We'd like to share with you the new reflections by our dear colleague Randy Kaufman about how and why Impact Investing is fast becoming an integral part of the financial and investment landscape around the world.
As 2016 comes to a close, we are happy to share with you the feature story in Barron's Penta's December 10th issue that portrays millennials across the country who are taking philanthropic impact to new heights and implementing values-based investing within their family foundations.
Wealth & Giving Forum is pleased to have been consulted by Barron's on this story...
"The new generation is coming into the conversation with positive energy and values grounded in facts and analysis. There’s learning taking place on both sides.”
Please click here to read more.
As we look back on 2015, and in particular on several major events and announcements since early July, it may just go down as the year in which socially oriented and impact investing finally entered the mainstream world of wealth and finance. Here's a quick scan:
- In mid-July, Goldman Sachs acquired Imprint Capital, an asset-management firm founded in 2007 that advises clients on investing based on their environmental, social and governance views. The San Francisco-based firm has more than $550 million of assets under advisement.
- On November, 19th, the New York Times reported that "Buffett's Grandson Seeks Own Investment Route: Social Change". Howard Warren Buffett, who keynoted the Wealth & Giving Forum's October 2013 "Seeking Impact" symposium, announced the formation of i(x)Investments to invest in ventures and undervalued companies that address clean energy, sustainable agriculture and water scarcity issues. Howard's move signals a significant generational shift that is well underway when it comes to money matters and the definition of "returns".
- Also back in July, Big Path Capital hosted its first Impact Capitalism Summit in Nantucket that gather some 150 thought leaders, fund companies and investors in a two-day interactive forum on the field. Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts Governor who now spearheads Bain Capital impact investing, mingled among wife and husband team Liesel Pritzker and Ian Simmons of Blue Haven Initiative, Matthew Bishop, U.S. Business Editor of The Economist who coined he the term "Philanthrocapitalism" back in 2008, and Nancy Pfund of DBL Partners and Amelia Swan Baxter, Co-Founder of Whole Trees, to mention a few of several fund companies on hand.
- In mid-November, Ford Foundation CEO, Darren Walker, announced that the nation's second-largest private foundation would soon outline an impact investing policy for its $12 billion endowment, a move many signaled as a wake-up call for the $650 billion in philanthropic capital sitting in endowments. Walker weighed in with his personal conviction, stating that: "I no longer find it defensible to say that our investment strategy is only to maximize the value of our endowment - just as it's no longer defensible for a corporation to say its only responsibility is to maximize shareholder value."
- Perhaps the most significant signal of change came in mid-October when the Department of Labor announced that pension fund fiduciaries can consider ESG factors in their investment decisions without running afoul of Department's standard. This decision reversed the Labor Department's 2008 interpretative bulletin that discouraged plan fiduciaries from considering environmental, social and governance factors.
It is worth noting that in announcing the Labor Department's decision, Secretary Thomas Perez was careful to emphasize that "Changes in the financial markets since that time [2008}, particularly improved metrics and tools allowing for better analyses of investments, make this the right time to clarify our position." Under the new guidance, Interpretive Bulletin 2015-01, fiduciaries cannot accept lower expected returns or greater risks, but may take ESG benefits into account as "tiebreakers" when investments are otherwise equal. And the DOL went further by suggesting that when ESG factors have a direct relationship to the economic and financial value of an investment, "...these factors are more than just tiebreakers".
In this context, it is also worth heeding the observation and wisdom of the aforementioned Darren Walker, who opined in a December 17 New York Times piece "Why Giving Back Isn't Enough". In his Op/Ed, Walker outlined the shortcomings of classic philanthropy generally and specifically when it comes to addressing injustice and inequality in our society. Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. -- "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary" --Walker reminds us that philanthropy "... is, after all, an offspring of the free market; it is enabled by returns on capital." He also asks us to probe more deeply: "... philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why."
It is perhaps such probing that led the High Water Women (HWW) organization - which is comprised of 3,500 women professionals in the financial services and has a mission to promote volunteerism and philanthropic giving -- to begin organizing impact Investing conferences. The very same week as the DOL decision, HWW hosted its 3rd annual event at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in the heart of Manhattan. Some 300 professionals, academics and investors were on hand to exchange ideas and implementable practices in the brave new work of impact investing.
As a not so inconsequential aside, women are clearly out in front in adopting and even promoting the social and financial return virtues of impact investing. A recent survey found that over half of wealthy women in expressed an interest in social and environmental investing versus only one-third of wealthy men. With women poised to inherit some 70 percent of the $41 trillion to be inherited over the next four decades, impact investing's star should keep rising.
