People choose to engage in philanthropy for any number of reasons: to solve pressing social problems, to act on religious or philosophic beliefs that privilege entails responsibility toward the less fortunate, to instill altruistic values in their children, to achieve recognition, or to give meaning to their lives.
Regardless of motive, philanthropists want to use their money to best effect. Yet the history of philanthropic efforts to improve the world—from reducing drug addiction and high-school dropout rates to protecting ecosystems to ameliorating global disease and poverty— demonstrates how difficult it is to actually make a difference.
There are three basic requirements for having real impact as a philanthropist: money, motivation, and a winning strategy. You need to bring the first two to the table; this book serves up the third. Strategy matters in philanthropy, just as it does in investing, running businesses, and conducting wars. Although it cannot ensure success, it improves the odds, and its absence virtually ensures failure.
Effective grantmaking requires strategies based on clear goals, sound evidence, diligent care in selecting which organizations to fund, and provisions for assessing the results—good or bad. Whether you are giving away $100,000 or $1 billion a year, your funds are not unlimited, and a good strategy can multiply their impact many times over.
Our goal is to help you make the world a better place according to your own lights. We do not presume to tell you either how much to give or what passions to pursue. Those are personal choices. A philanthropist’s conception of what is good for society determines his or her philanthropic goals, and these values can vary greatly. You may wish to promote the arts, religion, social services, education, health and medicine, or world peace; or protect the environment; or support the search for extraterrestrial life. You may want to stimulate social change, preserve the status quo, or return to halcyon days gone by. Your choice of goals—commissioning symphonies versus supporting the destitute— can be debated from a moral point of view, but such issues are outside the scope of this book. The subjects considered here are relevant to all philanthropic goals. They are as useful for advocates of gun control as for those who want to protect Americans’ right to bear arms; for opponents of abortion as for proponents of a woman’s right to choose.
Philanthropy can be conducted in many different ways, ranging from writing checks at your kitchen table to supporting a fully staffed foundation. We’ll touch on these alternatives later in the book, after you have a better sense of both the possibilities and the demands of strategic philanthropy. But we should disclose at the outset that it requires a great deal of focus, time, energy, and consultation.
As individual philanthropists come to see what’s required to make a real difference, they often conclude that high-impact philanthropy is not a one-person, part-time operation. It usually requires at least some professional staff. That’s why most of our examples are drawn from foundations with several program officers. If, as you read the following pages, you decide that you can’t or don’t want to do it on your own, but don’t have the resources or interest to establish a staffed foundation, there are other options. For example, you can follow Warren Buffett’s lead and place your assets in a trusted private foundation, or put them in a strategically oriented community foundation or in one of the increasing number of funds that manage portfolios of grants domestically and in developing countries.
In any event, our book is intended not only for those who amass or inherit the fortunes that make large-scale philanthropy possible but also for the many others who counsel them and help spend their money. It should also be useful to the directors and staff members of the myriad not-for-profit organizations that seek support from individual donors and foundations.