Notes on hits-based giving project
Figuring out the "top twenty foreign aid foundations", 1975–2000
The Foundation Center has a sorted table by both total giving and by assets, but their data is yearly and begins in 2002. See e.g. top 50 by total giving. It also has some older reports (starts in 1997). It looks like the Foundation Center used to publish (1972–2001) an annual report called The Foundation Grants Index. Google Books has a list but no preview. UW seems to have at least one.
It looks like there used to be (or still is) an annual report called the Foundation Reporter (maybe officially the "Taft Foundation Reporter", as it seems to be published by the Taft Group). Self-description taken from a purchase page:
Known throughout the fundraising community for its depth of content, Foundation Reporter gives you all the important contact, financial, and grant information you'll need. This comprehensive resource covers the top 1,000 private foundations in the U. S. that have at least $10 million in assets or whose annual giving totals $500,000 or more.
41st edition in 2009, so the first one began in 1969?
See also the "Related books" section here.
The Library of Congress has a list of "Foundation and Grant Resources". The list includes both the Foundation Reporter and the Foundation Grants Index, as well as around 20 other publications (most of annual frequency). These all look like print publications though.
The Foundation Center also has something called the Foundation Yearbook, which sounds promising, but it is unclear if it is online. Description:
Foundation Yearbook, 2002 Edition, documents the growth in actual number, giving, and assets of all active U.S. foundations from 1975 through 2000 and provides estimates of foundation giving through 2001.
(Update: it turned out that the 1975–2000 data was all aggregated. For individual foundations, only the data around 1999/2000 was included.)
The Foundation Center's Foundation Growth and Giving Estimates (2000 Preview) has a list of top 100 foundations by total giving in 1999 along with the total giving numbers. For our purposes the ones for 2001 and 1999 are also useful. Since these publications cover giving for the year prior, this gives us top foundation giving data for years 1998–2000. I think this is just for United States foundations.
Some information about time-limited foundations and their giving amounts by Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society.
Waldemar A. Nielsen's book The Big Foundations (1972) seems to be quite well-known. Apparently it covers the 33 biggest foundations of its time. The following list, taken from the table of contents given in a book review, gives 24:
- Du Pont
Holden has a spreadsheet of some philanthropic success stories.
Reading more broadly in the history of philanthropy
Some interesting quotes from "Looking Back at 50 Years of U.S. Philanthropy", commissioned by the Hewlett Foundation:
The share of total assets held by the 50 largest foundations has dropped since the establishment of the Hewlett Foundation—as of 2014, that group held "only" nearly 30 percent of total assets—but this is largely the case because the class of "mega-foundations" has expanded, as discussed below. The concentration is still pronounced.
If the top-heavy nature of the sector has remained relatively constant, the identities of those foundations at the top have not; the upper reaches of the sector have been especially prone to flux. When Waldemar Nielsen examined the largest foundations (those with more than $100 million in assets) in 1968, he noted that only five were on a comparable list from three decades before. When he examined the largest group again in 1984 (now defined as those with more than $250 million in assets), he found that more than a third of his group from 1968 had fallen off the rankings.
Today, an equivalent ranking of the top 36 foundations contains 21 names that did not appear on the 1985 list. The churning continues, accelerated by the introduction of a large cohort of newly established foundations. More than half of the top 30 largest foundations in 2014 were established or received the bulk of their funds since the establishment of the Hewlett Foundation; a third were established or received the bulk of their funds in the last two decades.
Speaking of the Ford Foundation's grants to support the civil rights movement:
Waldemar Nielsen estimated that only 10 percent of Ford's outlays could be considered experimental or activist in any respect; the figure for most other large foundations he put at closer to 1 percent. Mary Anna Colwell, a political scientist who reviewed the "public policy grants" of the largest foundations between 1972 and 1975 has documented that Ford accounted for more than half of them.
Indeed, when the Peterson Commission inquired of foundations whether they had made any controversial grants in the years between 1966 and 1968—and this would include nearly all grants meant to influence public policy—only 1 percent of the foundations that responded did so in the affirmative, and the grants they specified made up only 0.1 percent of their total outlays. At the time of the Hewlett Foundation's founding, most foundations simply had little inclination to challenge the status quo.
The paper goes on to note that foundations became more business-oriented in the 1970s and 1980s, and that it was not until the 1990s that the philanthropic sector would be called "strategic philanthropy".