In that vain, it was revealing and even fascinating to hear the vigorous voices of leadership in the HWW conference's breakout sessions entitled "The Whole Portfolio Approach" in which five female professionals -- representing a full spectrum of financial and nonprofit perspectives -- presented a compelling case for a more expansive and creative use of a foundation's or endowment's assets to achieve an organization's mission. With conviction and mounds of data, the five panelists presented investments made in housing, clean energy and employment opportunities for at-risk populations that achieved significant measurable social outcomes that advanced fund or foundation's mission without sacrificing, and in some cased enhancing, investment returns.
While the panelists' passion for the "whole-portfolio" approach was evident, hard-knocks financials ruled the discussion. In fact, Preeti Bhattacharji of the FB Heron Foundation - a pioneer of mission-related investing with roughly $240 million in investable assets -- spoke about the Foundation's capital structure and sources and use of its cash with the fluency of the CFO of a Fortune 500 company or a classic hedge fund manager. And Laura Kind McKenna of the Patricia Kind Family Foundation was unequivocal in her view that fence sitters and even naysayers should "just do it". For Laura and her fellow panelists, there should be no hesitancy on the part of any mission directed organization or individual "values-based" investor to embrace the opportunity when one considers the evidence, available tools and the practical pathways to implementation.
It does then beg the question as to why and how fiduciaries of philanthropic capital could continue to justify excluding ESG or impact-oriented investments when one considers the tangible social and financial return potential of these options and the fiduciaries' own obligations as stewards of mission-driven assets. Indeed, this question was posed during the "Whole Portfolio" session and an unidentified participant in the room suggested that the explanation could be found within a "certain profile" of board trustees and investment committee members -- let's just say 50+ in age, non-female and a similar shade of skin. Tongue-in-cheek commenting aside, surely engrained thinking and patterns among an old guard coupled with simple inertia may explain the resistance to change.
Nonetheless, the resistance is puzzling when one considers the following: In the world of business and finance, no one in her of his rational economic mind would contemplate investing in a company that sub-optimized its use of capital, had a capital structure where the type of debt instrument did not match the time-horizon or risk of the initiative it was funding, or that under-budgeted and did not hold accountable a critical cost center. But it seems that when even the most "business savvy persons" venture onto nonprofit boards or investment committee, they immediately compartmentalize and are apt to accept the prevailing mode of nonprofit investment and cash management. Namely, they stay true to the mantra that the investment committee will invest the 95% corpus with the classic "highest possible risk-adjusted return" objective without regard for the investment's negative social externalities, sub-optimization of the organization's objectives, mission misalignment, and/or seriously undermining grants recently doled out. Meanwhile, the program department fulfills its grant making separately from investment decisions in strategically isolated offices that are most often on a separate floor.
As, Ms. McKenna, concluded the "Whole Portfolio" panel, there are no more excuses given the evidence and the multitude of impact investing vehicles and tools now available to investors. She also invited attendees to review PKF Foundation's investment policy statement on Foundation's website that posits: "We believe that by separating our invested assets from our grant making we will limit our ability to further our mission". Board trustees and investment committee members would be well-served by borrowing from PKF's ISP and exploring the potential of the Whole Portfolio Approach when fulfilling their fiduciary duty to advance a nonprofit's mission.
So as we approach the New Year, let us hope that more women and men will follow Mr. Walker's lead and explore "the how and why of what is happening in the world" and establish an impact investing policy for the institutional capital they steward, and perhaps for their own.
May your 2016 bring you much prosperity, sustainability and good health...and to the world we all inhabit as well.
Following the Wealth & Giving Forum's support of the Big Path Capital Impact Capitalism Summit in Nantucket this past July, we are pleased to announce that BPC will be hosting a series of gatherings around the country in the coming months and well into 2016.
These gatherings will feature specific investment opportunities and will also offer guests a fresh perspective on the growing impact investment ecosystem as well as ample time for meaningful networking.
Five Fund Forum - New York, Minneapolis, Denver, San Francisco October 13-16, 2015
Impact Capitalism Train Stop Tour - get on the Big Path:
- Seattle-Portland-Vancouver, Nov 3-5
- Silicon Valley-Los Angeles-San Diego, Jan 26-27
- Dallas-Houston-Austin, Feb 16-19
- Philadelphia-D.C., Jun 1-2
Impact Capitalism Summit Chicago April 26-27, 2016
Impact Capitalism Summit Nantucket July 20-21, 2016
For additional information about these events, please contact Shawn Lesser firstname.lastname@example.org or Jyoti Aggrwala email@example.com.
