Philanthropy Awards, 2018



The world of giving has been changing fast in recent years—so fast that it can be hard to keep up with all that’s going on. Nearly every week seems to bring news of a huge gift or funding initiative, often from deep-pocketed donors who only recently emerged on the scene. There’s also plenty of flux in foundation land, as concerns about equity and race push to the forefront and as trends like impact investing and listening gain more steam.

Our annual IP Philanthropy Awards, or IPPYs, are a moment when we try to pull back the lens and get a better fix on the big picture. They’re also a lot of fun, allowing us to spotlight the stuff that’s really excited us over the year—or, in some cases, appalled us. (See winners for 201720162015, and 2014.)

We’ll say it again: There’s never been a more exciting time in U.S. philanthropy than right now, and 2018 has been yet another year of major developments. Enjoy our latest IPPYs! 

If you're not yet a subscriber, you might want to become one before you start clicking on the links below so you can read our best articles of the year. 

The 2018 IPPYs

Philanthropists of the Year: Marc and Lynne Benioff

Along with his wife, the Salesforce founder is the conscience of Silicon Valley in an era of inequality, most recently backing a controversial San Francisco push to help the homeless. Meanwhile, over a thousand tech companies nationwide have signed on to Marc’s 1+1+1 vision of corporate philanthropy.

Runner-Up: Robert F. Smith

The nation’s wealthiest African American is now also one of its biggest philanthropists. Smith is tapping his multi-billion-dollar private equity fortune to scale up a foundation dedicated to social change and creating “an enduring American legacy.”

Special Newcomer Award: Craig Newmark

The Craigslist founder has been giving for years, but 2018 was the year this “old-school nerd” broke out as a big-league donor focused on some of the top issues of our time, including voter protection, trustworthy journalism, and the outsized power of the tech industry where he’s made his fortune.

Philanthropy’s Biggest Success: Criminal Justice Reform

While the new federal law may be so-so, it’s just the tip of a powerful national reform push bankrolled by a growing array of funders who are scaling up outfits like the Bail Project and scoring gains across the U.S.

Biggest Failure: Democracy

Democracies are dropping like flies worldwide, the postwar liberal order is disintegrating, and America’s own democratic institutions are teetering. If philanthropy’s leaders have a plan to save the day, we haven’t heard it.

Runner-Up: Opioids

Hundreds of U.S. foundations focus exclusively on health, but most seem too busy working “upstream” on the social determinants of well-being to tackle the biggest public health crisis since AIDS, with 70,000 dead last year alone. Slowly, though, more funders are stepping up—including Michael Bloomberg.

Foundation President of the Year: Fred Blackwell

After retooling the San Francisco Foundation to focus laser-like on race and equity in a city that’s become ground zero of the new inequality, Blackwell is helping lead a public-private push to tackle the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

Foundation President We’ll Miss the Most: Julia Stasch

Big foundations tend to do too many things and can be hard to streamline. Stasch, who’ll be leaving the MacArthur Foundation next year, showed how to make these elephants dance.

Foundation President We’ll Miss the Least: Emmett Carson

Even as he wooed tech billionaires to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Carson let a key deputy create a “toxic culture” of fear before he was forced to resign in June.

Most Promising New Presidents: Elizabeth Alexander and Don Chen

While Alexander seems like the perfect leader to juice up the sleepy Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Chen will lead Surdna, an influential social justice funder, bringing an impressive track record and plans to focus on racial justice.

Most Overpaid Foundation President: Too Many to Name

They don’t have to raise money and they run institutions that face minimal scrutiny and can’t go broke. Better yet, everyone laughs at their jokes. So why are many foundation CEOs pulling in high-six-figure salaries or more?

Most Promising Foundation Reform Effort: Ford’s BUILD Initiative

Ford is a behemoth of an institution that doesn’t change easily, but it’s now shaking things up with its BUILD initiative, offering big chunks of money for capacity-building and general support. Even those steely critics at NCRP are impressed.

