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Meet 5 Philanthropists With Urgent Distribution Models for Change – Robb Report
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Meet 5 Philanthropists With Urgent Distribution Models for Change – Robb Report

Today's Philanthropists


PhilanthropyThe world is changing. Spurred by the Covid-19 crisis, America’s racial reckoning, increasingly frequent climate disasters and a profound sense that traditional ways of giving are insufficient to meet burgeoning needs, donors are re-examining not only what but How They give.

“We’re at a point of inflection for philanthropy. When we look at the past 18 months, there is a growing awareness that existing approaches to social impact are not enough,” says Nicholas A. Tedesco, president and CEO of the National Center for Family Philanthropy. “When you look at the crises in aggregate, what we’re seeing is an inability to recover. Philanthropists are starting to reflect on how we might provide guardrails to be more resilient and hopefully to prevent additional crises—to the extent possible—from happening.”

Following the examples of donors like MacKenzie Scott, who has given away more than $8 billion in short order with a “no strings attached” approach, philanthroPists are rewriting their protocols. They’re lessening reporting burdens on grantees and establishing more trusting relationships with the communities they want to help. Progressive benefactors are also putting more pressure on their spending by avoiding foundations that operate in perpetuity, and instead creating models that allow them to spend their entire endowment within a matter of 10 years.

These innovations come at a time when charitable giving is rising in the US. In 2020, $471.44 billion was contributed by Americans through bequests, corporations, and foundations. This figure is nearly 4 percent higher than in 2019, adjusted for inflation. Giving USA Foundation.

Robb Report We spoke with leaders in this field, including philanthropists, executives, and those who are addressing pressing problems, such as racism and mass incarceration. They use sophisticated financial structures, but also the simplest tools: the will to bring about change and to do so quickly.

Today's Philanthropists

Jennifer and David Risher. #HalfMyDAF was founded in 2020. 

Mark Mann

One month after covid struck San Francisco, Jennifer David RisherThey found themselves in Napa Valley, talking about how they could help during the crisis.

Jennifer was a Microsoft employee early in her career. David also worked for Microsoft. Jennifer has long shared her generosity with organizations like Planned ParenthoodThe United WayNPR. David founded NPR after leaving Microsoft and later Amazon. WorldreaderThe organization has distributed more than 67 million digital books to over 18 million children and young people since its inception in 2010. They had to rethink their giving after the pandemic. “Covid has spotlighted the reality of economic and racial inequality, and we’re facing climate change in new ways,” says Jennifer. “We knew that nonprofits were strapped and stressed, and we thought, ‘What can we do to help?’ ”

The couple quickly hit upon a solution: targeting the money that was sitting at the ready—but languIshing in donor-advised funds, or DAFs, which hold an estimated $140 billion. “We were highly aware of all the money stuck in DAFs. There’s this whole ‘wait for a rainy day’ mentality,” she says. “This is The rainy day. This is the moment. We need to move that money.”

They did: In May 2020, the couple married. GivingTuesdayTo launch #HalfMyDAFDonors who pledged to spend half their DAF accounts by September 30th would receive $1 million in matching grants. Qualifying donors nominate nonprofits. The Rishers randomly selected grantees from a wide range of organizations, including the Alzheimer’s AssociationThe Chinese Progressive Association, EarthjusticeThe Equal Justice Initiative.

“We didn’t insert ourselves in the process,” Jennifer says. “The goal was just to get the money moving.”

It is. #HalfMyDAF, which was launched in 2016, has inspired donors and others to join the Rishers in matching donations to move $19.2million from donor-advised fund to nonprofits. “The conversation is very exciting, with donors telling us, ‘This is the nudge I needed,’ and families talking about values and what they wanted to give,” says Jennifer, who delved into issues about money and family dynamics in her 2020 memoir, We Need to Talk.

The couple plan to continue #HalfMyDAF, but while it’s helpful, the Rishers believe it’s not enough. “We need policy changes,” Jennifer says. “I should pay more taxes, we need to increase minimum wage, we need a higher social safety net, we need to make reparations.” In particular, she supports the Accelerating Charitable Efforts Act, bipartisan legislation that would require DAF holders to distribute their funds within 15 years in order to receive upfront income-tax deductions.

The country’s racial reckoning, particularly around health disparities highlighted by Covid, has fueled her sense of urgency, prompting her to invest with Black women and Latina fund managers. “When I look at philanthropy, it’s white people of privilege controlling the wealth,” she says. “I want to cede my power and my capital to marginalized communities, and to the people on the ground helping those communities.” Re-evaluating traditional philanthropy, Jennifer says, is essential to creating a healthy society, but, with many of us uncomfortable talking about money, transparency is not easy. “Our silence keeps the status quo in place and keeps us from examining our relationship with money, from holding ourselves accountable,” she says, “and it keeps us in a bubble unaware of our own privilege.”

