GIVE SMART: Philanthropy That Gets Results

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Bridgespan collaborates with select philanthropists and foundations to help them and their grantees to achieve the greatest possible impact.

Eli Broad built two Fortune 500 companies; after stepping down from his successful business career, Broad and his wife Edyth decided to ramp up their already significant philanthropy. As a graduate of the Detroit Public Schools and Michigan State University, Broad was concerned that the country's "antiquated system" of education, as he called it, was failing students, despite rising spending. In 1999, the Broads made a $100 million commitment to education. The Broads reviewed the data, and identified the "achievement gap" between low-income students and students of color and their more advantaged peers.

Eli Broad, Founder, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, talking on Bridgespan's "Conversations with Remarkable Givers"

Clearly, philanthropy represents an opportunity to make an unprecedented impact in our world. Americans donated approximately $358 billion in 2014 alone. Yet, despite tremendous innovation in the social sector, there are multiple barriers that block good intentions from achieving powerful results. As Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation says, "Giving money away is easy, but making a real difference is hard work." Why? Philanthropy is deeply personal, "market forces" are absent or distorted, and ultimately excellence is self-imposed.

Give Smart bookBridgespan is trying to change that. Since our founding 15 years ago, Bridgespan has worked closely with hundreds of players that operate on "both sides of the grant"—donors and the organizations and causes they support. Armed with that unique perspective, Bridgespan collaborates with select philanthropists and foundations to help them and their grantees to achieve the greatest possible impact.

"In the past decade we've entered a historic time for philanthropy, given the scale, growth, and innovation throughout the social sector. What if philanthropists, working in concert with the organizations they support, can improve the results they deliver to society by 10 percent? 50 percent? 100 percent? By confronting the right questions, we believe that significant improvements are achievable—and would have a profoundly positive impact on our society."
homas J. Tierney, Chairman and Co-founder, The Bridgespan Group; Co-author of Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results

Drawing from this deep experience with donors and other social sector leaders, research, and interviews and aiming to offer assistance to donors beyond just our clients, in 2011 Bridgespan launched the "Give Smart" campaign. The campaign started with the publication of the book Give Smart: Philanthropy that Gets Results co-authored by Tom Tierney, Bridgespan's co-founder, and Joel Fleishman, faculty chair of the Duke University Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society. Give Smart encourages donors and grantmakers to pursue a process of rigorous inquiry around six separate but related questions:

  • What are my values and beliefs?
  • What is "success" and how can it be achieved?
  • What am I accountable for?
  • What will it take to get the job done?
  • How do I work with grantees?
  • Am I getting better?
"Giving money away is easy, but making a real difference is hard work. Give Smart addresses these challenges head-on and provides a strong analytic framework and practical advice for effective philanthropy—replete with compelling examples..."
Paul Brest, President, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Co-author of Money Well Spent: A Strategic Plan for Smart Philanthropy

TThomas J. Tierney, Chairman and Co-founder, The Bridgespan Groupaken together, these questions create an approach for donors and grantmakers who want to aggressively drive results. The book uses real-world examples of successful, needle-moving philanthropic endeavors to inspire and assist readers. Praised by both for-profit and nonprofit leaders, Give Smart struck a chord with those beginning their philanthropic journeys and others who wanted to set a higher bar for their philanthropy.

The campaign continued with a monograph focusing on donor-grantee dynamics and an award-winning website, now found on that provides additional resources and tools for donors. The next phase of the Give Smart campaign was the release of Conversations with Remarkable Givers, a groundbreaking video series of candid conversations with over 60 extraordinary philanthropists offering instructive, personal, inspirational stories of philanthropic journeys.

"As Pam and I continue to learn through our own giving, the challenges in creating positive social impact are many and complex. Give Smart provides thoughtful guidance on how to build an effective and personal approach to philanthropy, illustrated with real world examples, proven methodologies, and insightful commentary..."
Pierre Omidyar, Co-Founder and Founding Partner, Omidyar Network; Founder and Chairman, eBay

Pierre OmidyarWe have shared these stories and amplified what we have learned on our website and in more than 60 op-eds, book reviews, and feature stories in outlets including The Economist, Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, and the Charlie Rose Show.

As Bridgespan moves into the next phase of philanthropy work, we will build on Give Smart insights to unleash the power of philanthropic "big bets." In other words, how can large philanthropic investment fuel social change? By publishing market-leading insights and research about big bets, as well as directly supporting donors in sourcing, structuring, and making them, Bridgespan aims to encourage more and better big bets to drive social change.

Melinda Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

"We're bringing people together to learn from peer-to-peer philanthropy. And we're launching a campaign around "Big Bets for Social Change" because we've discovered that this idea of putting significant amounts of money to work against social change problems is an enormous opportunity to unleash both more philanthropy and more effective philanthropy against the kinds of issues we care about most."
William Foster, Partner, Head of Consulting Practice, The Bridgespan Group

Created: June 2017