Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation Is Spending Fast. Very Fast

The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation has been going at the philanthropy game since 2005, and they’ve already managed to give away $50 million. Their goal is lofty: curing glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor that kills 95% of patients within eighteen months. Worse, out of the dozens and dozens of new chemotherapy drugs to come on the market within the last 25 years, only one of them is designed to treat brain cancer. So the Ivy Foundation wants to be a beacon of hope to those reeling from a devastating diagnosis—and those still hurting from the sudden loss of a loved one. It’s a determined little organization with a lot of heart behind it, but it may not live to see its 20th birthday.

A close look at the organization’s 990-PF tax form reveals that it’s spent nearly 20% of its $250 million endowment—in nine years! Who can tell if its current rate of giving is indicative of what’s to come? They gave away just under $10 million in 2013—unless they start seeing bigger returns on their investments, or Catherine Ivy decides to liquidate some of her personal wealth (which is, much like a piñata’s contents, tidily concealed from view)—they’re going to run dry for certain by 2050, but maybe as soon as 2035.

It’s interesting. Brain cancer is one of those fields dominated by charitable, not private, foundations. Organizations like the Brain Research Foundation and the American Brain Tumor Association have been around a long time, and work slowly and steadily, much like the Tortoise of legend. The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation, with a clearly unsustainable rate of giving—at least for now—may prove itself to be a flashy hare who exhausts its resources in relatively short order.

This is not to say that there’s anything frivolous about the Ivy Foundation. They’re taking a different approach from the charitable foundations, maybe just hoping to crack the near-impenetrable mystery of brain tumors by spending a lot of money in a short amount of time.