A Time For Giving, With Top Shelf Advice

MacKenzie Scott never featured in our many posts about the fortune she suddenly found herself with. She wants to give that fortune away, fast. So, she is a person of interest to us, for all kinds of good reasons. But not so fast, the Economist’s semi-charitable subtitle, the charity-industrial complex, seems to say introducing the article below about advisors to givers:

Bridgespan Group: the most powerful consultants you’ve never heard of

They direct philanthropic billions around the world

OVER THE past 18 months, the world has heard a lot about MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist formerly married to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. She has given generously to charities on the frontline of the pandemic, including food banks, schools and children’s health programmes. Relatively unknown, however, is the consultancy that has helped distribute almost $9bn on Ms Scott’s behalf: the Bridgespan Group.

A non-profit consultancy, Bridgespan was spun out of Bain & Company, a management consultancy, around 21 years ago by three people, including a former worldwide managing partner. What began as a handful of smart people toiling in a small office above the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston is now a 329-person global operation with $59m in operating revenues in 2020.

It has advised some of the world’s biggest donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies. The list of non-profit groups it works with is no less impressive, including cutting-edge research centres such as the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and big-name charities like the YMCA.

Bridgespan has two main lines of business. It advises wealthy donors, learning their interests and helping them create a donation strategy, then researching and doing due diligence on prospective organisations they might donate to. It also helps non-profit groups operate more efficiently. Beyond that, Bridgespan is shrouded in mystery. The only public information on the firm is contained in tax forms and the odd comment from former clients. In December, Ms Scott announced plans for a new website with a “searchable database” of her gifts and more detail on her decision-making process. But many wealthy people like their privacy and Bridgespanners know how to keep their mouths shut. And there is no way to know how it goes about evaluating worthy causes and potential grantees.

Bridgespan’s story is, in part, the story of philanthrocapitalism, a movement that began around the turn of the millennium, as billionaires started applying business principles to their giving. It is now the norm for philanthropists to treat donations like investments, setting up vast foundations, monitoring the projects they fund and quantifying the return on their money. An entire industry has emerged to support this “venture philanthropy”, including consultancies, such as Bridgespan, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and Arabella Advisors, as well as researchersdonor networks and data providers, such as Candid and the National Centre for Family Philanthropy (NCFP).

Read the whole article here.

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