Most Promising Sector Reform Effort: Participatory Grantmaking

Is philanthropy about making grants or is it about shifting power? Either way, the true believers of participatory grantmaking say inviting community members to make funding decisions is a more effective approach to giving.

Philanthropy Piñata of the Year: Jeff Bezos

When the Amazon founder and his wife MacKenzie announced their first big foray in giving, it seemed like everyone had an opinion, mostly negative. While we also piled on, this is kind of like sniping at the opening credits of a movie that could be playing for many decades, or even centuries, to come.

Runner-Up: Michael Bloomberg

Was the largest donation ever to a higher ed institution a “tragedy” of wasted money or a breakthrough for college access? The truth lies somewhere in-between, but the furious debate over Mike’s $1.8 billion give to Johns Hopkins underscores the (deserved) new scrutiny of big philanthropy.

Super-Citizen of the Year: George Kaiser

The clout of billionaire donors in local affairs can worsen civic inequality. But their contributions can also be impressive—like the new $400 million Gathering Place park that Kaiser bankrolled in Tulsa, just his latest big gift to improve life in the city.

Best Donation of the Year: LEGO’s $100 Million for Refugee Children

While it’s hard to assess likely impact, the toy company’s big give showed that somebody cares about the millions of children growing up without homes, schools or hope—one of the greatest tragedies of modern times.

Donation Debacle of the Year: Stephen Schwarzman’s $25 Million Gift to His High School Alma Mater

It seemed sweet that the private equity tycoon was giving back to his high school, until the odious set of strings attached to his gift became public, providing a case study of donor overreach and triggering the latest billionaire backlash.

Mega-Giver We Will Miss the Most: Paul Allen

Before he died in October, Allen brought vision, daring and compassion to his philanthropy. Now, his $20 billion estate will likely be used to fulfill his grand ambitions for breakthroughs in biomedical research and global problem solving. Stayed tuned for more details.

Mega-Giver We Will Miss the Least: David Koch

Koch retired this year from public life due to ailing health. While some of his biggest gifts have been for medical research and the arts, he’s done enormous damage by bankrolling climate denial and extremist libertarian ideas.  

Most Resilient Mega-Givers: Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg

Building a new public park in New York City is not for the faint of heart. But despite years of legal attacks and criticism (including from us), along with spiraling costs, construction is underway for the couple’s Pier 55 project, aka “Diller Island.”

Hardest Working Mega-Givers: Laura and John Arnold

Few billionaire couples have worked harder at building up a top-tier professional foundation in recent years and getting lots of money out the door—$1.1 billion so far—to tackle some of society’s most complicated challenges.

Most Modest Mega-Giver: Barbara Dalio

Even as she helps to steer a family foundation backstopped by husband Ray’s vast hedge fund fortune, Dalio has made a point of listening and learning in her main focus area of education, where too many billionaires think they have all the answers.

Most Underrated Mega-Giver: Bill Cummings

At first glance, the Boston billionaire looks like just another rich guy sprinkling around feel-good gifts to local nonprofits. In fact, he’s pioneered a new model for sustainable giving that harnesses a lucrative real estate empire to philanthropy. He’s also a long-time leader in offering general operating support.

Hottest New Cause for Mega-Givers: Economic Mobility

The Gates Foundation’s move into U.S. anti-poverty work this year was big news. Other mega-givers who’ve come to this space in recent years include Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Steve and Connie Ballmer, Michael Bloomberg, Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin.

Philanthropy Critic of the Year: Rob Reich

Reich’s new book Just Giving offers a damning and rigorous critique of a sector that does little to advance equality and often works at odds with democracy. Just Giving will be required reading for all critics to come.

Most Talked About Philanthropy Critic: Anand Giridharadas

No, all elite efforts to save the world aren’t a “charade,” as Winners Take All cavalierly suggests. But this engaging drive-by shooting of the super rich generated tons of much-needed discussion of upper class predation and hypocrisy.

