New Orleans The headline in the New York Times caught by eye, saying “The Pitfalls of Giving Big but Thinking Small” with a subtitle that was even more interesting to me: “Donating Large Amounts to Social Change Groups Can Be Complicated, but it Isn’t Impossible.” Wow, I work for a social change group. I could really be helpful in answering this question, if someone is really asking. With a global footprint and mission as big as America and as broad as the world, “giving big” and “large amounts” both sound a bit like music to my ear.
What’s up? Where does the line start?
The foundation of this presumptive “news” story was a report by something called Bridgespan Group, which is only described as a “philanthropic consulting firm.” One of its founders is quoted saying, “…if you wanted to put $1.8 billion to work to drive social change, how would do it? It’s hard.” Really, who knew? Well, according to Bridgespan this is a vexing problem for the ultrawealthy, defined as those few who have more than a half-billion bucks of wealth. Tom Tierney, the Bridgespaner, also claims that, “There is by all indications a sign of intent by the super wealthy to increase their giving to social change…but we haven’t invested in the pathways to let them to this in a productive way.” Hmmm, so you say. What’s going on here?
Bridgespan turns out to be the nonprofit offspring of Bain Capital. Tierney turns out to have formally been the managing director of Bain. Bain is famous to most of us little people as the platform for Mitt Romney and numerous others who ply the lucrative practice of corporate consulting. Bridgespan became the stepbrother once removed after Bain did several studies discovering how much money was in the nonprofit sector and realized its brand didn’t lead well to mining this rich vein, so building a bridge span (get it?) to Bain would do the trick.
So, what does Bain in sheep’s clothing recommend in order to allegedly move money from the hands of the superrich to what they want to refer to as social change? According to the article they think the trick is “the creation of a ‘community foundation for America’ that would be able to accept large bequests and donations and then find small nonprofit groups that need funding.”
Funny thing? Been there, done that! In 1976, Drummond Pike founded the Tides Foundation and its family of organizations in San Francisco to do exactly that, and it has done so for over 40 years quite well thank you, as an organization with revenue over $100 million and assets over that level as well. The Tides operation is regularly ranked near the top of the largest nonprofits in the country by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Bain and Bridgespan are based in Boston, so maybe they are so old school and business-bound that they don’t think of something way over in California as truly American? No, that’s not it, is it? This report seems to be a little more than a marketing piece for Bridgespan and Bain with a cover story as a research document in hopes that someone among these supposedly social change besotted superrich folks will read it and, say, hey, great idea, Bridgespan, why don’t you get on the stick and create this national community foundation for America?. They have made the case that this is oh so hard that the superrich can’t find the “pathway,” which means I guess that they don’t know how to call or fly to San Francisco and visit with Tides, so Bridgespan can do it all for them and collect their 20%.
Call or email me if you need the address for Tides, it’s still at the Presidio in San Francisco. Or, better, send me the money directly, and we’re good to go!
One last question that’s a headscratcher to me? Why did the New York Times run this thinly veiled puff piece for Bridgespan and Bain without it saying “Advertisement” at the top like the other ads?