For over a decade, Jeff Bezos' parents—Mike and Jackie—have presided over their own grantmaking shop, the small but steadily growing Bezos Family Foundation. But here's the thing: The foundation is no longer so small.
Some will recognize the name Park Foundation from the dulcet tones of public radio announcers thanking their sponsors, or possibly the millions in annual scholarships it gives at two universities. But this scrappy, upstate-New York-based foundation has earned another claim to fame in recent years, on the frontlines in the fight against fracking.
Steven Hilton is stepping down as president, saying that it's time for the foundation to evolve. It does that seem the place could use some new thinking at this point, which is common for family foundations given how they accrete obligations over time. Inevitably, though, taking Hilton to the next level will be a rough ride that produces winners and losers.
Most donors who want to help the world's poorest countries gravitate toward projects on the ground that directly combat poverty and disease. But often they can make a bigger difference with their money by investing in policy work. Just look at the impact the Center for Global Development has had.
If you're worth big money, care deeply about philanthropy, and die earlier than expected, the last thing you want is for your kid to take over the family foundation and royally screw things up, wasting your money on stupid stuff. What you want is for your PhD daughter to step in and do everything right.
It's not run by Jeff Bezos. Or even funded by him. That's the first thing to know. Yes, the Bezos name conjures up billions of dollars in Amazon wealth, but don't expect to find such billions — or in fact, any of Jeff Bezos' fortune of $30 billion — in the endowment of the Bezos Family Foundation. Nor does the foundation back scientific research, Jeff's main funding interest.
Software companies have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of free product into community colleges and universities in recent months. The latest in kind donation is $660 million worth of software from Siemens to Massachusetts schools.
Data science is showing potential to unpack some of the toughest problems in several fields of research. Cheaper and stronger sensors, storage and computing means we have new power to make sense of all the information we're collecting, almost constantly. Few funders are as focused on making it happen as the Alfred A. Sloan Foundation.
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation started out as a pretty conventional charitable outfit, writing checks for local education, the arts, and so on. It's still doing that, but there's a clear shift underway at the foundation towards the more daring ideals of the Allen Institute for Brain Science.
Glenn Dubin and his wife, Dr. Eva Anderssen-Dubin, have already given away a whole lot of money. But when you look at the details of this giving, you may be left scratching your head. It's not clear what the strategy here is or where the couple's big money might go as they ramp up to make good on the Giving Pledge.
The Heinz family is rebooting its foundation's leadership following a mess under the previous president. After weathering a controversy over fracking in which it appeared too cozy with the oil and gas industry, the Heinz Endowments have appointed longtime associate and former staffer Grant Oliphant as the new president.
Is venture philanthropy really so complicated? To somebody like Liam Krehbiel it simply means taking a rigorous approach to giving away money -- which includes asking some obvious questions -- so you're more likely to have an impact. Venture capitalists have been doing this for decades. Why not borrow from that world?
Why we act or don’t act poses one of the toughest problems facing scholars, and it's one that ricochets between philosophy and empirical science. Which makes it a perfect problem for the eclectic John Templeton Foundation, which is giving some serious money to one philosopher for a project that explores self-control.
Effective philanthropy doesn't have to be trendy or complicated. It can just be a simple idea to tackle an obvious problem: Like, say, improving emergency care for heart attack victims in rural America so they are more likely to survive. The Helmsley Charitable Trust is spending millions this way.
Since the mid-2000s, the Walton Family Foundation has been one of the largest funders in American conservation, primarily in marine and rivers issues. The grantee list is quite long, but just a few of the foundation’s favorite environmental groups are pulling down a massive chunk of its annual green funding.