Most Radical Philanthropy Critic: Edgar Villanueva

The title of the new book by this foundation world insider pretty much says it all: Decolonizing Wealth. Saying that philanthropy needs an “intervention,” Villanueva’s treatise is directed at the “people who direct the flow of money” and have the power to use it more equitably.

Best Corporate Donor: Patagonia

Once again, Patagonia impresses us with its aggressive, grassroots approach to corporate philanthropy and activism, devoting its $10 million Trump tax cut this year to environmental groups.

Most Self-Serving Corporate Philanthropy: ExxonMobil’s Carbon Tax Donation

While it’s encouraging that industry is being forced to come to the table on climate, this $1 million donation is not only a pittance, it also supports policy that would free industry from EPA regulations and legal liability.

Runner-Up: Big Pharma’s Opioid Giving

After making billions hooking Americans on opioids, pharma giants like McKesson are now trumpeting their relatively meager charitable gifts to address the crisis. This blood money is corporate philanthropy at its worst.

Affinity Group of the Year: Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation

One of the oldest funder affinity groups around is marshalling democracy grantmakers to ensure an accurate 2020 census in the face of Trump administration efforts to sabotage the process. The stakes are high in terms of who gets heard in elections and who gets what from government.

Philanthropy Action Hero of the Year: J.B. Pritzker

After years of pushing his favored causes—most notably early childhood education—as a private donor, Pritzker spent $171 million of his own money to get a job wielding even greater power—Governor of Illinois. He’ll take office next month.

Philanthropy Bogeyman of the Year: George Soros

Soros is under attack everywhere nationalism burns and anti-semitism simmers. But with his $20 billion Open Society Foundations now set to operate in perpetuity, Soros’ crusade for democracy and human rights will continue long after the likes of Viktor Orbán and Donald Trump are gone.

Best Unsung Heroes: The Funders “Outside” the Global Climate Action Summit

While big foundations and corporations made high-dollar climate pledges under the spotlight, smaller funders like Chorus, Libra, Surdna and Kendeda backed diverse, impassioned events outside the summit, pushing for equity and bolder solutions.

Trend to Watch in Climate Giving: Focus on India and China

With huge stakes in these rapidly electrifying countries, Hewlett and MacArthur are both putting a big emphasis on supporting climate action in Asia. Look to see others doing the same.

Most Important New Regional Foundation: Mother Cabrini Health Foundation

Health legacy foundations are remaking local philanthropy, and this is the biggest newcomer to the scene, with $3.2 billion in assets and a focus on New York State.

Hottest Science Giving Trend: Artificial Intelligence

Year after year, machine learning and other forms of AI have been a white hot topic among research funders, and those concerned about legal and ethical implications.

Science Funder of the Year: Kavli Foundation

Kavli didn’t make big headlines in 2018. In fact, it rarely does. But the foundation has been one of the most consistent supporters of science over the years by endowing university-based Kavli Institutes. In the aftermath of Fred Kavli's passing, the foundation is doubling annual giving.

Donor Organizers of the Year: Hali Lee, Ashindi Maxton, Tuhina De O’Connor, Urvashi Vaid

These veterans of the philanthropy scene are among the leaders of a growing effort to galvanize greater and more strategic giving by donors of color—in an era when the wealth of non-white Americans has been growing fast.

Best Friend to Donor Organizers: The Surdna Foundation

With an eye on cultivating “next-generation social justice philanthropy,” this century-old family foundation rolled out grants early this year to 21 groups that are organizing young wealth holders into a potent force for change.

Environmental Funders of the Year: The Intermediaries

We’ve been continually impressed by the outfits serving as conduits between philanthropic dollars and the corners of the movement that need far more support—including Rachel’s Network, Global Greengrants, Climate Justice Alliance, Environmental Defenders Fund and Climate Justice Resilience Fund, to name a few.

