Update on Game Changers

PhilanthropistsJean & Steve Case
Innovators: Marcus Hays and his design team at Pi Mobility
Evaluator: Perla Ni, Founder & CEO of Great Non-Profits
CitizenClaire Gaudiani, author of Generosity Unbound
EnvironmentalistsDennis 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 Pledgesee 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.