There’s never been a more exciting time in U.S. philanthropy than now, and 2016 has seen a range of interesting moves by foundations and emerging givers alike. But as usual, there’s plenty of maddening things going in the philanthrosphere, too. Click on the links to read some of our best articles of the year.
This Year’s IPPY Winners
Most Effective Philanthropist: Michael Bloomberg
Going after some of the lowest-hanging fruit in global health—reducing deaths from tobacco use and road accidents—may not be sexy, but we can’t think of a philanthropist who is saving more lives per dollar spent. So Mike, whom we once called “the Spock of Philanthropy,” wins in this category. Again.
Foundation President of the Year: Nancy Roob
The head of the Edna McConnell Foundation performed two magic tricks this year: She united legacy foundations and top living donors, a mix we rarely see, in a big new collaboration for children, Blue Meridian Partners; additionally, she helped orchestrate her foundation’s surprise move to spend down and close, also rare.
Best Big Bet of the Year: Blue Meridian Partners
Mobilizing $1 billion in new capital to help disadvantaged children, Blue Meridian Partners is the kind of thing we need more of in philanthropy: large investments to scale up those nonprofits that are having the most impact.
Worst Give of the Year: Phil Knight’s Stanford Gift
Giving $400 million to a fabulously wealthy university for a program that will fund 100 grad students annually strikes us as a case study in ineffective altruism. (In contrast, Knight’s $500 million give this year to the University of Oregon was impressive and well-targeted.)
Biggest Victory for Philanthropy: Marijuana Legalization
A 20-year push by various donors to soften drug laws finally achieved critical mass this fall, as three more states, including California, legalized marijuana. One out of five Americans now live in a state where marijuana is legal for recreational use. Too bad the late Peter Lewis—a top donor in this space, along with George Soros—didn’t live to witness this sea change.
Darkest Victory for Philanthropy: Helping Destroy Hillary Clinton
A quarter century of attacks on Bill and Hillary Clinton financed by conservative donors, beginning with Richard Scaife in the early 1990s, yielded their final and biggest dividend last month. Attacks generated by nonprofits like Judicial Watch played a key role in driving up HRC’s negatives and swaying a narrow election.
Top Philanthropic Action Hero: Hamdi Ulukaya
Not only has the yogurt mogul pledged the bulk of his fortune to helping Syrian refugees, he’s given hundreds of them jobs at his New York production facility—changing lives even as he’s made himself a target for xenophobic critics.
Foundation President We’ll Miss the Most: Risa Lavizzo-Mourey
RWJF’s departing CEO set a big vision for creating a “culture of health” and was unafraid to plunge into the toughest policy battle of the Obama era, over the Affordable Care Act.
Foundation President We’ll Miss the Least: Judith Rodin
Our own issue with the controversial Rodin, who's stepping down as head of Rockefeller, is that her big idea, “resilience,” was not just uninspiring, it became increasingly vague as time wore on.
Hottest Issue Among Funders: Inequality
In a recent survey, nearly half of major foundation CEOs named inequality as the top issue of the future for philanthropy—which explains moves this year by funders such as Weingart, the San Francisco Foundation, and the Meyer Memorial Trust to focus new energy here.
Hottest Issue Most Funders Aren’t Addressing: Inequality
Too bad only a sliver of foundations actually fund work that has any chance of closing the wealth gap. Most funders steer far clear of key issues involved here—like fiscal policy, labor laws, globalization, and institutional racism.
Runner-Up for Hottest Issue: Sustainable Food
Funding to build better food systems and expand food choices has been gaining steam for a while now, but really hit critical mass this year, with a “bumper crop of funders” now in this space.
Top Demographic Trend in Philanthropy: More Philanthropists of Color
It’s taken a while, but the big changes in the ethnic makeup of the U.S. population are now playing out in philanthropy in a big way, with many givers of color emerging. The trend crystallized this year with the final funding drive for the new African-American Museum in Washington.
Most Smoke, Least Fire: Clinton Foundation “Scandals”
Biggest Real Foundation Scandal: Donald J. Trump Foundation
Like so much else about Trump, his philanthropy turned out to be largely a con when put under a microscope by the Washington Post.
Philanthropy Reporter of the Year: David Fahrenthold
The Post’s reporter spent months digging into Trump’s non-giving and struck pay dirt. The guy should win a Pulitzer.
Along with his daughter Rebekah, Mercer has been giving millions annually to conservative groups. But the Mercers were also the biggest donors to Trump’s campaign, underscoring how today’s top mega-givers increasingly combine philanthropic and political giving in the pursuit of influence. School choice maven DeVos has pursued the same dual-track agenda, and is now set to lead the U.S. Department of Education.
Philanthropist Who Lost Biggest: Warren Buffett
Nobody has given more to advance reproductive rights than Buffett. But a rightward tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court under Trump could finally spell the end for Roe v. Wade.