Best Move Toward Transparency: Sea Change Foundation

While they’re among the largest living donors to climate change, Nat and Laura Baxter-Simons had almost no public profile for over a decade. In an Inside Philanthropy exclusive, the couple went public. They’re still holding their cards awfully close, but this is a good step nonetheless for these powerful donors.

Most Valuable Heirs: The Simons family

Nat is just one of the children of hedge fund whiz Jim Simons engaged in high level giving. Liz and Audrey are also piloting young foundations with ambitious agendas.

Heir to Watch Most Closely: Alexander Soros

The youngest child of George Soros is an active philanthropist and political donor in his own right and seems likely to be a key figure in whatever comes next for the Open Society Foundations, now the nation’s second-largest philanthropy.

Heir to Keep Your Fingers Crossed About: Chase Koch

While his father Charles Koch is still fully engaged in business, politics and philanthropy, Chase is becoming a more visible leader in Koch world, and according to some reports, is a more moderate figure than his dad or uncle David.

Best Report: “Four Pathways to Greater Giving.”

The Bridgespan Group has been working for years to induce greater philanthropic giving by the ultra-wealthy, especially for social change. Its latest call to action is packed with fascinating insights, ideas and data.

Philanthropy Journalist of the Year: Marc Gunther

Gunther exposed the “toxic culture” at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, leading to the resignation of its leadership, and subsequently, to real change. He’s also shed critical light on the sub-par returns that foundations get on their endowments.

Smartest Newcomer to the Philanthropy Beat: Dylan Matthews

While this super-wonk has written on philanthropy occasionally, he’s now giving the subject top billing in Vox’s new Future Perfect blog. The sector will be better off as a result.

Sports Philanthropist of the Year: LeBron James

Long before he was dissed by President Trump following his work to open an elementary school in Ohio for at-risk kids, we were keeping an eye on James, one of the top philanthropists to emerge recently from the ranks of professional sports. We’re also watching his fellow NBA star Kevin Durant.

Biggest New K-12 Donor: Michael Bloomberg

With big pledges coming so fast these days, it was easy to miss Mike’s rollout of a $375 million initiative to improve schools by spreading the same education reform ideas he pushed as Mayor of New York City.

Hottest (and Most Dubious) Higher Ed Trend: Accessibility at Elite Universities

Mega-donors like Bloomberg and Ron Perelman want to help Ivy League schools admit more low-income students. It’s a laudable goal, but the jury’s still out on whether their efforts will have a meaningful impact.

Most Reliable Controversy in Higher Ed Fundraising: Toxic Donations

As the money keeps rolling in, universities face heightened scrutiny around the sources of their financial windfall—and not just regarding specific donors, but entire countries, as well.

Most Successful "Activist Art" Funders: Agnes Gund and the Ford Foundation

The Art for Justice Fund was launched last year to end mass incarceration and has already given away $40 million, fueling the growing momentum for criminal justice reform.

Arts Organizations to Keep Your Eye On: Your Grandfather's Arts Institutions

Once derided as calcified relics of the past, “legacy” institutions continue to be surprisingly nimble in an age when funders are pushing for greater access, equity and socially focused programming.

Philanthropy Watchdog of the Year: The New York State Attorney General

States AGs are supposed to police the charitable sector, but few really step up to this role. The New York AG lawsuit that shuttered the Trump Foundation was a welcome exception—and offered some cautionary lessons for almost anyone with a private foundation.

Least-Surprising Giving Trend Inspired By Trump: Rage Giving

It turns out that a lot of the surge in donations since the 2016 election has been from women donors determined to “resist,” mostly with small contributions. What could they possibly be so upset about?

Fundraisers Who We Will Miss the Most: Kent Dove and Jerry Panas

Panas was a longtime master of the big ask, while Dove rarely dealt with donors and instead focused on fundraising strategy, writing five books. Both had storied careers in development before they passed on this year.

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