The Effective Philanthropy Learning Initiative was borne of two explorations aimed at better understanding High Net Worth (HNW) donor motivations and behavior:  a Hewlett Foundation-sponsored fellowship and a collaborative case study developed by Stanford PACS and the Raikes Foundation.  At the conclusion of the case study, Raikes elected to fund the launch of the Effective Philanthropy Learning Initiative to run a series of experiments further testing our initial hypotheses about donor behavior, engaging sector partners, and identifying scalable interventions to increase strategic behavior among HNW donors.

Hewlett Foundation-Sponsored Fellowship

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Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 9.40.21 PMFrom 2014-15, with support from the Hewlett Foundation, the
Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (Stanford PACS) launched a year-long research project aimed at integrating human centered design (HCD) and strategic planning for foundations and nonprofit organizations. From September 2014-August 2015, Nadia was the Walter and Esther Hewlett Design Fellow at PACS, working in partnership with Paul Brest.

While HCD has its roots in designing better products and experiences for users, we began with the hypothesis that foundations and nonprofit organizations could integrate the tools of HCD with conventional strategic planning to achieve greater social impact. We focused on how understanding the needs of beneficiaries and other stakeholders through ethnography could help frame a foundation’s goals, and how brainstorming, prototyping, and testing possible solutions could help develop sound strategies.

Over the course of the initiative, we collaborated with the Raikes Foundation in Seattle and Guidestar in San Francisco on two separate case studies.  We have summarized the Raikes Foundation case study below.

Raikes Foundation Case Study

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The collaboration between Stanford PACS and the Raikes Foundation (RF) arose shortly after RF began to consider how to increase the “strategic behavior” among high net worth donors – raising the impact and effectiveness of their philanthropy. The Raikes Foundation is the family foundation of Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and former President of the Microsoft Business Division, and Tricia Raikes.

Jeff Raikes wanted to understand the opportunities to facilitate more strategic philanthropic behavior among High Net Worth (HNW) Donors (defined as those with ability to give in the high six figures annually). He felt that a significant portion of resources given away through “retail-type, checkbook philanthropy” were not being used effectively. As an output of this learning partnership, he and the RF hoped to glean insights on potential opportunities to fund, facilitate, or create interventions to promote higher impact, more strategic behavior among HNW Donors.



There is demand

The case study found that there is demand from donors for education and resources on impact-oriented philanthropy, although the extent of that demand is still unclear. HNW donors are looking for information and resources readily applicable to their own philanthropic goals, rather than general frameworks. They seek information that is appropriate to the scale of their philanthropy rather than that of foundations with large staff and considerably more resources.

A disorganized, mis-targeted landscape

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The resources currently available to assist high net worth donors in practicing effective philanthropy vary widely in quality, are poorly organized, and are not readily accessible to HNW donors. Donors are not aware of existing resources or find them too generic to suit their particular goals or too “academic.”  There is no place that has aggregated or organized the existing materials (books, articles, MOOCs, conferences etc.), and as a result donors can’t seem to find what they are looking for. The resources that do exist are mainly targeted at large, staffed foundations and feel inaccessible to individual donors or small foundations. Lastly, with the lack of organization donors have no sense of how materials fit into the most current discourse.

Lack of visible sector leaders

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Most donors could not identify major leaders in the sector, like they could for other sectors. Apart from a small circle of practitioners and academics, donors were unaware of the current discourse and the relevant thought leaders. Standards have not been widely or publicly set for the practice of effective philanthropy.



Need to Connect and Share Lessons in the Donor Education Sector

Organizations currently in this space rarely share learnings publicly or coordinate efforts to expand the market. The experts we interviewed were willing to collaborate in this learning process, and interested in future engagement.

Need to design solutions that are more user-facing

Many available resources are leading with the dissemination of information, and are not taking into account the user experience with that information.  In testing our prototypes, we extrapolated a series of design principles for products and services targeted at different donor archetypes. We believe these principles, leveraging nuanced understandings of trust, the definition of peers, and the validation of rigor, among others,  will guide successful interventions.


The full case study includes details about the final strategies recommended to the Raikes Foundation.

Raikes Foundation Case Study