A key operating principle at Inside Philanthropy is the idea that charitable giving is a form of power. Of course, it can also be a form of selflessness, generosity and sometimes even penance. But fundamentally, philanthropy is a way for people to turn private dollars into power.
Power is a delicate concept. For some, it is an evil to fight. For others, it is a goal to be achieved. For us, power is more neutral in value, a capacity that we can gain or lose.
Simply, power is the ability to make things happen. And everyone on this inaugural edition of the IP Power List has that ability through philanthropy.
To be clear, this is not just the result of pure dollars, and what follows is not your typical ranking of the richest or even the most generous Americans. We’ve sought to compile a different kind of list, mapping this complex and dynamic industry through a huge list of 100 key players who are making a difference.
As a result, there are large donors who are not on the list and relatively small donors and budding policy makers who are. Our guiding criteria involved a combination of money and an ability to do things with it. It could mean proven track record, a far-reaching platform, or disproportionate influence in a specific area or geographic area.
In establishing the list, the IP writing and writing team considered people who (1) have wealth themselves, (2) have control on the wealth of other persons or institutions, or (3) have affecting on how philanthropic wealth is used. And because power is always changing, we also considered people who (4) have potential– people with a significant capacity to do much more than they have done so far.
The result is a panoramic tour of fast-moving philanthropy with a few types of powerful players. There are a bunch of individual donors and top donor couples, as you can imagine, many of whom are billionaires handing out tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year (or even more, in a few cases). Many leaders of large foundations are also on the list, given the large grant budgets they have. But we also shed light on leaders of smaller foundations and funding intermediaries whose power stems less from the size of their checkbooks than from the influence of their ideas or know-how as organizers. Also on the list are celebrities whose enormous cultural presence gives extra weight to their philanthropy. And while most of the people on the list have national profiles, we have included local power actors who have a profound impact through place-based donations.
To be honest, we don’t necessarily like everyone on this list to have as much power as they do, and we generally wish others had more. For starters, philanthropy remains a predominantly white and male space, despite some promising new efforts that emerged last year to try to correct this imbalance. Power is rarely distributed fairly, and throughout Inside Philanthropy you’ll find plenty of criticism of both the people on this list and the systems that allowed them to accumulate so much influence in the first place.
But power needs to be watched closely, and that is the subject of this list. This is who we watch, and who we think you should watch: the people who make it happen.
Before you begin, a few important caveats:
While we have followed a certain methodology, this list is admittedly subjective. This is not a definitive or quantitative list ranked by hard data (it is not even ranked).
For donor couples who donate as part of a joint project, we counted each duo as an entry (yes, we know, it’s kind of a cheat).
To keep things short, this list only includes donors based in the United States. And everyone on the list actually has to be doing some form of philanthropy. We left out influencers from philanthropic organizations, journalism, universities, etc.
This list is almost certainly lacking in large donations from anonymous donors operating in an obscure ecosystem of donor-advised funds and LLCs. As we compiled this list, we were constantly reminded of the growing lack of transparency around great philanthropy today.
All this to say that we are surely guilty of some oversights and missteps. But we call it as we see it. Our apologies to all those whose boss is quietly ranting about being excluded. Take advantage of the list and be sure to click on the links to delve into its extensive coverage of its topics by IP. Forward all complaints and suggestions for future power listings to [email protected]
And now, with no further coverage, here is the very first IP power list!