Today's Philanthropists

Christina Lewis. All Star Code was founded in 2013. 

Mark Mann

Self-described “philanthropreneur” Christina Lewis has a mission: “to provide not just something decent, but something excellent,” to Black and Latino boys, she says, “which is what they deserve.”

Lewis promotes those high standards through All Star CodeShe founded, in 2013. All Star Code is holistic and identifies promising Black and Latino high-school boys and enrolls them in summer intensive programs to learn computer coding. The New York City–based nonprofit mentors the students, leading most of them to major in computer science in college and ultimately to land jobs at blue-chip companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, JPMorgan Chase and Google. All Star Code has graduated more than 1,000 students to date. Nearly 70% of them qualified for free or reduced lunch, and 95 percent went on to college.

“All Star Code has broken this ground with tech and media companies,” Lewis says, and has inspired AT&T, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and other major corporations to contribute by serving as sites for the courses and helping with college-search and job-placement efforts.

Lewis’s own family story straddles the opportunity divide: Her father, Reginald Lewis, was raised by his mother and grand- parents. “I grew up knowing about my father and his mother and others being Black in segregated Baltimore and having to work all their lives for white people who thought they were inferior, cleaning houses for a buck and change,” she says. “That story has always been with me.”

Reginald became a prominent corporate-takeover financer, a self-made multimillionaire, and the first Black man who owned a company with over $1 billion in annual revenue, TLC Beatrice International holdings Inc., before he died in 1993 from brain cancer at 50. He was also a philanthropist who gave millions to others. Howard University Harvard Law SchoolHis alma matter, as well as homeless shelters, churches, and schools. His daughter wore his monogrammed shirt. Robb Report’A photo shoot to pay tribute to him. He was raised in privilege and studied at Harvard.

After working as journalist at The Wall Street Journal for five years, Lewis attended her first tech conference in 2011 and noted the industry’s dynamism. “It was such a fun business, but I saw no Black or Latino people participating in the core of that,” she says. “I realized this was where Black people need to be to close the wealth gap, to leapfrog over historic inequities. I wanted to build on the legacy I was given.” Working with her mother, she founded All Star Code and remains actively involved in students’ lives, exchanging direct messages and encouraging them to polish their LinkedIn pages.

The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder has spurred her to more action: Lewis recently cofounded Giving Gap, formerly known as Give Blck, a platform that connects donors with over 700 Black-founded charities. “I do feel more urgency. The language around systemic racism has been really empowering,” she says. “When I started All Star Code, I had to explain the entire history of segregation in this country and make a link from segregation to the wealth gap to entrepreneurialism and to the business sector and to boys and girls. I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Lewis is committed to her legacy and teaches her children how to collaborate and help others. She often brings her children along to events. When they asked Lewis if they were part of All Star Code or Giving Gap, she replied that they were. This was a testament to another value she inherited and hopes to pass on: hard work and fierce independence.

“I said, ‘No, those are my foundations,’ ” she says with a smile. “ ‘You’ll have to start your own.’ ”

Today's Philanthropists

Regan Pritzker, Nwamaka Agbo Kataly Foundation was founded in 2018. 

Mark Mann

Regan Pritzker was raised in Chicago. vaguely suffocated by seeing her famously philanthropic family’s name on schools, hospitals and even parks. “It felt very self-congratulatory, instead of focusing on community and the true root of Jewish philanthropy, which is to be more anonymous in your giving,” says Pritzker, who distanced herself by moving to California and working as an elementary schoolteacher.

Pritzker was somewhat reluctant to serve with her siblings. Libra FoundationShe founded a social-justice charity called, but she became more excited when she faced her doubts. “My discomfort came from recognizing that my wealth came at the expense of others,” she says, and from realizing the issues she cared about profoundly—environmental and social injustice—were connected to the wealth inequalities from which she benefitted.

Her work at Libra includes groups such as Movement Generation—which seeks to shift traditional philanthropy, with its top-down management and frequently onerous reporting requirements, to a more relationship-based and community-minded endeavor—helped persuade her to start the Kataly Foundation2018 Part of her goal, she says, “is to say to philanthropists like me, people with money and race privilege: ‘We need to be willing to critique the system that we have benefitted from in order to move forward.’ ”

Led by Nwamaka AgboKataly was founded with $445million. Kataly is a social justice activist and specialist in restorative economics. The foundation focuses on community wealth-building, economic and environmental justice, and mindfulness training. The foundation has a 10-to-15-year time frame to spend its assets and directs them towards communities of color.