Foundation That Lost Biggest: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
RWJF spent many millions to help enact and implement an Affordable Care Act that’s now on the chopping block in Republican-dominated Washington.
Largest Funder Blindspot Revealed by the Election: Decline of the White Working Class
Oops, turns out that nearly no funders focus on trade and globalization, issues that preoccupy many Rust Belt voters. Philanthropy has also long shortchanged rural areas and given little attention overall to the growing problems of poorer whites.
Most Alarming Long-Term Trend: Top-Heavy Philanthropy
With nearly all U.S. income gains over recent years going to upper class households, even as most Americans tread water, it’s no surprise that a new report found that a greater share of all charitable dollars is now coming from the top 1 percent. Civil society is more dominated by rich donors than ever.
Most Utopian Goal Only Two Millennials Would Dream Up: Eliminating Disease
When you’re in your early thirties and have $50 billion, like Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, it’s easier to think big and long term, as the couple did in rolling out their big new research effort to fight disease.
Best Sport at Philanthropy Rollout Event: Bill Gates
Nobody knows better than Gates how hard it is to eliminate even one or two dread diseases. But instead of telling Zuck and Chan to get real, Gates showed up at the announcement of CZI’s $3 billion initiative to offer his stamp of approval.
Runner Up in Utopian Thinking Category: John and Laura Arnold
They’ve lately been spending a fortune to promote evidence-based public policy. Meanwhile, after this most recent election, it feels like U.S. politics is more detached from facts than ever before. It’s a good thing these two billionaires are also young.
Celebrity Philanthropist of the Year: Mark Ruffalo
The grassroots grantmaking outfit the actor started, the Solutions Project, has become an impressive rapid-response funder—most recently with its support of the protestors at Standing Rock.
Best Rapid-Response Success Story: Standing Rock
A number of nimble funders got behind the protest against the Dakota pipeline, helping secure a surprise win for both Native American and climate activists. Lots of lessons here.
Activists Most Successful at Turning Off Funders: The Movement for Black Lives
Here’s what do you don’t do when you have the wind at your back and funders’ attention: Broaden out your policy agenda to include everything, including the “the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people.”
Philanthropy Critic of the Year: Erica Kohl-Arenas
This New School professor has gotten traction with her timely and deeply researched book, The Self-Help Myth: How Philanthropy Fails to Alleviate Poverty, looking at how funders tend to shift focus away from the systemic drivers of inequality.
Boldest Community Foundation: The San Francisco Foundation
In a makeover that put it on the cutting edge in addressing equity and race issues, TSFF has underscored its long-time role as an edgy trailblazer among community foundations.
Best Listeners: Meyer Memorial Trust and Weingart Foundation
Both these foundations pressed their ear close to the ground for an extended period (two years in Meyer’s case) and used feedback from local nonprofits to revise their grantmaking to have a greater focus on equity.
Most Helpful Foundation Communications Person: Laura Silber
Never mind how helpful she is to IP in explaining the Open Society Foundations. You need to be a total pro to oversee public affairs at the world’s most complex and far-flung foundation, one that’s challenging some of the worst authoritarian regimes of our time.
Runner Up: Stacey Greenebaum
Anyone who can describe what the Simon Foundation does in plain English as it advances basic science has to be some kind of miracle worker. Oh, and Stacey made possible this inside look by IP at how this fast growing foundation works, based on an interview with Jim and Marilyn Simons.
Biggest Foundation Expansion Nobody Noticed: Simons Foundation
Speaking of Simons, this fall saw it roll out the Flatiron Institute, a new home for 250 research scientists that takes up a whole building in Manhattan. We’ll say it again: Simons is the most important science funder to hit the scene since the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Best Newcomer to Science Research Funding: Heising-Simons Foundation
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, judging by the energetic new science funding of this outfit, co-founded by Jim Simons’ daughter Liz Simons and her engineer-turned-investor husband Mark Heising.
Foundation With the Longest Attention Span: Carnegie Corporation of New York
The blue-chip foundation made a $1 million grant this year to mark 60 years of funding to improve U.S.-Russia relations. Who said funders flit from fad to fad?
Foundations With the Shortest Attention Span: My Brother’s Keeper Backers
Remember when nearly a dozen foundations swung behind a historic effort to help young men and boys of color in 2014? We do, but just barely, and some of the initial backers of MBK have been MIA on race issues ever since.
Most Hypocritical Foundations: Top Climate Funders
The leaders of Hewlett, Packard, and MacArthur have told us that climate change poses an existential threat to civilization as we know it. And yet none of these institutions has busted past their conservative payout policies to address the threat. What’s wrong with that picture?
Most Intriguing Gift for K-12 Education: Project XQ
Laurene Powell Jobs, whom we've called an “unusual suspect” in education philanthropy, originally intended to give $50 million to design high schools that teeangers actually want to attend. Instead, she put in $100 million.