"Venture philanthropy" apparently began in the 1990s; "Virtuous Capital: What Foundations Can Learn from Venture Capitalists" – the paper that supposedly helped to develop the idea – was published in 1997. Another quote (page 33):
Perhaps [venture philanthropy's] most striking element, and one that has attracted funders who do not explicitly align themselves with the movement (such as a new corps of "hacker philanthropists"), is its propensity for risk-taking. Like venture capitalists themselves, who might fund scores of start-ups in search of one "unicorn," venture philanthropists were not afraid of failure. They would take "big bets" on grantees whose programs might have low probabilities of success but enormous social impact if successful. This talk of riskiness would have mystified funders from a half century ago. First, they would have feared it would threaten to topple the bulwarks of legitimacy that they had constructed in light of public censure and philanthropy's declining status relative to the corporate and public sectors. Also, because their conception of philanthropic support was frequently so open-ended, long-term, and fluid, they would have found it difficult to arrive at definitive judgments of success or failure over a few grant cycles. The comfort many funders now have with the incorporation of failure into the grantmaking process is another sign of how entrenched an entrepreneurial mindset has become in the sector over the last few decades.
So the whole idea of "hits-based giving" might be nonexistent before the 1990s.
From Bishop and Green, Philanthrocapitalism (one of the books cited by "Looking Back at 50 Years of U.S. Philanthropy"):
Turner is one of a group of philanthrocapitalists whose skill in business is taking big bets based on big ideas, an approach that also characterizes their giving. The contrast with the data-obsessed hedge fund philanthropists could hardly be greater. Whilst some of them won't give away a penny without months of due diligence and clear, readily monitorable goals, Turner picked a cause that is certainly of huge importance to humanity but whose progress he will never be able to prove with hard evidence. Pushed on whether he is really sure his gift was worth making, he laughs and says, "I don't know. You want to think you made a positive difference," in a way that makes it clear he thinks the question itself is silly. It is hard enough to demonstrate success of any sort in the big-picture things that the U.N. is involved in, much less the impact of a particular financial contribution to the organization's work.
"Very Large Foundations" (author unknown) discusses Nielsen's Golden Donors, and notes that large foundations have little interest in philanthropy as they start out, but are forced to become more "professional" over time, due to embarrassment if they are found to be "strikingly inept". This "professionalizing" force apparently acts less on smaller foundations, as these attract less attention from the public. It quotes Nielsen's book: "Far from being wise, farsighted, public-spirited, purposeful benefactors, many of the big donors set up their foundations if not in a fit of absent-mindedness then simply as part of tidying up their affairs."
There are several articles I have found that discuss concepts similar to "hits-based giving" but that do not use that phrase:
- "Philanthropy: The New Risk Capital?"
- "Portfolio Philanthropy" by Randall Ottinger (requires a subscription, so based only on the description)
- "Doing Diverse Good: Balancing Risk and Return" talks about portfolio theory applied to grantmaking.
- "Risky Business" about the Hewlett Foundation.
- There are also articles like "Philanthropy should be a risky business", though this one focuses mostly on wealthy individuals.
Upward and downward biases in estimates of the value of hits-based giving
Skill. If hits-based giving only became developed in the 1990s, then what might look like "hits-based giving" from before that period might be more like "random giving". So looking at the period 1975–2000 might bias us against hits-based giving if the skill with which foundations select "risky bets" has improved faster than the skill with which foundations select "proven, evidence-based" programs.
Low-hanging fruit. Holden found the impressive accomplishments of philanthropy to be earlier: "Though the Casebook focuses on more recent philanthropy (78 of its 100 cases are post-1950), 9 of the 14 cases I found most impressive are pre-1950 (and a 10th is from 1952)." Looking at past "hits" might bias us toward hits-based giving unless we adjust for this (but how much do we adjust?).
Looking at foundations' websites
Some foundations seem to have detailed databases going back to at least 1975, e.g. Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (~$2 billion from 1969–1999).
The Packard Foundation was founded in 1964, but their grants database only goes back to 2012.
Rockefeller Foundation has a grants table but fixing the "end date" to 01/01/2005 reveals that there are no grants recorded in our period of interest. Rockefeller does seem to have some annual reports scattered, e.g. one for 1969 (but no clear listing of total grant amounts).