The Wealth & Giving Forum is pleased to announce our collaboration with Big Path Capital to host the Impact Capital Summit in Nantucket on July 15-16, 2015. This one and a half day forum is for investors interested in deploying capital across multiple asset classes for both financial return and social impact. Summer is a great time to reflect on your personal values and the purpose of your capital.
To learn more, click here: 2015 Impact Capital Summit
We are delighted to share this video of Vic Strecher’s moving On Purpose remarks at our “Seeking Impact Within” Symposium from October 2014.
Vic’s inspiring message emanates from his own deep reflections following the loss of his daughter, Julia, the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius and Victor Frankel, and the uncommon life lessons of dung beetles. It is a unique treasure for anyone seeking to explore his/her own purpose.
Congratulations to Brian Kaminer and his team at Invest with Values, for the creation and launch of a superb directory of the "impact" investment landscape. Brian and his team have compiled an invaluable guide to values-based and socially conscious investing. The Wealth & Giving Forum is a proud partner of Invest with Values.
Click here to learn more: Invest with Values
There are many perspectives on the value that Wealth & Giving Forum brings to the personal journey of philanthropic exploration. In Huffington Post's, "What to Ask a Thoughtful Billionaire", Damali Elliot, Petals-N-Belles founder and 2014 "Seeking Impact Within" Symposium attendee/presenter, shares her thoughts on the value of the unique dialogue W&GF aims to create and how it will continue to inform her perspectives on ways to make positive impact in the world.
A note of sincere thanks to you for joining us on October 9th. Your respect for one another, as well as your attentiveness and spirited engagement throughout the day, made our symposium a success for all.
We are sharing an updated version of the electronic brochure that includes guest commentary and a tribute to Julie Jacobs, our beloved team member who’s passing earlier this year left us with a void in our hearts but inspired us all. Her legacy lives on.
We are planning several special gatherings throughout 2015. Announcements will be forthcoming.
In the meantime, please let us know is we can facilitate connections for you as you pursue your respective endeavors in the months ahead.
We are pleased to share with you this unique opportunity to tour Swaziland and experience its uncommon landscape, the art of travel photography, and the power of craft to transform the world we live in.
This trip is organized by Nest in partnership with National Geographic’s traveler of the year and world-renowned photographer, Alison Wright. The timing is late October, a few weeks following our “Seeking Impact Within” Symposium on October 9th.
For additional information about this excursion, please click on the following link: Into the Heart of Africa: The Power of Craft – Swaziland
You may also contact Rebecca van Bergen, Founder and Executive Director of Nest at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wealth & Giving Forum is pleased to announce its role as a network collaborator of the Social Impact Exchange Annual Conference on June 18th-19th in New York City, and to offer members of our community a 50% registration discount.
The 2014 Conference on Scaling Impact is for foundation officers, philanthropists, corporate executives, trustees, wealth managers and philanthropy advisors interested in learning about innovative methods to support high-impact nonprofits in education, youth development, poverty alleviation, health and impact investing.
The conference includes presentations from foundation CEOs and nonprofit leaders, as well as knowledge sessions and peer networking opportunities. Conference themes includebuilding networks to support scale and financial sustainability at scale. The agenda will combine knowledge sessions and opportunities for taking direct action.
This year’s keynote speakers include Tonya Allen, The Skillman Foundation; Antony Bugg-Levine, Nonprofit Finance Fund; Isiah Thomas, Isiah International; Jeffrey Walker, former JP Morgan Partner; and Ken Zimmerman, Open Society Foundations.
To receive the special W&GF discount, visit the registration site and indicate in the drop down menu that you are invited by “Wealth & Giving Forum”. For more information, please see the announcement below and visit www.scalingconference.org.
Space is limited so we encourage you to register soon. Any questions should be sent to email@example.com, or call Nicole Kindred at 212-551-1148.
We are pleased to share with you that our friends and collaborators at Narrative 4 will host an event on Tuesday, May 20th, in New York City to celebrate its one-year anniversary. Among the featured guests will be Sting, Gabriel Byrne, and several award-winning writers.
