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Monday
Dec142015

Steve Case

NET WORTH: $1.34 billion

SOURCE OF WEALTH: Founder of AOL

FUNDING AREAS: Community and economic development, education, health care, and youth development services

OVERVIEW: Although Case's philanthropic endeavors are much in line with the Case Foundation's (and his wife Jean's), he goes a bit out of this lockstep with "...a particular interest in building companies with disruptive business models and improving the economic and social sustainability of Hawaii, his home state."

BACKGROUND: If not for Steve Case, the way we look at the Internet might be far different. As the founder of AOL in 1985, Case introduced millions of people to the World Wide Web. He's also something of a pioneer as a tech philanthropist, having founded the Case Foundation back in 1997, when most of us were listening to the squeal of the modem as it dialed us onto the Web. In 2005, Case founded the hedge fund Revolution with a mission to drive major societal change by giving consumers more power over their lives. In the fund's words, Revolution's mission is to "...build disruptive, innovative companies that offer consumers more choice, convenience, and control in their lives."

Case and Jean do most of their giving through the Case Foundation, but they also make personal donations to a number of community organizations, including schools, churches, and other charitable groups. They have signed the Giving Pledge, committing to give most of their (currently) $1.34 billion fortune to charity.

PHILOSOPHY: Regardless of his funding proclivities, Case is trying to create a sustainable philanthropic model in which charities can continue operating without endless rounds of fundraising. As a philanthropist, Case likes to be thought of as an inspirational change maker, investing in nonprofits that use what he refers to as "disruptive" business models to bring major social change.

Back in the day, his foundation's focus was on improving the economic and social sustainability of his home state of Hawaii. These days, his mission is much broader and focuses on investing in ideas, companies, and people that he feels can "change the world." Like many tech philanthropists, Case envisions a hybrid business/philanthropy model that he refers to as "embedded philanthropy." He likes to point to the National Geographic Society as a model for that sort of thing, although he may be somewhat biased since his wife, Jean, sits on the Society's board of trustees.

Case recognized that there had once been a clearly defined division between for-profit and non-profit sectors, when there need not be. He believes in blurring the lines a bit, focusing on the issue that needs to be addressed and deciding on the best strategy for dealing with it, regardless of whether or not that solution is a non-profit business model.

ISSUES:

HEALTH: Case chairs Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), a nonprofit he cofounded with his late brother, Dan, together with Dan's wife, Stacey, and his own wife, Jean.  Similarly, Case supported the Susan G. Kornen Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as Sisu Global Health, one of the six winners of Case's Rise of the Rest Competition, in which each winner was awarded $100,000.

VOLUNTEERISM: The Case Foundation supports organizations such as Atlas Corps, Youth Serve America, the National Conference on Citizenship, and Global Year Citizen, all of which seek to encourage people to give their time and connect them to volunteer oppotunities. 

ENCOURAGING & ENABLING GIVING: The Case Foundation is fully engaged in something akin to a social networking model of philanthropy. This model attempts to use new technologies to make giving more effective and increase giving among average people. One recent example of this approach was the foundation's initiative called America's Giving Challenge, which it claims has thus far resulted in nearly 200,000 people donating nearly $4 million to thousands of causes. The foundation gave an additional $1 million to the causes "...that recruited the most donors and were most successful in using online and offline strategies to mobilize support." They have also been responsible for helping develop and promote platforms for microphilanthropy, mobile giving, and other technological advances in the giving space. Some of these include

INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Case has begun focusing on issues outside of the US, first donating to clean water initiatives such as Roundabout Water Solutions, and more recently Water for People, to whom the Case Foundation has donated well over $200,000. The foundation has also supported the United Nations Foundation, Up Global, and Sanergy. Case recently joined Al Gore and Richard Branson in donating $19 million to M-Kopa, a Kenyan-based solar energy start up.   

LOOKING FORWARD: In 2011, President Obama appointed Case to lead the non-profit Startup America Partnership in the hopes of stimulating the growth of new companies. With the help of Obama and several members of Congress, Case was able to help push through a bill that allowed start-ups and non-profits to engage in Internet crowdfunding, and Case has since worked on initiatives that use this model to decide which organizations to fund, a trend that will likely continue. 

The Case Foundation doesn't accept unsolicited grant proposals because its stated goal is to invest in specific projects that seek to solve specific problems. While most of its money goes to investments, the foundation also makes a large number of traditional donations. It seems to disperse its donations to a variety of traditional public charities and a number of support groups that help the poor. While Case has famously said that "Philanthropy 1.0 hasn't worked well enough; our system needs an upgrade," he's trying to upgrade the system while not leaving Philanthropy 1.0 in the cold.

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