places in the world, and this was precisely what Bloomberg of course did. In 2001 Mike Bloomberg was elected the 108th Mayor of New York City. He governed with a mixture of brashness and compassion, a good mirror to the city itself, and reliably rose to the unique challenges the city presented. Much like in his earlier triumph, it was his innovative outlook that made his tenure so successful. His savviness in business helped the city weather the deep national recession better than any other metropolis in the country. And his passion for the well-being of New Yorkers resulted in public health and climate change policies that have since served as a model for the nation. He clearly could not get enough of the challenge, staying on through a third term before moving on to even bigger things.
Yet again at this point, Bloomberg had the opportunity to relax. After twelve years as the mayor of the city that never sleeps, he had certainly earned a break. But it was a break that he had no interest in taking. Along with going back to Bloomberg LP, he turned his focus to Bloomberg Philanthropies, which dealt with many of the issues he tackled as mayor – public health, arts and culture, the environment, education and government innovation. In addition, he has contributed more than $1 billion to Johns Hopkins. The University’s School of Hygiene and Public Health – the largest public health facility in the U.S. – is now the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Bloomberg also leads a number of bi-partisan coalitions that are taking action on urgent national and international issues, and in 2014 he was appointed to be the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change.
To date, Bloomberg has donated nearly $5 billion to a wide variety of causes and organizations, with Bloomberg Philanthropies donating billions more. The world is always confronting new challenges, and Mike Bloomberg will certainly keep on facing them head on.
If you live in Utah, you are in America’s most charitable state. If you are in New England, you may be in one of the country’s less philanthropic areas.
As a nation, the United States has a deep tradition of giving, but some areas are simply more generous than others.
Different surveys use different methodologies to determine which places are the most giving. But one thing remains consistent: Utah always tops the list. The main reason cited for this is the Mormon religion and tithing – the practice of giving one tenth of income to the church.
The trend also holds true when cities are ranked – in a 2012 Chronicle of Philanthropy report that looks at generosity in America’s 366 metropolitan areas, the top four spots all went to Utah. Meanwhile, Worcester, Mass., Lewiston, Maine and Manchester-Nashua, N.H. rank at the bottom. These three states, along with Vermont, also rank as the least charitable in the survey.
Many factors are at play. Some studies indicate that residents of rural and small towns donate more, as do those in more religious areas. The Southern states usually rank higher, and New England ranks lower.
“In some of the New England states, there is probably a stronger government safety net and facilities than in some of the more rural areas,” so the need may not be as great, says Elizabeth Boris, a fellow at the Urban Institute who is the founding director of its Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy.
Some areas have many more non-profit organizations and therefore many charitable options, Boris says. People also tend to give more if they are asked to donate – and this is more likely to happen in tight-knit communities.
One recent study examines the performance of non-profit organizations in the 30 largest metropolitan areas. The Charity Navigator report found that factors such as the cost of living and a city’s tendency to support specialized causes greatly influence an organization’s ability to raise money. It found that charities in Houston, D.C. and Los Angeles receive the highest median contributions, while those in Philadelphia, Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul get the least.
Overall, America is certainly a generous place. In 2016, individual giving rose to an all-time high, exceeding $390 billion, according to the Giving USA 2017 report. All nine sectors of giving increased, with religion still topping the list. With 32 percent of contributions going to religion, this sector receives more than twice the funding as the next category, which is education.
In terms of political affiliation, red states – which are also more religious – rank better than blue states, according to WalletHub and Chronicle of Philanthropy surveys.
Red States are More Generous than Blue States
Rebecca Riccio, director of the Social Impact Lab at Northeastern University, says while people in more religious states tend to give more, there is a need to study the impact of such giving.
“Everyone always stops at the conclusion that people in states that have the highest participation in faith-based organizations give the most money, but we don’t really look at how does that giving translate into impact in the community,” she says. “Something I think is hugely important for people to think about is that the organization you give to is not the end point in the flow of the money.”
Worldwide, the United States regularly ranks among the most charitable countries. Last year, it ranked second, behind Myanmar, according to the World Giving Index.