Ford Foundation grants table goes back to 2006.
W. K. Kellogg Foundation has a grants table that goes back to 2008.
Atlantic Philanthropies has data before 2000 according to Vipul.
AidData has some datasets, but they seem pretty spotty in coverage.
Open Aid Data starts in 2000.
Looking at the big foundations
Naive top foundations list
(using current US dollars), derived from
The Ford Foundation seems to have annual report PDFs online, e.g. 1999. They also have an online grants database, but that only covers 2006–present.
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: 'The foundation's goal, through the use of grants, is "to improve the health and health care of all Americans."' (from Wikipedia page)
Lilly Endowment is focused on the US. (Wikipedia page)
David and Lucile Packard Foundation: grants database goes back to 2012, and Google search makes me think they don't even publish annual reports.
W. K. Kellogg Foundation has foreign aid grants; example, but their grants database goes back only to 2008. Kellogg also seems to have annual reports, example. Looking at Kellogg's list of grants from the 1999 annual report, I can't say they're hits-based or "proven, evidence-based"; it seems to me like a random mix of feel-good programs.
Pew Charitable Trusts ... can't find good information on activity.
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation does not seem to give in foreign aid.
Robert W. Woodruff Foundation seems to be limited to funding in Atlanta.
The California Endowment seems to fund only in California.
The Ford Motor Company Fund seems focused on the US.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has a section of their work that they describe as "Big Bets". One of these "big bets" is a series of grants in Nigeria. However all the grants to this program are from 2015 or later. The foundation also has pages on human rights and international peace and security that could count as foreign aid.
The Rockefeller Foundation seems to have some foreign aid grants.
The Starr Foundation: based on the list of grants on Wikipedia, the Wikipedia page for the foundation, and the foundation's press released page, it looks like almost all of the grants are outside of foreign aid.
Open Society Institute (now the Open Society Foundations) seems to have grants in the relevant areas.
The New York Community Trust gives around New York.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation seems to mainly operate in Flint, Michigan, but also has some grants, e.g. in South Africa and their "global philanthropy" grants that might count as "foreign aid".
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has a lot of international aid grants. (Disclosure: I made the grants tables.)
Annenberg Foundation: "Recipients starting in year(s) 2010 to present" in their interactive map. Sorting by country shows that they do have some grants that would count as foreign aid.
California Community Foundation looks pretty California-focused.
Kresge Foundation describes their grants page as "A database of grants awarded since 2009, updated quarterly." Looking at the list of locations, it looks like they operate only in the US.
Soros Charitable Foundation seems to be related to Open Society Institute because they're both related to Soros, but I'm not sure. There doesn't seem to be a separate website for Soros Charitable Foundation. Foundation Center's description makes it seem like it doesn't do much foreign aid stuff.
Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation seems to be focused on religious stuff, and I haven't seen a lot of information about their grantmaking.
Searle Patients in Need Foundation doesn't seem to have a website or Wikipedia page. Going by the name, it looks like it doesn't seem to do foreign aid.
Bristol-Meyers Squibb Patient Assistance Foundation seems to only serve the US.
McKnight Foundation Wikipedia page reveals that the foundation's "primary geographic focus is the state of Minnesota, with significant support also directed to strategies throughout the U.S. and in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America"
Richard King Mellon Foundation has a "recent grants" page that begins in 2011. It looks like grantmaking is focused in Pennsylvania.
Bank of America Foundation: there is a "Philanthropic Solutions" grant search tool that lists grants in the US, but it's not clear if this is part of the foundation.
Lilly Cares Foundation seems to operated in the US.
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation has grants info going back to 1997, and has an "African Health Initiative" that lists some foreign aid-ish grants.
San Francisco Foundation is a community foundation, so I think it operates mainly in California or the Bay Area, but its investment page does mention "Global Equity" under asset allocation; it's hard to find more details on the website though.
Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Affiliated Trusts is another community foundation and says on its website: "The mission of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation is to improve the quality of life in Greater Kansas City".
Janssen Ortho Patient Assistance Foundation seems to operate in the US.
Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation seems to focus on the US. The Wikipedia section doesn't say much, the listed program areas don't look like foreign aid, and even its "basic human needs and health" shows that the geographic focus is the US.
Wallace-Reader's Digest Funds or the Wallace Foundation Wikipedia page indicates they seem to do education stuff but only in the US?