The event will be held at the Penthouse of the Dream Downtown, a chic venue with an avant-garde ambiance. If you are interested in joining us, you can purchase your tickets by clicking here: N4 sponsorship/ticket package
Colum McCann, the novelist who founded Narrative 4, brought his powerful message of empathy and hope to the Wealth & Giving Forum’s “Seeking Impact” Symposium last October 2013. Colum has enlisted the support by many of the world’s leading authors and artists to promote empathy among trauma victims and generally in communities around the globe.
For additional information about Narrative 4 you can read the cover story of the May 4th issue of the New York Time’s Magazine or click here.
You can also visit N4’s website that lists the writers involved and features a short video of Colum and children who have benefited from his programs: www.narrative4.com.
We hope you’ll be able to join us for what promises to be a spirited and uplifting New York evening.
Just one short month ago we hosted our "Seeking Impact" Symposium at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. We invite you to view a brief video of the day's program below:
For those of you who joined us, many thanks for your contribution to open discourse about the achievement of positive outcomes through philanthropy and capital investments. For all members of our extended community, we are pleased to share with you:
- Barron's recent article about our symposium, entitled "The Giver's Club" (click here)
- A copy of All That Glitters, Emmanuel Faber's personal account of Danone Group's inspiring and impactful partnership with Mohamed Yunus and Grameen Enterprises (click here)
- Jin Zidell, founder of the Blue Planet Network, is offering you a copy of Blue Planet Run, an award-winning "coffee table" book that offers a visual summary of the water problems facing humanity and some solutions being pursued by organizations around the globe. To receive your copy, email Jin at firstname.lastname@example.org, and
- The Seeking Impact program and speaker bios (click here)
Featured keynote speaker, Howard Warren Buffett, shared his journey and his family's efforts to make a sustainable impact on global "food and water security" at our 2013 Symposium: Seeking Impact.
Read the article, "The Givers' Club", in Barron's PENTA to hear more about our intimate gathering and other individuals looking to make a change in the world.
May 10, 2012
12:00 - 2:00 pm
6 East 44th Street NYC
Brought to you by Wealth & Giving Forum and Hillview Capital Advisors, LLC.
The panelists will be comprised of nationally recognized philanthropists who will share their personal giving experiences and insights about achieving results:
- Angelica Berrie, President of the Russel Berrie Foundation, who was instrumental in establishing the Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Studies at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Angelica was the recipient of the Institute of International Education's Women's Global Leadership Award in 2011, and co-author of the recently published book A Passion for Giving.
- Ronald Bruder, Jewish-American Entrepeneur and founder of the Education for Employment (EFE), which hosts programs that teach Middle Eastern youth basic workplace skills. The EFE Network is comprised of affiliates in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen, with sister support organizations in Spain and the U.S. In 2011 Bruder was named on the TIME 100 list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
- Richard Jay, President of the Board of The Child Center of New York, an organization that helps 17,000 at-risk-youth succeed in life. He is a successful entrepreneur and former Chairman of Display Technologies.
- Glen Whitney, former hedge fund manager at Renaissance Technologies and Founder of the Museum for Math in New York. He was featured in Barron's "Five Fascinating Philanthropists" cover story, December 5, 2011.
This event is designed to foster and exchange of ideas and practices among those with the capacity to make philanthropic investments. Interactive discussion will be welcomed and encouraged. Space is limited and offered on a first-come basis. To reserve your seat now, e-mail Roxanne Ozoude at email@example.com
In our August 2011 Communique, Randy Hustvedt explores the ongoing debate about Outcomes, Measurement and Impact - and the need to respect the role of emotion and passion in philanthropy.
Click here to read: Wealth and Giving Forum Communique - August 2011
Philanthropists: Jean & Steve Case
Innovators: Marcus Hays and his design team at Pi Mobility
Evaluator: Perla Ni, Founder & CEO of Great Non-Profits
Citizen: Claire Gaudiani, author of Generosity Unbound
Environmentalists: Dennis Markatos-Soriano and the East Coast Greenway Alliance
Philanthropists: Jean & Steve Case
News broke some weeks ago that Jean and Steve Case are among the newest Giving Pledge signatories. But members of the W&GF community have known of their active engagement with peers to promote philanthropy and game-changing initiatives for years. At our 2007 gathering, the Cases joined in actively, conversing with their peers over casual meals, presenting their work to promote access to clean water, and making connections to advance causes near and dear to their hearts. Jean and Steve Case established the Case Foundation in 1997 to reflect their family’s commitment to finding lasting solutions for complex social challenges. The Foundation seeks to democratize philanthropy, encourage civic engagement, and promote new and innovative technologies to make giving more informed, efficient, and effective. We salute them for reminding their peers once again about the need to give, but are even more appreciative that they've been promoting engaged and effective philanthropy for fourteen years. With respect to The Giving Pledge, see the excerpts below about its limits authored by Aaron Dorfman of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. Mr. Dorfman has also expressed his views that the Pledge will have "an extremely small impact on total giving".
