Meet Dustin Moskovitz, the Man Who's Giving Away His Facebook Billions

If giving away money is harder than it looks, as is so often said, giving away a huge amount of money fast is especially hard. But that is exactly what Dustin Moskovitz plans to do with his multi-billion dollar Facebook fortune, as we have previously reported: Give it all away in his lifetime without leaving a permanent foundation behind.

Moskovitz's philanthropic dash is officially underway, with his new foundation, Good Ventures, open for business and starting to give out grants. Heading this operation is Moskovitz's fiance Cari Tuna (who we have written about here), a former Wall Street Journal reporter who quit journalism over a year ago to focus full-time on philanthropy. Tuna has her work cut out for her, as Good Venture's annual giving a few years from now may well surpass that of some of the largest foundations in America.

Good Ventures announced its first major grants last year (more about those in a moment), but so far Tuna's focus has been less on giving and more listening. She has met with numerous leaders in philanthropy and international development, peppering them with big questions about approach and impact. Many of these conversations have been jointly undertaken with GiveWell, as charity evaluation organization whose board Tuna sits on.

In an unusual step, Good Ventures has publicly posted notes from some of these conversations -- stating that doing so reflected one of its core goals, which is bringing greater transparency to social sector. As Tuna wrote on the foundation's Facebook page:

One of our goals as a foundation is to share as much as possible about what we’re learning and funding for the benefit of other donors. This goal stems from our hypothesis that more information transparency in the social sector -- i.e. increasing the availability of honest, detailed information about other donors’ giving and charities’ activities and results -- would lead many donors to make better giving decisions and philanthropy on the whole to add more value to society.

Amen to that. Here at Inside Philanthropy we believe the same thing. Let's hope that other funders are paying attention to Good Ventures. Let's also hope that Tuna and Moskovitz's commitment to philanthropy endures after critics starting raising questions or doubts about Good Ventures' funding decisions.

Beyond its commitment to transparency, another refreshing aspect of Good Ventures is that Tuna and Moskovitz seem determined to remain flexible and open-minded -- clearly understanding that they have a lot to learn as they promote the foundation's (purposefully) broad mission, which is "help humanity thrive." They also understand that humanity's problems evolve rapidly, and Good Ventures will have to evolve, too. In an overview of the foundation, posted on Facebook in June, Tuna had this to say:

Right now, we have a strong vision and set of values but few preconceived notions about how to do the most good. We think that blank slate is an asset. Rather than committing ourselves to causes upfront, as many philanthropists do today, we’re planning to spend a lot of time reflecting on -- and experimenting with -- what causes to focus on.

Okay, all that sounds great. But what exactly does Good Ventures plan to fund now. Tuni says the foundation doesn't have programs yet, but it does have three core goals guiding its initial grantmaking:

  1. researching, supporting and promoting cost-effective approaches to improving quality of life worldwide;
  2. advancing public policies that protect or expand personal freedom;
  3. and increasing the impact of philanthropy by encouraging effectiveness and transparency across the social sector.

How have these goals translated so far into grants?

Tuna and Moskovitz have made life easy for themselves by choosing to direct grants to eight organizations championed by GiveWell. In December, Tuna announced a $500,000 grant to Against Malaria Foundation and $250,000 to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, "GiveWell’s #1 and #2 charity recommendations this giving season, respectively."

She also said Good Ventures "plans to donate to the six nonprofits that GiveWell recently named 'standout organizations': GiveDirectly, Innovations for Poverty Action, KIPP Houston, Nyaya Health, Pratham and the Small Enterprise Foundation.

So what should we make of these initial grants? Well, clearly Good Ventures is happy to have somebody else do their homework for them in terms of prioritizing resources -- in refreshing contrast to many foundation leaders who would rather keep this power for themselves and their large staffs of program officers. 

Also, these initial grant show that Good Ventures will definitely be getting into the global poverty area in a big way. No surprise there, since new philanthropist quickly realizes that their dollars can go further in poor countries than rich countries.

Other than that, Good Ventures remains a work in progress. So far, we like what we see.