Philanthropy Awards, 2015

It’s our favorite time of year, again! The moment when we reflect on the highlights of philanthropy over the past 12 months through our annual IP Philanthropy Awards, or IPPYs. (See the 2014 winners.)

Lots has been happening lately, and we’ve done our best in 2015 to wrap our arms around the many doings of foundations and emerging philanthropists, as well as key trends in the field. Click on the links to read some of our best articles.

The IPPYs, 2015

Philanthropists of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan

Zuck’s mixed track record to date? That murky LLC? Whatever. He and Chan are the most important new philanthropists to emerge in years. It's exciting to watch, but also scary.

Most Effective Philanthropist: Michael Bloomberg

The “Spock of philanthropy” takes this category for the second year, as the payoffs come in from his big, successful bet on shutting down coal-fired power plants. Bloomberg’s sensible millions are also cutting the huge global body count from smoking and traffic accidents.

Foundation President of the Year: Julia Stasch

Who said large foundations can’t change? Stasch showed that they can by quickly streamlining MacArthur after taking its helm and zeroing in on a few of the biggest challenges of our time, starting with climate change.

Top Philanthropic Action Hero: Howard Buffett

His hands-on quest to stabilize the Great Lakes Region of Africa, tapping dad’s fortune, has involved big, risky investments and put him in harm’s way. Meanwhile, Buffett made a record give in his bid to conquer hunger.

Biggest Victory for Philanthropy: Marriage Equality

Over a decade of highly strategic philanthropy played a key role in moving marriage equality into the political mainstream and teeing up this year’s SCOTUS victory. Next up for LGBT funders: ending all discrimination.

Runner Ups: Climate Change & Iran Nuclear Deal

Funder fingerprints are all over the growing push to shut down coal plants and usher in new EPA regulations of greenhouse gases. On Iran, dialogue backed by several funders, most notably the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, helped lead to the historic nuclear deal.

Honorable Mention: Gains by Workers

A new U.S. rule expanding overtime pay and hikes in the minimum wage to $15 an hour in some places didn’t happen by accident. Ford has been among those funding to ensure a fairer deal for workers.

Top Failure of Philanthropy: Ignoring Syrian Refugees

The biggest refugee crisis since World War II has been met with indifference by most foundations. Easing vast human suffering, it seems, doesn’t fit current program priorities.

Toughest Battle Funders Are Waging: Opposing Global Tyranny

Civil society is under siege in countries around the world as authoritarian rulers crack down on independent voices. The Open Society Foundations is leading the pushback.

Most Ambitious New Funding Initiative: LA Charter Schools

Led by the Broad Foundation, a who’s who of ed reform funders unveiled a half billion dollar plan this fall to move half of all L.A. students into charters schools. We remember a day when voters decided stuff like that.

Boldest Foundation Bet: Good Ventures on GiveDirectly

Can Facebook co-founder Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna change how billions in anti-poverty aid flows worldwide? Who knows? But that’s the big vision behind a $25 million grant for direct cash transfers to the poor.

Top Trend in Philanthropy: Impact Investing

The Zuckerberg announcement is yet more evidence that the dominance of traditional grantmaking will keep fading fast as Omidyarism gains ground.

Old Foundation Most in Sync with a New World: F.B. Heron

Heron chief Clara Miller has been leading the foundation to put 100 percent of assets to work advancing its mission. Keep an eye out for her new manifesto.

Most Smoke, Smallest Fire: Ford Reorganization

After two years of strategic review and lots of jittery nerves, Ford made only nips and tucks while reaffirming its mission as the best friend that social justice groups may ever have.

Foundation CEO Engaging the Biggest Questions: Darren Walker

In articles touching on inequality, civil society, and philanthropy, Walker has emerged as a rare but valuable kind of figure: the foundation chief as thought leader.

Most Envied Grantees of the Year: MacArthur Fellows

Ditto for the past 35 years. They got $625,000 and the lifelong “genius” label. God, that’s hard to watch.