Source: Charities Aid Foundation
Riccio says Americans believe in supporting communities, but the country lacks a strong social safety net.
“We are a caring society, we believe in obligations to each other, yet we do not want to fulfill that obligation via taxes, so charity is what’s left for us as a vehicle to respond to the needs in our communities,” she says. “It’s a fascinating dynamic and it’s very distinctly American.”
Riccio says there should not be a specific benchmark when it comes to what percentage of income people should donate – a figure that averages at about two percent nationally. Instead, she says she hopes everyone thinks about how much they can afford to give. She says it is also critical for everyone to realize the importance of non-profit organizations year-round, and not just during political turmoil and emergencies.
“I really believe in encouraging people to understand more deeply how absolutely necessary the non-profit sector is to the social fabric in the U.S.,” Riccio says, “and how dependent all of us are on it for our quality of life, from cradle to grave.”
Everyone should think about making a difference beyond charitable giving, by considering everything from how they volunteer to how they vote, shop and manage their homes and businesses, Riccio says. She says individuals have powerful toolkits at their disposal – and it’s up to each one of us to decide how to use them for the greater good.
Depending on where you get your news, Agnes Gund is defined as many laudable things; a philanthropist, a collector, a patron, an advocate. It is worth noting that not only are all the descriptions accurate, they are all equally valid. Aggie (as she’s known to her diverse group of friends) has made an enormous impact in the art world, the philanthropic world, and remains a critical figure in New York City. She has been an energetic presence across these different spheres for many years now, never slowing down.
Most of what Aggie has done has started with art, using it as a springboard to promote education, equality, and social justice. She has sat on over 20 different boards, often at the same time, all while keeping up the busy social schedule of one of the preeminent patrons and collectors of art. She was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Bill Clinton. A decade and a half later she was given the Leonore and Walter Annenberg Award for Diplomacy through the Arts, presented to her by Hillary Clinton. And while many great philanthropists have been given awards, Aggie is in an elite club of being the name of an award – the Independent Curators International gives out the Agnes Gund Award to recognize “an established curator for their outstanding contribution to the world of art.”
While museums and galleries the world over sing the praises of Aggie, it is her Studio in a School that remains one of her crowning achievements. The genius collaboration of schools and working artists has continued to thrive, reaching nearly a million children in New York City alone. The project continues to provide art education to many children from lower-income families, as well as open doors to the art world to increase the diversity of the staff in museums, galleries, and art houses. As she told Artnet, “I wanted to do something that was not just a little bit here and a little bit there, but could really have an impact on school art programs.” Four decades later, the impact Studio in a School has made it truly seismic.
Aggie continues to use art to make a splash beyond the world of collectors and curators. In the summer of 2017 she sold Roy Lichtenstein’s “Masterpiece” for $150 million in order to provide seed funding for the visionary Art for Justice Fund. This new effort was created to end mass incarceration in the United States by funding innovative advocacy and intervention. Selling the Lichtenstein functions not only as the initial funding, but as inspiration to other collectors and patrons to get involved. Think of it as a Giving Pledge for the art world. Much like Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates are using their giving to spur on the giving from other billionaires, Aggie is leading the charge in the art world, and expects others to follow her example.
It seems every year or so there is a new interview or essay about the latest efforts of Agnes Gund. Recent years have seen “Agnes Gund’s Art for Social Justice’s Sake” in The New Yorker, “Agnes Gund, Art’s Grande Dame, Still Has Work to Do” in Vanity Fair, and “A Patron Gives, of Herself and Her Art” in The New York Times. It makes sense – if she never slows down, why should the news? We are all looking forward to what headlines 2018 brings.
While they may not be particularly ostentatious about it, Pam and Pierre Omidyar are voracious when it comes to their approach to philanthropy. The fact that they have already committed over $1 billion dollars to causes close to their hearts is perhaps sometimes obscured by both their innovative methods and the wide variety of projects they tackle. Their approach is as methodical as it is varied, however, and there is little doubt that the impact the pair are having on the philanthropic world will resonate for generations to come.
