Some thoughtful critics of big-bet philanthropy are concerned that outsize gifts could reinforce society’s existing power dynamics around race and class rather than furthering more equitable outcomes. Bridgespan shares these concerns. As a result, we looked at our big-bet database to research this issue. We found reason for hope and reason for concern—and a call to action.
We also found, however, that the leadership of big-bet recipient organizations is not particularly diverse by race or educational background (see “Who Is Getting a Big Bet,” right). Of the total number of big bets for social change documented in our database that donors committed between 2010 and 2014, only 11 percent went to organizations or initiatives led by people of color. One organization, the Harlem Children’s Zone, accounted for a third of those bets. These findings parallel studies showing that people of color are underrepresented in chief executive roles across the nonprofit sector, with estimates of their representation ranging from 10 to 20 percent.1 Starting on the hopeful note, a large portion of social change gifts focus on equity, opportunity, and justice causes, some with important effects. Take, for example, several recent big bets that seek to advance the education of America’s undocumented youth, close the racial disparity in breast cancer mortality, reform the US criminal justice system, and advance women’s empowerment globally. Expanding the number of such large and thoughtful gifts would unleash important change.
Although it is difficult to find comparable measures for social class, when we looked in our sample at the college or graduate-school background of leaders whose organizations had received big bets, we found that 42 percent were graduates of Ivy League universities. This is an extraordinary concentration from just eight institutions. The world’s billionaires have also disproportionately attended Ivy League schools, which accounted for five of the top seven of their alma maters.2 While it is good to see so many purpose-driven leaders from these schools focusing on the social sector, it surely speaks to the outsize role of personal networks and shared backgrounds in making the connections and developing the trust to make big bets. These patterns leave enormous opportunities undiscovered and unfunded.
Read the full article about looking beyond your inner circle by William Foster, Gail Perreault, and Cora Daniels at The Bridgespan Group.
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