Innovators: Marcus Hays and his design team at Pi Mobility
They call it an Earth-in-balance mobility solution. The PiCycle runs on an internal LiIon battery pack and light pedaling (still good exercise). Depending on the model riders who can reach 40 mph top speed and can handle roadways with 35% grades. One thing for it sure is that it tends to stump cops looking to write traffic tickets!
… More importantly, Pi Mobility seeks to replace the 1 billion fossil-fueled mopeds that pierce ear drums and foul up city air around to globe. What design and social problems will the PiCycle solve? Here's what the Pi Mobility team has to say:
I am grateful that people appreciate the design but the pure design aspect of PiCycle is almost inconsequential to me. The value of a machine in society is determined by its function. Not just how it operates, but how it repairs, how it services, how it rides, etc. So while some may find the arch beautiful to look at, it’s the function of the arch that is of keen interest to me. --Marcus Hays, Founder and CEO
Whichever way you want to ride, you’ll feel fabulous. Even when handling steep, 25% grade, SF-class hills, congested roadways, narrow streets, or the quick trip to your favorite restaurant. -- Karl Morris, VP Marketing and Communications
PiCycle is everything you could want in a lightweight, earth-friendly mode of personal mobility. And to help make this so we’ll do everything in our power to make sure your PiCycle experience is easy, convenient, personable, and actually enjoyable in fulfilling your quest for a better Earth-in-balance mobility solution. —Greg Hall, Sales Manager
It’s easy to see how getting a few hundred thousand of these vehicles onto the road each year in the US, Italy, Nigeria, China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and Mexico could help keep an equal number of fossil-burning scooters and commuter cars in the garage.
Evaluator: Perla Ni, Founder & CEO of Great Non-Profits
One way philanthropists can leverage their gifts and support causes that matter to them is to write about it and influence others. The best place to do that at GreatNonprofits.org which also syndicates reviews to other sites like GuideStar. So one three-minute review can wind up influencing potential supporters throughout the web! GreatNonprofits, founded by Perla Ni, who was also the founder and former publisher of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is a leading developer of tools that allow people to find, review, and share information about the “already” great and "emerging" great nonprofits. Perla, who understands the importance on quantitative measurement also knows that “numbers tend to suppress empathy” and only provide a piece of the story. So she set out to make qualitative evaluation part of the non-profit landscape. For more on the genesis and idea behind Great Non-Profits, read "The Backstory."
Since its founding in 2007, GreatNonprofits has quickly grown into the leading provider of reviews and ratings of nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. The organization’s review methodology takes into account the diversity of the nonprofit sector and hosts reviews of groups of all different shapes and sizes and types, including small grassroots groups and larger regional, national and international organizations. Researchers of great non-profits will discover stories of people who have volunteered or donated to nonprofits, as well as stories of people who have benefited from their services. Currently, users can rate more than 1.2 million nonprofits directly on the website or via syndication on partner sites. GreatNonprofits is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, Sand Hill Foundation, Morgan Family Foundation and the Peery GreatNonprofits merits have been written about in Newsweek, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Alliance magazine, and on NPR.
Citizen: Claire Gaudiani, author of Generosity Unbound
In Generosity Unbound, Claire Gaudiani mounts a spirited defense of “philanthropic freedom” that should appeal to philanthropists across the political spectrum. This thoughtful book is both a warning, a call to action and much-needed reminder of the power of the philanthropic fabric so deeply rooted in American society. Dr. Gaudiani acknowledges the good intentions of those who favor greater regulation of private philanthropy, but demonstrates convincingly the dangers of restricting the very same empathetic risk-taking that whipped the hookworm scourge in the South and polio across our land. Gaudiani calls on foundation leaders, legislators, and concerned citizens to deliver on the Declaration of Independence’s promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of us, particularly our poorest citizens – of which there are 15.7 million.
As Stephen Heintz, President, Rockefeller Brothers Fund concludes,“In this vitally important book, Claire Gaudiani convincingly makes the case that philanthropy has the capacity—and must use it—to heal the divisions in our society and to advance a renewed and enduring commitment to social justice...”