Pierre became a billionaire in the early days of the tech boom, finding extraordinary success with his creation of eBay, where he still sits as chairman. Along with his wealth, he became one of the first of the Silicon Valley elite to pursue philanthropy, and since founding the Omidyar Network in 2004, his commitment to improving the world has only increased. The Omidyar Network has allowed Pam and Pierre to become philanthropic innovators and investors, funding creative and unique efforts that can both tackle problems and ensure sustainability.
Along with the Omidyar Network, Pam and Pierre have pioneered a number of other foundations to address directly some of the most pressing issues in the world today. HopeLab, which was founded by Pam in 2001, focuses on using cutting edge technology to engage young people and improve their health. What started as an idea to create a video game to help kids fight cancer gradually became much bigger and even bolder. With a generation that sees technology as second nature, HopeLab is leveraging that innate connection to bring about behavior change, enhance human connection, and increase capacity for self-efficacy. Like a spoonful of sugar with medicine, kids are having enough fun that the lessons learned hardly seem like lessons at all.
Humanity United, another of their projects, was founded in 2008 to bring new approaches to some of the biggest and most challenging problems facing mankind, including human trafficking, mass atrocities, and violent conflict. Again, the search for a unique approach is paramount, especially since many of these troubles have existed for as long as human history. The global reach of the foundation is particularly impressive, confronting diverse issues – peace building in Sudan, treatment of migrant workers creating the World Cup facilities in Qatar, and forced labor in the Thai seafood industry. As Pam said, “When humanity is united, we can act together to create a powerful force for human dignity.”
What is even more remarkable is that these enormous efforts only scratch the surface of Pam and Pierre’s work so far. While they have maintained a modest lifestyle, the total scope of their work is a challenge to comprehend fully. They are just as enthusiastic about local initiatives in Hawaii as they are about national efforts for fair representation through the Democracy Fund. Most recently, they have become passionate advocates for free speech and trustworthy journalism through the global media platform The World Post and First Look Media. Jeff Skoll, another Carnegie Medalist who is a close friend and colleague put it succinctly: “Pierre is dedicated to social change and he will, deservedly, someday be acknowledged as the Rockefeller or Carnegie of our times.” With their all-encompassing approach and focus on innovation, Pam and Pierre have quickly become the 21st century model of philanthropists.
How Foundations are Helping Ensure Americans’ Access to the Voting Booth
Democracy is precious. It means everyone’s voice being heard. Sometimes, that simple concept is lost, however.
When Marvin Brown, a 90-year-old Army Air Corps veteran, registered to vote by submitting a federal form, he discovered he needed additional proof of citizenship to cast a ballot in local and state elections. Kansas’s new dual registration system meant that while he could vote in the presidential race, he had to supply more documents to elect his local representatives.
For Brown, that missing document was his birth certificate, which was in a different state. His case is one of four lawsuits the ACLU filed against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, arguing the rule was affecting at least 19,000 Kansans. The ACLU won the case in trial court, and it is now under appeal.
Brown says: “My family has been in Kansas since about 1850. It’s wrong that a bunch of so-called leaders would tell me that I have to show a bunch of extra documents before I can vote. As a military veteran who fought to protect our democracy, it’s particularly offensive.’
The case of course has wide-scale implications. “It just shows how extreme these laws have gotten,” says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Usually, the way things work is, if there is reason to think you may not be eligible to vote, they say, ‘Maybe we’ll double check.’ But instead, we’re flipping the process around, where we are double-checking everyone, including a 90-year-old World War II veteran. It’s just insane.”
Philanthropic organizations have long funded work on issues such as election integrity, voter access and education. In recent years, many states have passed laws that make it harder to vote – purportedly to reduce fraud, and efforts by the current administration are making voting rights organizations and civil rights groups even more worried. Foundations focused on democratic rights and civic engagement are supporting litigation and advocacy, as well as outreach efforts. But given the current threat to Americans’ right to vote, there seems to be agreement that philanthropy needs to do more.
Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations (OSF) are some of the long-term funders of voting rights work. Some say they have stepped up funding of litigation in recent years due to a spate of laws making voting more difficult, as well as a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County vs. Holder, that gutted major parts of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 law that helped prevent racial discrimination in voting.
Carnegie Corporation, for example, funds a coalition of ten public interest law firms that work to protect the right to vote, says Geri Mannion, the foundation’s program director of the U.S. Democracy and Special Opportunities Fund.
“Our viewpoint is that we want every citizen to have their voices heard and their votes count,” she says, “especially those who are at a disadvantage.”
Since the 2010 election, hundreds of measures have made it harder for Americans to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Ten states have put in place burdensome voter ID requirements, seven have made it harder to register to vote, six have cut back on early voting options, and three have made it harder for people with past criminal convictions to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. In 2017, at least 99 bills to restrict access to the ballot have been introduced in 31 states, and five states have enacted laws making it harder to vote.
Voting Restrictions in America
The restrictions often disproportionately burden minorities, low-income individuals, students, and people with disabilities, who may have a harder time accessing and paying for required IDs, reaching Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) in remote and rural locations, or getting to far-off polling stations. For example, up to 25 percent of African-Americans lack government-issued ID, compared to only 8 percent of whites.
Other voting restrictions can also have discriminatory effect, such as cutting early voting days, as minorities often rely more on such options. In 2012, black voters in Ohio voted early at twice the rate as whites. In some places, the Sunday before Election Day has historically been the busiest voting day for blacks, thanks to “souls to the polls” events after church. In a legal case in North Carolina, a court said that cutting Sunday voting is equivalent to a “smoking gun” regarding discrimination. Limiting early voting days, imposing voter ID requirements and changing registration requirements target blacks “with almost surgical precision,” the court said.
Julie Fernandes, OSF’s advocacy director for voting rights and democracy, says the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder opened the doors for such troubling laws. The ruling removed a requirement for states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get pre-approval for changes in their voting laws by the Department of Justice.
“Now that the protections of Shelby are gone, we’re seeing much more intentional racial discrimination and voter suppression efforts,” she says. “The funders are waking up to that, and saying, ‘This is a real crisis – what are we going to do about it?’”
Between 2011 and 2016, 309 funders distributed 1,859 grants totaling more than $222 million for voter turnout and access, according to the Foundation Center. Litigation was the most popular area, followed closely by advocacy and public policy, then coalition building. Some of the key recent successes have come from lawsuits, with courts striking down laws such as Texas’s voter ID and redistricting laws, and North Carolina’s voter ID law. The Supreme Court recently said it will hear a key gerrymandering case, which could influence how electoral district lines are drawn across the country.
Between 2012 and 2016, the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project won or settled 15 cases in 12 states protecting the voting rights of more than five million people, Ho says. Before the election, the project planned to grow from five to seven attorneys, but the current plan is to expand to eleven. Ho says that foundations and individual donors are to thank for that.
Foundation executives say they are responding by ensuring their grantees have funding that is long-term and flexible, so they can quickly address new developments. For example, when the commission sent its request for information, one of Ford’s grantees, Color of Change, quickly reached out to its members to put pressure on secretaries of state not to comply.
Still, some say there has not been enough support given the threat level. Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the national office of the Advancement Project, says the civil rights organization has not seen spikes in donations, like Planned Parenthood has seen in light of recent attacks on reproductive rights. Often, foundations increase funding only during election years, but that means many restrictive measures get passed in between, Browne Dianis says.
“That is not how we should be safeguarding democracy,” she says. “Our democracy deserves a continued, vigilant watchdog apparatus. “I think the challenge is to get more funders into this space.”
The Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, which brings grantmakers together, is seeing more interest from foundations looking to get involved with voting rights and civic engagement, Executive Director Eric Marshall says. Last year, the committee added 16 members – the most in its nearly 35-year history. In the first half of this year, it has already added another 16 members, giving a total of 85.
“While there is increased interest, there is still a tremendous gap that philanthropy can fulfill,” he says, adding foundations should be willing to invest in the long-term fight to protect the right to vote. “Foundations need to think about what interim success looks like and trust organizations with strong track records, follow advice on the ground and trust that even if there is short-term failure, you’ll see success in the long term.”
