Two Philanthropy Veterans Offer Aid to Help Donors Get Results
By Ben Gose
The subtitle of Give Smart, a
new book by Thomas J. Tierney
and Joel L. Fleishman, is “Phi-
lanthropy That Gets Results.”
Mr. Tierney and Mr. Fleish-
man know a thing or two about
the subject. In 2000, Mr. Tier-
ney co-founded the Bridgespan
Group, a well-regarded Boston
consulting firm that advises
charities, foundations, and big
donors. Mr. Fleishman is a
professor at Duke University
and author of The Foundation,
which examined how philan-
thropy has been carried out
since the early days of the 20th
Give Smart is a how-to guide
that offers dozens of examples
of philanthropy that worked—
Mr. Tierney and Mr. Fleish-
man hope that Give Smart is
just a first step toward encour-
aging donors to become more
thoughtful. The Bridgespan
Group has received a grant
worth more $5-million over
three years from the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation to
start Givesmart.org, a Web site
that offers information about
effective giving ideas and case
studies of philanthropic ef-
forts from Bridgespan and
elsewhere. The authors spoke
to The Chronicle about Give
JERRY MCCREA/THE STAR-LEDGER
Ray Chambers is cited in a new book as an example
of a donor using his relationships to spur others to give.
Why did you decide to write
a how-to book on giving?
Mr. Tierney: The foundation world is shifting toward
The foundations where the donors are not involved, such as
Ford and Rockefeller, are losing share. People are becoming
more engaged sooner, and with
life expectancy and health increasing, they’re able to engage
And they are using their
time and influence, as well as
their money, to drive change.
You see that with Jean and
Steve Case, with Pete Peterson, with Herb and Marion
Sandler, and with George Soros.
Ray Chambers is using his
relationships to mobilize oth-
er donors around causes like
Malaria No More. He’s bring-
ing government and private
constituents together to help
eradicate malaria. And he’s not
doing that through his check-
book, but through his reputa-
tion and leadership and rela-
tionships. That is powerful phi-
In Give Smart you say that
the “terrible truth” is many
grant makers and donors
fall into the trap of “
satisfactory underperfor-mance.” How prevalent is
Mr. Tierney: Excellence is
self imposed. I compare it to
exercise. Nobody makes you exercise. You have to decide you
want to because you feel the
$200-Million Gift Will Benefit
University of Southern California
How much: $200-million
Who gave it: Dana and David Dornsife. Mr. Dornsife is chairman of the Herrick Corporation, a steel-fabrication company in
Who got it: The University of Southern California, College of
Letters, Arts and Sciences. It is USC’s largest single gift ever.
What it is for: The donation is an unrestricted gift, but the Los
Angeles university’s president, C.L. Max Nikias, says the gift will
be used for student scholarships and to recruit new faculty members. In addition, a new Dornsife Scholars Program will reward
students who plan to focus on social challenges after graduation.
Donors’ connection to the organization: Mr. Dornsife graduated from USC in 1965, and
his parents also attended the institution. He has been a trustee of the university since 2002.
How the gift came about: When the Dornsifes attended Mr. Nikias’s inauguration in October and the names of colleges at USC were read aloud, the donors noticed that the College of
Letters, Arts and Sciences was the only one not named for an individual. Later that evening,
the Dornsifes approached Mr. Nikias and Howard Gillman, the college’s dean, about their desire to make a gift big enough to warrant naming the college for them.
Why the donors gave: “Standing up when we’re in a recessionary period and doing something like we tried to do, we think is very, very important to reinforce the rise of USC in the
academic world,” says Mr. Dornsife. —CAROLINE BERMUDEZ
For details about other recent gifts, including $10-million to the John F. Kennedy Center
for the Performing Arts, go to http://philanthropy.com/extras.
Send gifts news to firstname.lastname@example.org.
n What are my values and beliefs? Make sure that others
know what you do, and do not, care about.
n What is “success” and how can it be achieved? Your strat-
egy is clear enough that you can judge progress against it,
and knowledgeable outsiders think it is worth pursuing.
n What am I accountable for? You’ve been clear about how
much money, time, and influence you’re prepared to com-
mit to a project, and you have considered the strategic and
personal risks associated with the strategy.
n What will it take to get the job done? You hire the right
people, have an engaged board, and your grantees say you
are realistic about the resources they need to succeed.
n How do I work with grantees? You do due diligence on
grantees before making a grant, and you and your grantees
agree on what a successful outcome looks like.
n Am I getting better? You can judge if you’re making prog-
ress toward your goals. You also seek feedback from grant-
ees about your own performance, and share lessons of
failed projects with others.
—From Give Smart by Joel L. Fleishman and Thomas J. Tierney
benefits of exercise outweigh
the costs of time and so forth.
In philanthropy, you have to
decide you want to achieve results.
You pursue excellence
through pursuing tough questions. It’s not a natural act, but
what has Joel and I so excited
is that more donors are setting
a high bar. They’re not declaring victory when the check is
written, they’re declaring victory when the dropout rate has
been reduced, or whatever else
it is they’re trying to achieve.
That gives us an optimistic
view of the future.
But it’s not the status quo.
What’s the most common
mistake committed by donors and grant makers?
Mr. Fleishman: The major
problem is that too often foundations and donors chose to
give money to particular people—prominent leaders that
they like—and they keep giving it and giving it. Once you
become a fan of an individual running an organization,
there’s no accountability there.
Mr. Tierney: The most common mistake is wishful thinking. We see that all over the
place. There’s the “missing
middle”: you have an ambition,
and an annual plan for giving money away, but you do not
have a deep understanding of
how the act of giving money
away will achieve that mission.
There’s “build it and they
will come”: the notion that once
you build an initiative, it will
attract all sorts of funds from
other foundations and the government.
You are both big advocates
of measuring impact. Why
do you say that too much
data can be counterproductive when starting out?
Mr. Fleishman: You are go-
ing to have a difficult time
finding out through data what
you care about. You start with
what you care about, and you
progress from there. Data is
important only after you’ve
decided what you want to do
and to learn where your niche
You note that Jennifer and
Peter Buffett faced that
challenge after receiving
$1-billion for their foundation from Peter’s father,
Mr. Tierney: Jennifer and
Peter Buffett spent one and
a half to two years wrestling
with the question of what they
were going to focus on, and
therefore everything that they
were going to exclude. That
was such a big question for
them that they said: We are going to invest the time and energy to figure this out.
How should an established
donor or foundation use the
lessons from the book?
Mr. Tierney: My shorthand
is “motive matters most.”
If you want to pay out 5
percent a year, it’s not that
hard. Foundations do it all the
time—they meet the payout re-
quirement and declare victory.
That is wildly different than
using money to drive impact.
Results are a choice. It reorients the donor, or the foundation executive, around a different target.
Once you’ve made the shift
to pursuing results, a lot of
other things start to fall into