Wall Streeter Worth Watching Most Closely: Ray Dalio

The hedge fund billionaire, a “case study in the new mega-giving,” has dramatically scaled up his foundation, favoring a wide range of causes.

Celebrity Philanthropist of the Year: Leonardo DiCaprio

The Titanic star, who knows how much damage melting ice can do, continues to emerge as an important player in environmental giving.

Most Popular Article On Inside Philanthropy: This One

Why Are So Many People Waiting for David Rockefeller to Die?” was published last year, but continues to draw many eyeballs. Macabre, yes, but he does have $3 billion.

Philanthropy Critic of the Year: Ray Madoff

Madoff is leading an incisive inquiry into some key problems in philanthropy, starting with all the money getting locked away in donor-advised funds without payout requirements.

Best Defender of Donor-Advised Funds: Howard Husock

But there are definitely two sides to the DAF debate, and Howard Husock made the strongest case we’ve yet heard for DAFs in this IP piece.

Most Intriguing Heirs: Nat and Liz Simons

Their parents, Jim and Marilyn Simons, are harnessing a vast hedge fund fortune to advance scientific research, but Nat and Liz—flying well below the radar—are both taking on climate change.

Ex-Spouse of Billionaire Doing the Most Good: Diana Blank

The former wife of Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank finally came out as the longtime anonymous donor behind the Kendeda Fund, one of the top environmental funders of recent years.

Strongest Magnet for Campus Gifts: Entrepreneurship Initiatives

Suddenly, donors are lining up to help college students learn to start businesses. If your school doesn’t have something cooking in this space, maybe it should.

Biggest Alumni Gravy Train: Gordon Moore for Caltech

Moore has now given more to his alma mater than any donor has ever given to a university, save for Bloomberg’s backing of Johns Hopkins.

Philanthropists Who Most Need to Pick Up the Pace: Green Pledgers

They get it on climate change and have signed the Giving Pledge, yet are keeping billions on the sidelines as the clock ticks. Hurry up already!

Best New Philanthropy Blog: HistPhil

Ben Soskis, Maribel Morey, and Stanley Katz had a great idea: Mine philanthropy’s rich past for insights and guidance to deepen today’s conversation. The result is HistPhil.

Mega-Donor Who Doesn’t Deserve Such Universal Scorn: John Paulson

We were nearly alone in defending that $400 million gift to Harvard to bolster science. With government support to top research universities falling, private donors should step up in a bigger way.

Donor Who Really Does: Art Pope

What kind of “philanthropist” gives millions to disenfranchise African-American voters in a former Jim Crow state like North Carolina?

Manifesto of the Year: “Philanthropy for Hackers”

Sean Parker’s rallying call to tech philanthropists rubbed some readers the wrong way, but his ideas have gained huge traction in Silicon Valley and a phalanx of deep-pocketed donors stands with him. Pay attention.

Runner Up: Mike Bloomberg’s Annual Letter

Bloomberg’s exegesis about how his philanthropy focuses on leveraging changes in government policy is an important read, especially if you want to know how he’ll deploy $35 billion.

Billionaire With the Best Fundraising Advice: Denny Sanford

After years of being asked for money, and giving away a billion dollars, Sanford has a few thoughts on fundraising. Listen up.

Biggest Philanthropic Fiasco: Paul Smith College Gift

You’d think somebody would have nailed down the legality of renaming the school before Joan and Sandy Weill offered to write a $20 million check. What a mess that was. 

Funder Who Will Most Be Missed: Meg Gage

A pioneer of social justice grantmaking and strategic pooled funds, Gage recently stepped down as head of the Proteus Fund.

Zaniest Philanthropic Priority: Keeping Humans in Control of Earth

Elon Musk is so terrified that artificial intelligence may someday become the master of humanity that he gave $10 million this year to study the threat.