Browne Dianis says some foundations inaccurately view voting rights work as political. Another challenge is that sometimes, money for voting work competes with dollars for political candidates, she says.
“It’s great if you can fund a great candidate,” she says, “but if the election gets stolen, what’s the point? I think the individual donors miss that. If we don’t get the voting piece right, then Americans won’t be heading to the voting booth.”
One important tool for fair elections is the census, which is done once every 10 years and is scheduled for 2020. The census helps determine everything from legislative districts to congressional apportionment. Because the current administration has been openly anti-immigrant, many funders say they are concerned people in immigrant communities will be afraid to provide census information to the government. A number of foundations have been pooling resources together to fund outreach around the census, ensuring it is conducted fairly and accurately, and that it is adequately staffed and financed.
“There is deliberate intention in the funder community to pay attention to the census given its significance, and to invest resources earlier than has happened in the past,” says Erika Wood, Ford’s program officer for civic engagement and government.
Wood and others say another key area is election administration and modernization, as the election system is underfunded and outdated. Poll workers, including volunteers, are often not well trained, Carnegie Corporation’s Mannion says.
“The fact is that our country talks a lot about democracy, but it really doesn’t put money where its mouth is,” she says. “Imagine running your business on volunteers and the biggest sale day of the year, you rely on them to show up?”
Some philanthropists are funding modernization efforts, while others are focusing on state-based capacity-building, restoring the right to vote for people with past criminal records, or proactively advocating for laws that make voting easier. But regardless of their priorities, foundation executives agree: in a democracy, the right to vote is worth fighting for.
As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said: ‘Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.’
Author and Scotsman Robert Louis Stevenson is quoted as saying, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” Andrew Carnegie’s approach to philanthropy is evidence of how wise these words are, with Carnegie institutions and libraries flourishing throughout the world, still providing invaluable resources to people every day. Another wealthy Scotsman, Sir Tom Hunter, is following this prestigious lead. Along with being Scotland’s first home-grown billionaire, he has also proven himself to be an extraordinary gift giver, planting all sorts of seeds as he puts his wealth to work.
Many of Sir Tom’s gifts come through his own Hunter Foundation. Since its inception in 1998, it has put over £50 million toward education, international development, and Scottish entrepreneurship. The Foundation’s work has found some high profile supporters, including former US President Barack Obama. Sir Tom gave him a Scottish tartan to thank him for the support. It was not just any Scottish tartan, but a specially created Obama tartan, designed with his history in mind and registered in the Scottish Register of Tartans.
With much of the gift giving based in Scotland, Sir Tom has found multiple ways to both make a sustainable impact as well as honor the country he so clearly loves. The Royal Bank of Scotland Kiltwalk is an annual charity fundraiser that lets any charity get involved, and The Hunter Foundation adds to all fundraising with an additional 40%. On top of that, The Hunter Foundation gave additional money for every hour of time worked by volunteers at the event. Yet another way to spread the seeds of wealth to many deserving recipients.
Known to be quite a personality, it is fascinating to see who has been influenced Sir Tom, and in turn, who he has influenced. He has put in the initial funding for a Billy Connolly statue in the funnyman’s hometown Glasgow, acknowledging the impact the Scottish comedian had on many lives, including his own. And coming full circle, comedian and documentarian Louise Reay credits Sir Tom with inspiring her to focus on comedy full time, telling iNews, “I once filmed the Scottish entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter give a motivational speech to some school kids. He was amazing and spoke about the importance of going for what you want and not waiting for permission. It’s so cheesy I know, but this actually is what inspired me to go for it and make my first solo hour comedy show.”
When signing the Giving Pledge to donate the majority of his wealth to philanthropy, Sir Tom wrote, “We don’t want to be the richest guys in the graveyard, we want to “do good” while we are still alive. Why let others have all the fun?” – echoing Andrew Carnegie’s “The man who dies rich, dies disgraced.” The world is lucky to bear witness to someone heavily influenced by these words who is giving his money away with such purpose, spirit and panache. And he will continue planting seeds of inspiration and empowerment, allowing good to take root in his name.