Gaudiani also uncovers the fascinating history of philanthropy in America, showing how this nation’s distinctive tradition of citizen-to-citizen generosity has been a powerful engine of economic growth and upward mobility. Alexis de Tocquevillewould sing in unison with Gaudiani. and he would also laud the author for her insights on the role of citizenship in American society.
Environmentalists: Dennis Markatos-Soriano and the East Coast Greenway Alliance
For Dennis Markatos-Soriano, the opportunity to lead the completion of the East Coast Greenway was a perfect one to make a positive climate impact while also addressing other issues he is passionate about -- lowering health care and transportation costs, and driving a green economic recovery. That opportunity came upon his completion of Master's program in Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University. Born and raised in the small town of Pittsboro, North Carolina, Dennis attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he co-founded and led Students United for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE).
The East Coast Greenway is the nation's most ambitious long-distance urban trail project. By connecting existing and planned shared-use trails, a continuous, traffic-free route is being formed, serving self-powered users of all abilities and ages. The Greenway is 3,000 miles long and links Calais, Maine at the Canadian border with Key West, Florida. This green city-to-city travel corridor was launched in 1991 when the East Coast Greenway Alliance formed to make this vision a reality. The East Coast Greenway will be entirely on public right-of-way, incorporating waterfront esplanades, park paths, abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, and pathways along highway corridors. Dennis and his Alliance have no intention of stopping now. In fact, he’s already incubating plans for “Eisenhower 2.0” on a global scale -- that is, an international interconnected greenway system. Just imagine. To learn more, visit the www.greenway.org and take a ride along the Greenway.
The Giving Pledge: Dangerous Implications For Democratic Decision-Making
Aaron Dorfman, Executive Director, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (Posted: December 21, 2010) [Part of a series of posts that looks at why he is skeptical that The Giving Pledge will have the kind of impact many people are saying it will. In Part I, he explored how the pledge is likely to have an extremely small impact on total giving, and how little money will likely benefit underserved communities].
Billionaire philanthropy has real limits and risks. Billionaires don't typically like to share power. Some forward-thinking foundations share power with communities by including grantees or the constituent perspective on their boards. Others share power by giving most of their grants in the form of unrestricted general operating support so that the leaders of the nonprofits can best decide how to spend the money.
But most billionaire philanthropists don't follow these practices. The current trend in philanthropy is to develop highly specific theories of change around narrowly defined issues, and then to look for nonprofits that can carry out the foundation's plan. It's often called "strategic philanthropy." In this approach, the billionaires and their families get to decide what the problems are facing communities and how best to solve them.
Another way billionaires often fall short of being optimally effective is that they tend to favor technocratic approaches to solving social problems. Yet, as philanthropy expert Michael Edwards points out in his latest book, many of the most pressing challenges we face are not best addressed with a business-oriented approach. Thorny social problems require investments in civil society and social justice, not technocratic business-driven solutions. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it is well documented that foundation investments in advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement have an incredibly high return on investment, few high-net-worth donors currently focus on promoting social justice in these way.
Happily, a few of the billionaire donors who have taken the pledge are leaders in social justice giving. Herb and Marion Sandler are among them -- they're big supporters of grassroots community organizing. Jean and Steve Case, too, have devoted more than 30 percent of their foundation's grant dollars to social justice causes, primarily by investing heavily in civic engagement. But these donors are the exception rather than the rule among billionaire philanthropists.
What's needed to mitigate these risks and limitations is for billionaire pledge-takers to recognize that donors, taxpayers and nonprofits are really all partners in pursuit of the common good. We all have certain rights and responsibilities in this partnership. And as true partners, we need to share power. If signers of The Giving Pledge think about their philanthropy in this way, it will help democratize their work and lead to better results.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once noted, "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary."
As I stated up front, all things considered, I'm glad the Gateses and Mr. Buffett started The Giving Pledge. It's better for our nation and the world to have billionaires giving to charity than to leave vast amounts of their wealth exclusively to their kids. I hope this initiative inspires bolder giving from billionaires, millionaires and the rest of us.
But it's not just the amount of giving that matters. The quality of the giving matters, too.
Thus far, The Giving Pledge has been silent on these questions of quality, following a politically safer route that says implicitly that all charitable giving is noble and of equal value. But that's just not true. The choices philanthropists make determine to what extent the common good is served by their generosity. We should all hope they make good choices.