Forbes Magazine and The Bridgespan Group Launch List of “Philanthropy’s Big Bets for Social Change”

11/30/2016 |


Forbes features 58 ambitious gifts in 2015, greater than $25 million, aimed at solving intractable global problems
BOSTON, MA—November 30, 2016—Nonprofit advisory firm The Bridgespan Group and Forbes magazine have teamed to showcase some of the largest, most promising philanthropic gifts aimed at solving social problems in the U.S. and around the globe.  These “big bets” range in size from $25 million to more than $1.5 billion and include funding for a range of issues from providing scholarships for disadvantaged youth to efforts to vaccinate millions of children. The list will appear in the December 20, 2016 edition of Forbes and is available online today.
According to William Foster, a Bridgespan partner and lead researcher, “We have attempted to identify a subset of big bets that are truly exceptional when reviewed against: their overall ambition; the clarity of their desired results; the potential for philanthropy to ‘move the needle’; the strength and logic of the strategies behind the gifts; the extent to which learning and improvement are built into the grants; and finally, on the strength of the donor-grantee relationship. These investments are strengthening the bedrock of civil society.”
Forbes’ Editor Randall Lane said, “We embarked on this endeavor with Bridgespan to share important data with readers on philanthropy and along the way have been inspired by the truly ambitious and fascinating efforts that philanthropists pursued in 2015.”
Another Bridgespan researcher, Senior Director Alison Powell described the process for creating the list: “We sought to identify all gifts that U.S. donors publicly announced or pledged in 2015 of $25 million or more, using a range of sources and inquiry. The research team surfaced 58 eligible bets, and winnowed them to 30 that were most promising. Then we asked our advisory board of experts on social impact to judge them against our criteria and surface the ‘Top Ten’.”
Bets are organized by size of commitment in 2015, then alphabetically by recipient; rounded to the nearest million.
Top 10
1 Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Bill and Melinda Gates $1.55B To bring life-saving vaccines to children in the world’s poorest countries
2 Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign Michael Bloomberg $30M To secure the replacement of half the nation’s coal fleet by 2017 with clean energy through the Beyond Coal campaign
2 Family Planning 2020 Bill and Melinda Gates $120M To provide 120 million more women and girls with access to effective contraception by 2020
4 TheDream.US Joint Effort (Donald E. Graham and Bill and Karen Ackman) $50M To fund (and prompt matching gifts for) a scholarship fund to support at least 5,000 undocumented immigrants with DACA status to gain associate's and bachelor's degrees
5 World Vision US David and Dana Dornsife $40M To support World Vision water, sanitation, and hygiene programs (WASH) in Africa
6 What Works Cities Michael Bloomberg $42M To help 100 mid-sized cities better use data and evidence
7 The Safety and Justice Challenge The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation $75M To support jurisdictions across the country to safely reduce over-reliance on jails, with particular focus on addressing disproportionate impact on low-income individuals and communities of color
8 United Negro College Fund’s Career Pathways Initiative Lilly Endowment $50M To launch an initiative that helps prepare students for meaningful employment in a technology-driven global economy
9 Smart Power for Rural Development The Rockefeller Foundation $75M To bring electricity to 1,000 villages over three years, providing power to one million Indians in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh
10 ClimateWorks Foundation The David & Lucile Packard Foundation $34M For general support of ClimateWorks’ mission to strengthen philanthropy’s response to climate change
In addition to identifying the top ten, the research provides context for all 58 big bets for social change, who made them, and which fields and geographies they targeted.
Said Foster, “What these philanthropists are doing is remarkable, in part because this type of giving is not yet the norm. Our research indicated that 80 percent of the country’s largest donors say they seek to fund dramatic social change, but only 20 percent of the largest gifts are targeted that way. By highlighting donors who are walking their talk in big and promising ways, we hope to inspire others.”
About The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges and to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. Our services include strategy consulting, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.
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