Crucially, Agbo notes, Kataly’s program directors “come out of direct lived and movement-building experience,” which helps them build trust. “BIPOC communities experience systemic barriers in accessing the typical ‘friends and family’ capital that wealthier communities have,” Agbo says. To offset obstacles imposed by structural racism, Kataly provides “non-extractive” loans, permitting financial loss in return for greater social impact. The foundation’s Restorative Economies Fund enables stakeholders to make collective decisions about which initiatives to invest in.

“It seems so obvious to me that philanthropy should be funding projects like that, but many foundations have restrictions on capital projects—they won’t fund a building campaign or an ownership campaign,” Pritzker says. “For us, that’s the clear way to make these resources durable and have a benefit that outlives our foundation.”

Kataly funds almost 300 organizations. This diverse list includes the following: East Bay Permanent Real Estate CooperativeBIPOC communities can purchase mixed-use and residential properties through the, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, a group that advocates for immigrant communities. Harvard Divinity School.

The twin crises of Covid and racially motivated violence further solidified Kataly’s relevance, Pritzker says. “So many of our problems are all connected to this broader, unacknowledged history of racism in America,” she says. “We’ve been showing up at a significant enough scale to get people’s attention in the philanthropy world, and therefore to serve as an invitation to others. Big funders are moving more money, they’re moving it at scale, and they’re moving it to Black-led and Indigenous-led groups.”

Kataly provided clarity for Pritzker, who had struggled with guilt for years. “I don’t think traditional philanthropy has permission anymore to be holding all the cards,” she says. “Private individuals with wealth shouldn’t be the ones determining where community resources should go.”

Today's Philanthropists

Agnes Gund. Art for Justice Fund, founded in 2017. 

Mark Mann

When was it a decade ago? Agnes GundWhen she was just starting to explore charitable giving, her mentor Irene Diamond, a philanthropist, gave her some great advice. “She told me: ‘Be generous during your lifetime,’ ” rather than creating an endowment, says Gund, who is matter-of-fact and humble, despite her outsize role supporting dozens of organizations, including the ACLU; the Barnes Foundation, where is she a trustee emerita Cleveland Museum of Art, on whom she currently sits on the board; Museum of Modern Art, where is she president emerita & life trustee; and Studio MuseumHarlem

The New York City doyenne in philanthropy, has spent more than $100 Million fighting mass incarceration since 2017. Art for Justice FundThe goal of this project is to reduce the prison population. It also, like many of her other efforts, includes art and artists in the solution.

In 1977, when the city’s dire financial situation led to art classes being slashed at public schools, Gund rallied her art-world friends to help create Studio in a Schoolbringing instruction and working artists directly to classrooms. Studio now encompasses eight US cities, managed by two organizations—Studio in a School NYC and the Studio Institute—with a combined operating budget of $7 million. The most prominent contemporary artists include Glenn Ligon Sarah SzeYou can also teach classes and receive coveted training as a public school art teacher.

“All of this is based upon Agnes’s vision of equity and inclusion and serving the communities that need us most,” says Alison Scott-Williams, president of Studio in a School NYC.

Gund, 83, is still focused on making her philanthropic dollars go further. Gund often awards multiyear grants to alleviate the burden on nonprofits. She also provides direct support, rather than funneling money through foundations that fund grantees or sometimes take administrative fees. “This allows me to make immediate impact and pivot more quickly if needed,” she says.

Gund, a white-heiress to a bank and real-estate fortune, felt a sense of urgency that has led her to become a leader for criminal-justice reform. After seeing Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, Gund began to read about the issue and sought out information. Bryan Stevenson, Michelle AlexanderExperts. Her horror prompted her to sell one of her favorite paintings, Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 Masterpiece, 100 million to fund the Art for Justice Fund.

The fund has distributed $92million to 287 non-profits over four years. Additionally, it has raised nearly $25million from more than 100 individual donors including artists and collectors. Among the beneficiaries are A New Way of Life, which provides housing and support to formerly incarcerated females. Gund also continues to personally donate to nonprofits that she “loves and adores” in the field, such as Puppies Behind BarsThe prisons of inmates are trained to raise service dog for wounded war vets and first responders.

Not one to rest, Gund has visited prison and detention centers and is now actively involved in helping female inmates who have suffered severe abuse at New York’s Rikers Island jail. She is now focusing her attention on climate change, citing artist Maya Lin’s installation Ghost Forest Madison Square Park is her inspiration. Her approach is to harness art as a force of good.

“Agnes is an extraordinary philanthropist. She has an incredible sense of timing,” says Helena Huang, project director of Art for Justice. “She is wonderfully impatient. She’s always saying, ‘Why can’t we do more?’ ”


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