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The majority of institutional “big bets” are safe ones. They help a municipal library build a new wing or endow a professorship. They help an institution do more of what it was already doing or do it better. They are still bets; after all, there is no sure thing in philanthropy—even a building project could stall. However, the odds are relatively short, especially at the leading organizations that get the lion’s share of large philanthropic gifts.
In essence, these big bets follow-on historical bets to organizations that have achieved a track record of success in building their institutions.
A big bet for a given social change is another creature entirely. It is not the funding of an enhancement to an already attractive status quo; it, by its very name, is designed to produce a change from the status quo—typically a substantial change that brings about greater social justice, equality, or well-being. That means the bet is a step-function bolder—one that, at its inception at least, will have considerably higher risk...