Least Transparent Big Philanthropist: Laurene Powell Jobs
While Project XQ has been well publicized, the large-scale giving by Powell Jobs is otherwise extremely hard to track—flowing through an LLC that doesn’t reveal its grants or investments. (Here's why anonymous giving is problematic.)
Through their Good Ventures Foundation and the Open Philanthropy Project, Moskovitz and Tuna have set a great example for other emerging donors by not only revealing grants in a timely fashion, but also explaining the thinking behind grantmaking in blog posts.
Best Report on Transparency: “Sharing What Matters: Foundation Transparency”
The Center for Effective Philanthropy took a nuanced, helpful look in a February report at what kinds of information foundations really should be sharing.
Most Dubious Return on Investment: Big Museum Capital Projects
A growing body of evidence suggests that expensive capital projects not only hurt museums' long-term sustainability, but also exacerbate inequities between the "haves" and "have nots."
Hottest Arts Philanthropy Trend: Artist as Activist
We looked at a slew of grant programs across 2016 geared toward artists acting as vehicles for social change. With Trump's forthcoming administration, expect to see more.
Worst Campus Gift: Dartmouth’s Irving Institute
What university in its right mind would accept $80 million from an oil family to fund a new institute on energy?
Tech Philanthropist of the Year: Sean Parker
Besides rolling out a sophisticated $250 million initiative to advance cancer immunotherapy, Parker continued to bankroll a new think tank for economic research in Washington, among other activities, and was a top backer of the successful California ballot initiative that legalized pot.
Wall Street Philanthropists of the Year: Alex and Steve Cohen
The Cohens made one of the biggest gifts of this year, putting up $275 million for veterans mental health. They also doubled down on Lyme Disease, with a smart funding strategy that’s made them the most important funders in a niche that touches many lives. Also: we loved how Alex and staff hit the road in an RV to get outside the East Coast bubble!
Runners Up: Ray and Barbara Dalio
Their family foundation, tapping one of America’s largest hedge fund fortunes, finally edged out of the shadows this year to become a tad more transparent. Which is a big deal since it gives out over $100 million a year.
Most Inspiring Corporate Funder: Patagonia
Its quick decision to donate all Black Friday sales to nonprofits generated a surprise $10 million in grants.
Least Inspiring Corporate Funder: Too Many to List
But the good news is that while much of corporate philanthropy remains a backwater, this is starting to change, with funders getting more savvy and strategic.
Manifesto of the Year: “Building a Foundation for the 21st Century”
Lots of foundation heads say stuff like “the world had changed, and we must change as well.” But F.B. Heron’s Clara Miller has actually acted on this truth in a dramatic way, which is just one reason to read her essay.
Runner Up: Julia Stasch’s 2016 President’s Essay
This essay in the MacArthur Foundation’s latest annual report—spotlighting many of the top issues funders should be thinking about, starting with philanthropy’s “crisis of legitimacy”—reminded us why we named Stasch “Foundation President of the Year” last December.
Scariest New Magnet for Research Dollars: Artificial Intelligence
Most Intriguing Heirs: The Third Generation Waltons
Will the younger heirs to America’s largest family fortune succumb to “Rockefeller Syndrome”—i.e., growing liberalism amid generational change? It’s too early to say, but some signs point that way, like how the Walton Family Foundation is now among the biggest U.S. environmental funders.
Most Powerful Heir: Rebekah Mercer
See above. Mercer is even a member of Trump’s transition team. Meanwhile, she continues to channel millions in grantmaking every year.
Most Articulate Heir: David Kaiser
In a set of articles and radio appearances, Kaiser—a fifth-generation Rockefeller—has emerged as an eloquent spokesperson for his family’s extraordinary effort to hold ExxonMobil accountable for its decades-long effort to mislead the U.S. public about climate change.
Green Giving Trend With the Most Momentum: Ocean Conservation
Best Funder of Parks Philanthropy: William Penn Foundation
With its $100 million grant to fund parks across Philadelphia, the Penn Foundation showed how this kind of giving can be done more equitably than is often the case.
Most Complicated Family of Philanthropists: The Pritzkers
This year, we finally took the time to sort out which Pritzkers are giving for what in a family with 11 billionaires and many philanthropic involvements. Enjoy!
Hottest Arts Philanthropy Trend: Artist as Activist
We looked at a slew of new grant programs across 2016 geared toward artists acting as vehicles for social change—and with Trump’s election, we bet we’ll see even more.
Most Read Article in Inside Philanthropy: What the Heck Does the Clinton Foundation Actually Do?
Our handy guide to a complex operation that's been demonized has kept racking up page views even after the election.
Most Important Article in Inside Philanthropy: Meet the 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy
If you don’t understand the growing role and influence of women in the philanthrosphere, you’re missing how modern giving increasingly works. Start here.
An unvarnished look at how relationships with colleague in development offices can turn toxic; and a candid discussion of how winning the fundraising head game and being authentic are keys to pulling in the serious bucks.
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