Riskiest Philanthropic Priority: Inviting Aliens to Earth

Meanwhile, Yuri Milner committed $100 million to the search for extraterrestrial life, plus $1 million for a contest to craft messages for alien life. But do we really want to encourage an alien empire to come visit?

Best Philanthropic Concept Run Amok: Prizes

A new one is announced every week, it seems. These competitions can spur lots of creative thinking—but also leave runners-up who did backflips feeling burned.

Most Complicated Family of Philanthropists: The Pritzkers

Anyone who can keep these 11 billionaires straight, along with their many philanthropic involvements, please see me.

Most Interesting Pritzker: Rachel

Rachel Pritzker leads a small philanthropic shop that’s taking on the world’s most “wicked problems” by backing new ideas. Oh, and she’s a diehard “eco-modernist.”  

Pritzker Making the Biggest Ask: J.B.

J.B. Pritzker is one of the top funders pushing hard on early childhood education, investing in advocacy to spur federal action on this issue.

Biggest Conflict of Interest in Philanthropy: Grants for Journalism

It’s good that funders have been propping up reporting, but let’s not forget that they all have agendas—and nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds them.

Regional Grantmaker Association with the Most Mojo: Southern California Grantmakers

With savvy leader Christine Essel, Southern California Grantmakers is helping the philanthropic cake rise in new ways in one of the nation’s wealthiest regions.

Best Pick as New Foundation President: Sharon Alpert

This time, it looks like Nathan Cummings got it right, tapping Surdna’s program leader, Sharon Alpert, to run a foundation with a remarkably similar mission.

Most Helpful Foundation Communications Officer: Celeste Ford

Ford’s proactive efforts to explain what the Carnegie Corporation is up to provide an example of what transparency looks like in practice. Plenty of others in these jobs are also super-helpful. Thank you all!

Most Intriguing Education Funder: Laurene Powell Jobs

She has a long-time commitment to education and $20 billion. But her big bet on reinventing high schools, to spur more creative learning, shows she’s looking beyond the usual reformer playbook.

Environmental Funder of the Year: Hansjorg Wyss

The Swiss billionaire has lately branched out from land purchases into marine protection, saving the Amazon, and bankrolling environmental journalism.

Top Philanthropy Power Couple in Waiting: Steve and Connie Ballmer

As Microsoft’s former CEO and his wife step up their giving, we’re starting to get clues about how another huge tech fortune will be deployed. Follow this story closely.

Worst Reviewed Foundation: The Hess Foundation

According to Philamplify, it’s a “secretive” outfit engaged in “checkbook philanthropy” with no coherent strategy. Ouch!

Loudest Silence in the Face of Attack: Gates Foundation

You’d think a 300-page indictment might merit at least a little bit of official pushback. But so far, Gates has simply ignored Linsey McGoey’s book, No Such Thing As a Free Gift.

News Story from 2015 Most Likely to Resurface in 2016: Clinton Foundation

We haven’t seen the last of this one. Get ready to hear more about philanthropy, Clinton-style, the moment the GOP’s civil war ends.

Darkest Cloud On the Horizon: Falling Trust in Philanthropy

This year’s flaps over that huge Harvard gift, the Zuckerberg move, and the Clinton Foundation underscore growing public uneasiness with philanthropy in a populist era. Declining transparency feeds the anxiety.

Organizations Most in Denial: Philanthropy Trade Groups  

If you think the accountability juggernaut will bypass an insular philanthropic sector, talk to a college president. Come on, people, get ahead of the curve!

What We Love Most About Philanthropy: How Interesting It Is

Right, and all the good it does in the world, too! But, really: there’s never been a more fascinating time to be digging deep into who’s giving and who getting.

The Thing You’re Most Excited to Do Right Now: Subscribe to IP

And for those who did subscribe in 2015, thank you!!!!

See Last Year’s IPPYs: Philanthropy Awards, 2014