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Donate Like Your Life Depends on It

The idea of giving back is appropriately named; traditional donors often are motivated retrospectively by loyalty or by a desire to repay a gratefully received benefit. There are multiple other philanthropic motivations, like supporting an organization’s perpetuation for future service or enjoyment. Such motivations can be reactive, in recognition of an experience, but can also be proactive for the purpose of ensuring the institution endures to benefit the individual or wider community.

In many ways, healthcare or academic philanthropy can take either of these faces. Benefactors may give to a hospital to recognize a lifesaving service or to enable the purchase of the newest piece of medical equipment. Charity to your alma mater can be nostalgic or futuristic, or it may provide your child with an advantage in the ultracompetitive admissions process.

The common theme of these traditional philanthropy practices is that they’re relatively passive. That’s not to diminish the act or its importance. In many ways, this may be the purest form of generosity. There is certainly interest, but not necessarily a great deal of expectation or involvement, at least not the kind accompanied by tracking metrics and outcomes.

Philanthropists and investors have heretofore demonstrated different philosophies with regard to expected performance after they write their respective checks. Fascinatingly, we are seeing a convergence of their thinking and actions.

There’s an evolving new class of philanthropists defined by two core characteristics: they only look forward, and they keep score. They go by several names, all roughly equivalent: venture philanthropist, philanthrocapitalist, and a term we coined, “pronator,” as in proactive donor.

By nature, the object of the generosity of this new class of philanthropists is just the type of creative conduct taking place on the campuses of academic medical centers (AMCs) and research universities. Venture philanthropists seek high-impact investments, especially where they can measure outcome.

There are three types of venture philanthropist who are not only generous with their gifts but also seek to participate in the commercialization of technologies supported by their generosity:

  • The eponymous foundation funder

  • The mission-driven subscriber

  • The inventor-philanthropist

The Eponymous Foundation Funder

The poster child for venture philanthropy is the high-networth family or individual. Names such as Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, and Charles “Chuck” Feeney are known internationally, but each city has generous citizens who have endowed assets in the arts, education, and healthcare. Many have established eponymous foundations as the vehicle for giving to solve big problems for large populations.

What defines these individuals as venture philanthropists is their level of involvement in the work of their beneficiaries.1 Venture philanthropists don’t just write the check; their engagement means they also leverage their expertise and resources to produce a desired societal outcome. Lending their names to an issue or ...

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