Steyer’s video interviews with Bridgespan shed light on the reason behind his passion for energy issues; he asks: “Are we screwing up the world? Are we doing things that in a hundred years they’re going to be paying for in a very painful way that we…refuse to acknowledge?” It’s this perspective, and focus, that has led Steyer to some controversial and decidedly different giving choices.
Take, for example, Steyer’s interest in the Massachusetts Senate race. Why Massachusetts? One of the candidates for Massachusetts’ special Senate election (to replace new Secretary of State John Kerry), Stephen Lynch, supports the Keystone XL pipeline. Seeking to squash the Keystone project and elevate the issue of climate change, Steyer has invested money to defeat Lynch.
Steyer shares: “Kathryn [his wife] and I do not think like a traditional foundation…our attitude has been, we want to push along the ideals that we believe in, and we want to do it in the most effective way and sometimes that means…a very specific program in a community where you can literally see the personal impact, and sometimes it means pushing on policy goals that would, if enacted, impact people broadly.”
See a complete archive of Tom Steyer's videos.
Efforts like Steyer’s focus on Massachusetts—and the multiple California environmentally focused ballot propositions Steyer has funded—are controversial to be sure, but they are reflective of donors who take an expansive view of the problems they want to solve, rather than limiting their giving to what is tax deductible.
Steyer reflects on the challenges that giving in the realm of politics raise, saying, “It’s like a game. There’s a winner and a loser. In a [ballot] proposition, you either win or lose and if you lose by one vote, you have completely lost, and that breeds a mentality that is much tougher…than anything that I’ve ever seen in business.”
Tom Steyer's Key messages for Philanthropists
- Get deeply and personally involved over the long-term. Watch: When and how to get involved.
- Give money in proportion to your ability to address the scope of today’s challenges, even if that means that you give away money faster than traditional foundations. Watch: Tom Steyer is giving money away—quickly—just don't call it philanthropy.
- Use whatever levers are most effective in creating the change you care about, rather than being confined to the limitations of a foundation. Watch: Same goals, different angles.
- To address environmental sustainability in a comprehensive way, you must consider energy, food, and water. Watch: A sustainability science experiment: Why Tom Steyer and Kathryn Taylor bought a 2,000 acre ranch.