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There are as many ways to do science philanthropy as there are science philanthropists. At a recent Science Philanthropy Alliance event, cohosted with UC Berkeley and the Heising-Simons Foundation, a panel of representatives from foundations shared their perspectives and practices.
Mark Heising, cofounder of the Heising-Simons Foundation, moderated a panel with Heising-Simons director of science Cyndi Atherton, Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation president Ron Rosequist, and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation chief program officer for science Robert Kirshner. As Heising pointed out, the three foundations are in three different stages of evolution, with the Curci Foundation, which got its start about ten years ago, as the youngest foundation; the Heising-Simons Foundation, established in 2007 during its “teenage years”; and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, founded in 2000 and whose founders had been giving prior to this date, as the “grown-up” of the three.
According to Rosequist, the Curcis started their philanthropy about ten years ago, when Shurl and Kay Curci decided that they wanted to give the bulk of their wealth to medical research. At the beginning, the Curcis, with input from their board, were giving away a few $100,000 grants, but with little process in choosing grant awardees. Rosequist suggested that they should explore a more methodical process for selecting grantees, for when their giving will eventually scale up to a much larger amount.
The first step was to articulate their mission. The Curcis started with eight pages, which they eventually distilled into a two-paragraph mission statement.
“We have two rules,” noted Rosequist. “If the NIH will fund it, we won’t. And we invite applications; we don’t take them over the transom.”
When Cyndi Atherton joined the Heising-Simons Foundation five years ago, “there was lots of white space,” she said. “Mark and Liz had done some work on their own, but there was pent-up demand in the physical sciences and in climate change science, and in astronomy and cosmology in particular. We borrowed the idea of doing scientist roundtables on specific topics from the Simons Foundation, and started to focus on subfields where there were a limited number of researchers so that we could have more of an impact.”
In contrast to the Curci Foundation and the Heising-Simons Foundation, Bob Kirshner came into the Moore Foundation when it already had an established program. The founders are still alive and very influential, so taking over a preexisting program meant working with the founder.
“Fortunately, the Moore Foundation already had good taste,” said Kirshner, citing his personal knowledge of some of the Moore Foundation’s grantees from Harvard, where Kirshner was a faculty member in the astronomy department before he joined the foundation. “To continue to find good people without a call for proposals, I rely on our program staff who are very knowledgeable, alert, and know what’s going on in the field,” he said.
Read the full article about models for science philanthropy at Science Philanthropy Alliance.