Mei Hing Chak has seen incredible success in her life, often after pushing against the traditional way of doing things. As a businesswoman in China, she is in a class of her own. The growth of her Heungkong Group would be a crowning achievement for any business leader. But for Ms. Chak, her greatest source of pride is the Heungkong Charitable Foundation, China’s first non-publically sourced foundation. With her success in business and her groundbreaking work in philanthropy, she has found a way to inspire all levels of society.
While the Heungkong Charitable Foundation has been in operation for over a decade, Ms. Chak’s passion for philanthropy goes back much further. Since founding the Heungkong Group with her husband, Liu Zhiqiang, the conglomerate has given away $150 million to various causes. Prior to that, Ms. Chak demonstrated exceptional business acumen, as well as bold confidence. Instead of choosing the typical route and sitting for college entrance exams, she jumped straight into creating a company and running a business. The education she received through this experience set her up for the great success that she would find throughout the coming decades.
Taking a page right out of Andrew Carnegie’s book, Ms. Chak and the Heungkong Charitable Foundation seek to do “real and permanent good in this world.” The scope of these efforts is truly remarkable. Over the years, the foundation has worked tirelessly in education, poverty alleviation, and rescue and disaster relief. Early efforts found both success and support, with ambitious projects including the “Five 1,000 Project”, in which they built a thousand charity libraries, helped a thousand impoverished families, sponsored a thousand orphans, subsidized a thousand underprivileged students and recruited a thousand volunteers.
Since 2005, the foundation has reached over two million people, but just as notable is the standard they set. China now has over 3,300 registered non-profit charity foundations, all of which look to Heungkong Charitable Foundation as their forebear. The Foundation is finding success not only in the work they are doing, but also in their vision of “making charity a kind of fashion, style and culture.” And Ms. Chak is not slowing down, having received prestigious awards including “Children’s Humanitarian of China,” “Most Active Woman of China,” and “The First Poverty Alleviation Medal in China.” Her impact has been so notable that she was chosen to be the 100th torchbearer of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Ms. Chak’s faith in her vision has not only been a boon to her business efforts, but has been an inspiration to millions, especially to women throughout China who aspire to greatness. And her success has only made her more engaged in philanthropy, which she says is her main motivation to remain involved in her commercial efforts. In 2011, she told the BBC: “When I started my business, I wanted to escape from poverty. But I’ve come to think that our real value lies in what we should be contributing to society.” Certainly, she is an inspiration both in the business and philanthropic sectors, showing what can be achieved and what is worth fighting for.
How do you measure good? That is the challenge facing the philanthropic sector. In storybooks it is easy, of course. A fairy waves a magic wand, Snow White smiles. The real world is less straightforward.
Now, help has arrived, in the form of analytical programs that seek to measure impact and bring science to the world of giving. GuideStar Platinum, a platform that allows nonprofit organizations to submit information about their progress and results, celebrated its first birthday in May. More than 2,100 organizations have provided information to date, and the goal is to reach about 10,000 by 2020, says Eva Nico, GuideStar’s director of nonprofit programs.
This additional data is creating more transparency, but measuring impact in the nonprofit sector remains a major challenge, she says. “There is such a broad variety of outcomes that it’s hard to get to a way of assessing impact,” Nico says. “It’s one very small word that stands for many different things.”
GuideStar Platinum tries to answer at least some questions about results. Donors and other players in the philanthropic field are increasingly demanding data on outcomes and impact, and the sector is grappling with how to best collect and use such information.
About 70 percent of organizations using GuideStar Platinum are choosing pre-selected measuring tools to describe their results, while 30 percent rely on custom measures, Nico says. The hope is that over time, it will be possible to determine which measures best define success, so it is easier to see who is performing the best. A long-term goal is to allow users to search by outcome, for example, “graduation rate” for an educational program.
