Sing it Out Loud: an Argument for Making Philanthropy as Public as Possible

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen has helped Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Saleforce’s Marc Benioff and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey work out where to direct their charitable donations.

And one of her key pieces of advice to others mulling whether to give is to resist an urge toward chivalrous modesty. Calling out gifts, she says, keeps the lines of communications open, making it easier for individuals to maximize the positive impact of their offerings.

Arrillaga-Andreessen is the author of “Giving 2.0: Transforming your Giving and Our World”. The books sets out to challenge the set-and-forget modes of philanthropy, where individuals regularly send a check to the same old organization.

“It’s every philanthropist’s responsibility to make sure that the investment they make to an organization, whatever form that takes, is actually creating measurable impact,” she told the Stanford Graduate School of Business this week.

“IT’S EVERY PHILANTHROPIST’S RESPONSIBILITY TO MAKE SURE THEIR INVESTMENTS CREATE MEASURABLE IMPACT.”

“Every decision that we make to invest in one nonprofit is a decision not to invest in countless others, and in philanthropy, accountability is self-imposed.”

A recent survey of the world’s wealthiest businesspeople by Wealth-X found that philanthropy has emerged as their favorite hobby, possibly due to increased media coverage and recognition of philanthropic endeavors pursued by Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, to name a few. Donors, however, need not be billionaires to be considered philanthropists: it’s all about being prepared to give from a portfolio of resources, whether it’s financial capital, intellectual capital or network capital.

Still, superstar CEOs past and present feature heavily in lists of the world’s top philanthropists, with Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, topping this year’s Philanthropy 50, issued last month by the Philanthropy Chronicle. The Knights took the top spot for the first time after giving $900 million in 2016: $500 million to the University of Oregon and $400 million to Stanford.

If fact, colleges and universities accounted for the lion’s share of donations, accounting for nearly half of the money contributed by the top 50 donors. Also making the list were media magnate and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, former hedge fund manager John Arnold, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and private equity executive Robert Smith.

They’d do well to talk among each other: according to Arrillaga-Andreessen, the vast majority of givers base their decisions on limited exposure, whether it’s a brochure that came in the mail, an email they’ve received or an organization that’s touched them personally.

That means they could miss out on information about donations going to the wrong places. How many people, for example, are aware that giving to colleges could come under more scrutiny as Congress considers tax changes later this year?

“They’re making decisions in isolation based on one perspective, one set of experiences, or one portfolio of knowledge,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest failures of philanthropy —the incessant reinvention of the social-change wheel.”

When she’s teaching philanthropists, Arrillaga-Andreessen said she urges them to share their knowledge, preferably in an expansive or viral fashion.

“We have a moral imperative to express our generosity in a way that matters more than just signing our name or clicking on “donate now”.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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