These Newcomers to the Giving Pledge Are Angling to Back "Creative Disruption"

We've written before about the philanthropy of Eric and Liz Lefkofsky, the Chicagoland couple worth nearly $1.7 billion. Lefkofsky has made big money in tech, cofounding companies such as Groupon. The Lefkofskys took the lead in Chicago, signing the Giving Pledge a few years ago. When the Giving Pledge recently announced its newest signatories, several other Chicago area couples made the list. I've already written about one of them, Jay Jordan II, whose philanthropy has focused on his alma mater, Notre Dame, and on youth sports.

Related: This New Giving Pledge Signatory is Wild About Supporting Youth Sports

Another new signatory based in Chicago is Brad Keywell and his wife Kim. Keywell, in fact, cofounded Groupon and several other ventures such as Lightbank with Lefkofsky. The pair also bought 10 percent of the historic Wrigley Building in downtown Chicago together. While not yet listed on Forbes' billionaires list, the Keywells own some 31.3 million shares of Groupon, valued at about $200 million. 

In contrast to the Lefkofskys, whose philanthropic vehicle has an established website and has been moving millions out of the door annually for the last few years, the Keywells are just getting started with their charity, the Keywell Foundation. So far, the foundation has made supporting entrepreneurship a philanthropic priority. The Keywell Foundation doesn't really have a web presence, besides this brief website with email information at least.

In 2013, the Keywell Foundation gave a little over $250,000 to the Innovation Foundation, and $50,000 to the Future Founders Foundation, which Keywell chairs. The Future Founders Foundation's aim is to "inspire youth in Chicagoland to explore and practice entrepreneurship," and offers programs "to connect students with mentors from various professions and provide engaging project-based learning experiences for students in elementary school through college." From 2005 to 2014, the foundation states that it served over 22,500 students. 

And just today, we learned that the Keywell Foundation is among the backers of the new Change the World Social Entrepreneurs Competition, which will award $1 million in cash prizes. The competition, says a press release, "will focus on disruptive and scalable ideas with the potential to change the world and is open to both for-profit and nonprofit enterprises." Forbes is spearheading the initiative, and beyond Keywell, the backers are the Case Foundation, the Schusterman Family Foundation, Pratt Foundation, and Bob Duggan.

Brad Keywell is also the founder and co-chair of Chicago Ideas Week, a week-long annual gathering that hosts nearly 200 speakers at 80+ events with global media coverage. He's also on the board of the NorthShore Foundation which supports the NorthShore University HealthSystem and is an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he teaches a course on entrepreneurship and disruptive technology. Kim, meanwhile, sits on such boards as OneGoal Chicago, which aims to improve college access and success. The couple is still in their mid-40s. 

The Keywells offer a strong sense of their philanthropic worldview in their Giving Pledge letter

A primary focus for us is the identification and support of dynamic social entrepreneurs. It is our belief that social entrepreneurship is the right formula to unleash the next wave of life-enhancing resources for all of humanity. We seek to find passionate, risk taking, bold, and courageous individuals and organizations, and enable them with our support to solve hard problems in a variety of areas that enhance human life. We see the world through our own lens—the lens of entrepreneurship and creative disruption—and thus, we see every societal problem as a disruptive solution worth creating.

All this is a pretty good tip-off as to how the Keywells' giving is likely to evolve in coming years.

One way to think of philanthropy is that it's like the cafeteria in high school, with different types of people clustered around different tables. As of now, it looks like the Keywells will be sitting with the venture philanthropy crowd—with the likes of Jeff Skoll, Jean Case, the Arnolds, and fellow Chicagoan Liam Krehbiel—a crowd determined to give in new ways in a quest for breakthroughs.

This table, of course, is one that's pretty crowded these days. And while not everyone sitting at it comes from the tech world, many do. Which makes sense. If you've made your fortune as an innovator, or by betting on innovators, it's not surprising that you'd be drawn to backing a similar kind of operator as a philanthropist. 

While some critics of these new philanthropists are troubled by the quest for what the Keywells call "creative disruption," given that plenty of old-style solutions work just fine to "enhance human life," we don't tend to share that concern at IP. In fact, the great majority of new donors entering philanthropy continue to back pretty traditional organizations, and that includes many tech philanthropists—some of whom mix support of would-be disrupters with big gifts for familiar health and arts causes. Eric and Liz Lefkofsky are a case in point

Related: Five Big Myths About Techies and Philanthropy

Anyway, there's so much new money entering philanthropy these days that there's little need to worry about the trade-offs between different approaches. As for the inevitable screwups that occur when hubristic funders overreach in their quest to upend the status quo—say, like Mark Zuckerberg's Newark give—we're okay with that, as long as there's self-examination afterwards. Philanthropic dollars are supposed to be society's risk capital.

All in all, it strikes us as a good thing that more people like Brad and Kim Keywell are gearing up to do philanthropy in a big way. Sure, there's a bit of hype around these donors, along with some attitude at times. But we find it hard not be stirred by the hope.