People often ask me what we focus on at the Raikes Foundation (empowering young people to transform their lives) and how we do it (investing in capable people addressing under-resourced challenges where our dollars can have an outsized impact on the systems that serve youth.)
Much less frequently, people ask me about the time frame for our philanthropy. But this is a hugely important question, and I am grateful to Rob Reich and his team at Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS) for inviting me to explore the issue as part of this week’s Giving in Time conference on the Stanford campus.
Tricia Raikes and I are big believers in the advantages of time-limited philanthropy. That is why we have decided to spend down the Raikes Foundation’s assets by 2038. There may be some circumstances where the date could be extended for one more generation, but under no circumstances will the Raikes Foundation be allowed to exist in perpetuity.
There are many reasons why Tricia and I feel this is the best approach for the Raikes Foundation, and I will illuminate a few of those below. But the simplest explanation is the same one that Bill and Melinda Gates used when they decided to sunset the Gates Foundation within 20 years’ after their deaths: To do as much as possible, as soon as possible.
Getting more granular, here are what I consider the most compelling reasons to take a time-limited approach to philanthropy, rather than establishing a philanthropic institution (and endowment) that could make grants in perpetuity:
- Sense of urgency – Tricia and I are anxious to see positive social changes stemming from our philanthropic investments in our lifetime. The sense of urgency we feel permeates our work with our staff, our grantees and our partners, and would be difficult to sustain over multiple generations.
- Risk tolerance – We have the financial wherewithal to make big bets in philanthropy because we spent most of our careers making big bets in business that helped Microsoft and our other business ventures succeed. We understand that taking big risks is sometimes necessary to reap big rewards for society.
- Active donor participation – The Raikes Foundation is a big priority for Tricia and I. We are in the office regularly together and we are very hands-on in our approach. Such personal ties to the mission and substance of a foundation’s work are inherently more difficult to establish and maintain for senior staff who are selected to lead philanthropies that have existed for decades.
- Founders’ voice – Our financial resources are essential to support the work our grantees are doing. But Tricia and I can also help our grantees and partners by using our voice to highlight their work and to motivate policymakers and other funders to make even more progress sooner for the beneficiaries of our investments.
- Risk of strategy or mission drift in future generations – If the Raikes Foundation were to exist well beyond 2038, it is highly unlikely that future leaders of the institution would have the same priorities as Tricia and I. Indeed, they could have completely contradictory priorities. And while we can’t predict the world’s most important needs 50-100 years from now, we do believe that there will be new generations of wealth creators who can identify those needs. We hope the values of time-limited philanthropy will inspire their work.
I am looking forward to participating in Monday evening’s panel discussion on time-limited philanthropy (the live stream will be available on the PACS website.) and, again, I am grateful to PACS and Rob Reich for asking me to join the conversation.