The subject of philanthropy comes up for me on a regular basis. I always say that it doesn't work. It doesn't.
Philanthropy often comes up in connection with some wealthy person who is ascribed unusual powers because of their philanthropic donations. Utter nonsense.
More than 95% of all philanthropic donations go to existing philanthropic organizations that are in the business of sucking the money out of rich people, or generous people or adoring people.
Even more central to this discussion is: ‘Who the hell am I to talk about this issue?’ I was president of Point Foundation created by Stewart Brand from his Last Whole Earth Catalog.
We decided, our six man board, to explore the most innovative forms of philanthropy and pay close attention to our impact. That's why I know about this subject.
From that experience I can tell you that people who are going to make an extraordinary impact and beneficial change in our society are going to do it with or without philanthropic support. These people are driven by many demons; none of which are money supply.
There's a word in the last paragraph that's extremely important. “Beneficial”. Very little in the way of imaginative philanthropy turns out to be beneficial. We have such little understanding of society that we cannot know the direct consequences of most activist behavior and certainly cannot see the repercussions. In half a dozen of my grants I found the negative repercussions outweighed the positive achievements.
In the creation of a prostitute union with my grants; I found that local police forces turned their attention to prosecuting John's, not my goal. In funding the anti-whaling movement I found I had created a racist anti-Japanese organization. Certainly not my goal.
Over the years, looking at the world of philanthropy I have found many similar examples. The Ford foundation gave hundreds of millions to Left-wing Lyndon Johnson style organizations. A careful summary of all of these projects, over decades, discovered that none were genuinely positive. Most were frittered away in the salaries to very nice people. The share of ‘poverty; in our society never seems to change. Trillions of dollars spent. Never changes.
In looking at more than 400 experimental grants over 35 years, I have only seen one that I consider positive. One out of 400.
The one grant is so esoteric as to be the example that breaks all the rules. It was a series of grants to Indonesian music and dance troupes to tour the United States. I got a lovely girlfriend out of that. The donor got to hear music without going to Indonesia. And many people got the benefit of hearing new and exciting music.
That's my only example.
P.S. Don’t forget I spent seven years in Third World aid; the ratio of positive to negative grants was about the same, 1 out of 400 projects were positive.