Two Extraordinary Resources

Two new websites offer extraordinary inspiration and guidance to philanthropists

Two new websites offer extraordinary inspiration and guidance to philanthropists who seek to achieve breakthrough solutions for society’s greatest challenges.

The Philanthropy Hall of Fame describes the charitable achievements of more than 50 of the most influential philanthropists in American history. Directed by Christopher Levenick, the editor-in-chief of Philanthropy magazine, this project of The Philanthropy Roundtable focuses on the achievements of donors no longer living.

As readers will discover in excerpts published in this issue, the Philanthropy Hall of Fame is written with a verve, conciseness, and colorful detail reminiscent of the Forbes 400 and brief reviews in the New Yorker. I personally enjoyed the entries on prominent donors such as Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, and Julius Rosenwald. But some of my favorites are lesser known. Mary Elizabeth Garrett opened up medical education for women. Thomas Eddy created the most successful savings bank for poor depositors. John M. Olin offers a powerful model for protecting donor intent. Oseola McCarty, an African-American washerwoman from Mississippi, never owned a car but left $150,000 in her will for college scholarships.

A valuable complement to the Philanthropy Hall of Fame is a video library just launched by the Bridgespan Group. “Conversations with Remarkable Givers” will eventually include 1,000 short video clips edited from interviews with some 60 living philanthropists. The interviews were mostly conducted by Tom Tierney, the chairman and co-founder of Bridgespan and former worldwide CEO of Bain and Company, and the co-author of Give Smart, the best short book ever published on effectiveness in philanthropy. (For more from Tom, click here.) With about 500 clips now available, the “Conversations” website is a treasure trove for anyone who aspires to excellence in philanthropy.     

The GiveSmart video library contains conversations with some thoughtful staff presidents of major foundations, but what makes it truly distinctive is its conversations with business entrepreneurs. Stanley Druckenmiller describes the parallels between his investment philosophy and his philanthropic strategy of making very big bets on a small number of high-impact organizations. Bill Draper explains the qualities he looks for when he makes a venture capital investment in a social entrepreneur: empathy, vision, and energy. David Rubenstein describes how he applies his skills as a private equity fundraiser to chairing capital campaigns for his favorite grantees. David Weekley shows how he helps to take small nonprofits to scale, for instance by working with their leaders to better define and measure their intended results.

The creativity and diversity of philanthropic objectives revealed in these conversations is breathtaking. Connie Duckworth describes her initiative to help Afghan women market home-woven rugs. Henry McCance describes his work to accelerate Alzheimer’s research by requiring frequent communication among his scientific grantees. Pete Peterson describes his billion-dollar philanthropic commitment to finding solutions for the debt crisis in American government. Pitt and Barbara Hyde describe how they have helped to make Memphis a national leader in K–12 reform. John Whitehead describes his 55 years of support for the International Rescue Committee. Wanting to help refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he first joined the IRC board when it had three employees. Today the refugee assistance agency has a budget of $400 million. 

The entrepreneurs interviewed place a strong emphasis on giving while living, avoiding large bureaucratic staffs, and protecting donor intent. John and Laura Arnold stress the learning-by-doing benefits of starting philanthropy at a young age. Bernie Marcus offers a fascinating discussion of when to give anonymously and when to publicize one’s name as donor. 

There is a refreshing candor in these conversations. Listen to Melinda Gates describe why she and her husband changed their K–12 strategy:

“When we started in the U.S. education system, we thought that small schools were the answer to the problem, because we saw certain elements in small schools that were making a difference absolutely for students—that relationship with the teacher, that collaboration that was happening. But in the end we had to be honest . . . and say . . . it doesn’t have to be a tiny learning environment. The central piece that was making a change was the teacher. And so we started saying to ourselves: How do we make sure there is a great teacher . . . in every single classroom in America? And that became the heart of the strategy.”

In one of my favorite conversations, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar explains his dislike for the term “giving back,” which implies that business involves “taking away.” Says Omidyar: people succeed in both business and philanthropy when they create value for society.

That’s what the donors in the Philanthropy Hall of Fame and the GiveSmart video library have done, and what others can do inspired by their example.

Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.


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