Other platforms and organizations that try to measure impact have also popped up in recent years. ImpactMatters creates “impact audits” to measure nonprofit organizations’ results. Dean Karlan, a Yale economics professor who started the organization in late 2015, says half a dozen audits have been completed so far. The goal is to develop standards that others could mimic, he says.
“There is tremendous demand for data, but it’s a question of focusing it in the right way and creating a clear product that can be systematically applied to lots of organizations,” Karlan says.
Another organization is GiveWell, which conducts in-depth research on programs’ accomplishments and ranks the top charities. But it is limited in scope, as it focuses on a small number of charities. The organization is often cited as an example of “effective altruism,” a movement that encourages people to consider a number of questions and evidence to determine which charities and causes have the greatest impact.
The field of effective altruism is growing, but out of the top 50 donors, only a couple are true effective altruists — Dustin Moskovitz, the Facebook co-founder, and his wife, Cari Tuna, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
“I think [effective altruism] is adding rigor to how donors think about things and it’s getting more popular, but I don’t think it’s transformed the way people give,” Palmer says. “It’s forced a lot of people to ask, ‘How do I make sure my money goes the furthest?’ instead of ‘What is it that makes me feel good as a donor?”
Many nonprofit organizations want to produce better data, but lack the funding and trained staff needed to conduct proper evaluations, Palmer says. She adds that some funders are now incorporating this cost into their grants.
Charity watchdog groups say they are aware of donors’ hunger for impact data, but are still trying to figure out best to quantify an often elusive concept. As part of its efforts, Charity Navigator is partnering with others in the field to make available data from 1.5 million digitized tax records filed by nonprofit organizations. The hope is to be able to map and analyze the data, says David Bruce Borenstein, Charity Navigator’s lead data scientist.
“This work is, in one sense, the Rosetta Stone — it allows us to greatly expand our comprehension of how the nonprofit sector ticks,” Borenstein says. “On the other hand, it’s a Pandora’s box, because it opens up the door to profound misinterpretation, misunderstanding and finger-pointing, some of which may be fair and deserved, and some of which may not. It runs the risk of introducing new myths about what makes organizations work and not.”
Another challenge is that many foundations and nonprofit organizations remain apprehensive about providing more data. Dan Petegorsky, senior fellow and director of public policy at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, says it is important to distinguish when data is being collected as part of a grant from when it’s being gathered as part of a learning environment.
Petegorsky also says he is concerned about the growing disregard for data in the current political environment. He mentions the recent attitude to reports from the Congressional Budget Office as one example.
“We do have to address the fact that data itself is under attack and being politicized,” he says. “That is something that is certainly a mark of the moment and something that is relatively new for philanthropy to try to take on.”
When it comes to measuring impact, there is no shortage of challenges, but the philanthropic field seems eager to tackle them. The biggest question remains: how do you measure success on issues that may take years, or even decades, to change? Ultimately, however, analysing philanthropic efforts will allow us to target resources more effectively and show those who want to help others what their generosity achieves.
One might be inclined to think that there is nothing that Sir James D. Wolfensohn cannot do. He has received the most prestigious honors from around the world, mastered an eclectic and diverse number of disciplines, and has fought tirelessly to make the world a better place. He is a true renaissance man, and those who only know him as a past president of the World Bank or from his success at his own investment and advisory firm are aware of just a small part of Sir James’ story.
Many who have found this level of success are, unsurprisingly, tough individuals. But few embody this quality quite as literally as Sir James. He served as an officer in the Royal Australian Airforce and went to the 1956 Olympics as a member of the Australian fencing team. And along with his more well-known enterprises, he has shown exacting mental resilience in positions such as special envoy for Gaza disengagement and as a member of the American Philosophical Society. This all-around strength has made him a much sought after leader, and he regularly brings organizations to a level of success that was previously unimaginable.
One of Sir James’ most enduring connections has been with the distinguished Carnegie Hall. Starting out as a board member in 1970, Sir James later rose to become chairman of the board for over a decade. Within those years he led an extraordinarily successful effort to restore the New York landmark to its former glory. But he also took the more traditional approach to getting to Carnegie Hall – Practice, practice, practice. At the age of 41, he began taking cello lessons from the renowned player Jacqueline du Pré, with the understanding that he would grace the stage of the Hall on his 50th birthday. Not only did he succeed in this brave ambition, but he has held repeat performances, pulling along some top-notch talent including Yo-Yo Ma and Bono.
