Alternative Giving

Mark Kramer: Philanthropists can use resources beyond just giving away money and the importance of the personal leadership of the philanthropists in actually organizing people and making change, and the importance of mission-related investments, of foundations using their endowment funds to invest not just in the stock market or international securities, but actually to invest in profitable enterprises that are helping achieve social missions, that are helping further their charitable objectives. We see a real growth in foundations beginning to use these practices in the United States.

Just over the last five years, the amount of foundation endowment dollars has more than tripled that’s going into these mission-related investments and it’s a tremendous opportunity. So many of the social problems we look at are actually economic issues, whether it’s affordable housing, whether it’s poverty and employment, whether it’s healthcare. These are frankly business issues and if we’re trying to work only through the nonprofit sector, I don’t believe we can solve them. So there really are business opportunities and investment opportunities in profitable enterprises that can help address social issues and that’s a very important tool.


Topic: Philanthropic Leadership


Mark Kramer: I define philanthropic leadership first and foremost as the idea of actually solving a problem, of thinking not about giving away money but of taking responsibility for the different elements that need to be in place to create a solution. I also think of philanthropic leadership as involving real personal commitment of time and energy. This is not something that can be delegated to others and most people who have the wealth to be significant philanthropists also have the clout and the network and the expertise and intelligence to be tremendously impactful players on the issue and they need to bring their own leadership to bear, their personal leadership to make things happen on this issue. I talked earlier about Tom Seibel and his meth campaign in Montana.

Once he demonstrated its effectiveness, he went to Congress and he personally met with more than a hundred congressmen to try and get federal funding for meth campaigns around the country. He has gone to talk to other donors. He’s gone to talk to other state governors and state legislatures to get this campaign spread to other states and it’s his network, it’s his high profile it’s his leadership that has helped get things done.

There’s probably no better example than Bill and Melinda Gates of really having changed how people think about philanthropy and having revolutionized how people think about neglected diseases. There are so many diseases in the world for which we know the cure and in some cases, it would cost a dollar to save someone’s life and yet, we’re not doing it. We’re not doing it because those people don’t really have a voice.

They don’t have a political voice, they don’t have an economic voice. But Gates really single handedly has focused attention on a lot of these neglected diseases and brought not just his money but really tremendous flows of capital from other sources and tremendous flows of innovation and creativity to address these issues. So the leadership piece, the personal leadership piece is tremendously important.


Question: What are MRIs?


Mark Kramer: MRI stands for mission related investment and it typically is used by foundations -- could be used by corporations as well. It’s making an investment where your goal is both a financial return and a social outcome or a social benefit. There are a lot of opportunities to do it. There are really three ways of thinking about mission related investments. The most obvious one that people often think about is screened portfolios of stocks. So you can say “I don’t want any tobacco companies in my portfolio,” and that’s a negative screen. Or you can say “I want companies that provide alternative energy,” and that’s a positive screen. That’s one useful way to think about it. Probably more powerful is to think about actually putting money into enterprises, whether it’s housing projects, whether it’s inner-city economic development, whether it’s venture capital funds that might be focusing on drugs for neglected diseases, but putting money into help start and grow enterprises that are actually delivering social benefit. There’s a growing market for these things and a growing opportunity for foundations and individuals to make these kinds of investments.


Recorded June 4, 2008.


New corporate and philanthropic structures are making smart giving easier.

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