Sir James’ far reaching passions also include a variety of academic pursuits. A member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, he spent many years as chairman of the board for the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University. Upon finishing his second term as president of the World Bank, he set up the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institute, which ran for five years and studied topics including poverty alleviation, youth development, and economic reform.
Thanks to his public service, as well as his time spent fighting corruption when he was at the head of the World Bank, Sir James is widely respected across the political spectrum and around the world. He has been honored by more countries than most people have visited. These include a knighthood of the Order of the British Empire (KBE), the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun of Japan, the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the award of Officer of the Order of Australia (AO).
In a rare interview with The Australian, Sir James spoke about his ability to give, saying, “Quite honestly it was something I always had in my mind as a kid but it proved to be totally beyond me, but when I started to do a bit better and the bank account was not in debt then one of the things I immediately thought about was how can one contribute to society in a different way?” The world is certainly a better place thanks to his passionate approach to life and philanthropy.
Shelby White has elevated philanthropy to an art form, with both style and substance in all her decisions. Frankly, she is very good at giving money away. She has been deeply involved in philanthropy for many years, starting by helping her husband, Leon Levy, decide how to put his wealth to good use. Many decades later, she has only increased her impact on the world of giving, and her connections to the causes she supports makes it clear that being a philanthropist was her true calling.
Ms. White’s philanthropy can be read as a love letter to what shaped her, what she’s passionate about, and what she values. She and her husband were a great team, giving millions of dollars to a wide variety of organizations, so it was little surprise that the Leon Levy Foundation sprang up in 2004, shortly after his passing. Since then, Ms. White has been the unwavering leader, ensuring that her husband’s fortune would be put to good use.
The variety of programs run by the Foundation might seem somewhat disparate, but they are all causes for which Ms. White has an undeniable passion. The Leon Levy Fellowship for Neuroscience is her opportunity to best honor her late husband, focusing on his interest in finding out just how the brain works and its impact on human behavior. It is the one program in the Foundation that bears his name, the rest speaking to the shared passions of the couple.
Ever since working at Encyclopedia Britannica, Ms. White has loved studies of the ancient world – she and her husband were avid collectors of art from ancient civilizations. The Foundation, unsurprisingly, has done lots of work in related studies and archeology. Less expected is how often Ms. White (literally) gets her hands dirty in these matters, taking part in yearly digs in Israel, including being part of the team that discovered the ancient Canaanite city of Ashkelon. As she told Philanthropy Roundtable, “I like to dig. What shall I say? I love to be in a little hole the size of a small box for five hours in the broiling sun digging up a pot or a bone. I find doing this kind of detailed work exciting.” And she is just as eager about teaching as she is about donating, regularly giving her time and resources to museums, schools and institutions.
Brooklyn is lucky to be able to call Ms. White a hometown girl. A daughter of immigrant parents in the city, she has been a reliable resource for funding many things that beautify and enrich both the borough and all of New York City. Along with being a member of the board for the New York Botanical Garden, she has also contributed significantly to both Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. One can imagine how much joy and peace these places brought to a young girl growing up in the bustling metropolis. And the Leon Levy Foundation has been a key benefactor to the Brooklyn Public Library, which remains one of the best free resources that the city has to offer.
Thanks to a wide variety of interests and passions, it is almost impossible to talk about all the work Ms. White and the Leon Levy Foundation has done. Her work as a successful journalist and author have inspired free speech programs, growing up in a Jewish immigrant family has brought about significant support for Jewish cultural institutions in New York, and her childhood in the Brooklyn Birding Club has resulted in numerous efforts to save our feathered friends. The things that have provided Ms. White with inspiration and happiness are the focus of the Foundation, ensuring that they will provide similar delights and motivation to many others. She is surely a model to others who wish to give, and has also built a lasting legacy to her late husband.