News and analysis
February 01, 2016

10 Donors Join Forces to Make $1 Billion in Grants to Help Youth Charities Grow

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and nine other donors have joined forces to create Blue Meridian Partners, a grant-making collaborative, with the goal of awarding $1 billion to expand the reach of high-performing charities that serve low-income children and youths.

"At a time when the urgent needs of children and youth are on the rise, it is deeply frustrating to me how hard it is for even the most successful nonprofit leaders to grow their organizations to meet these needs," Nancy Roob, the foundation’s chief executive, wrote in a letter announcing the new collaboration. "We are woefully underinvesting in what works."

The foundation is a pioneer in data-driven grant making. In the late 1990s, it committed to a single mission: advancing youth-development organizations, It started making large, unrestricted grants and requiring that groups set and achieve targets for improving their programs and expand to serve more young people.

Large Grants

The new collaborative’s grants will be "big bets," writes Ms. Roob, five- to 10-year commitments of up to $200 million per organization that will be unrestricted and tied to performance. The goal is to help the charities improve their work, serve more children, and increase their influence on the child-welfare, education, judicial, and other systems that affect young people’s lives.

So far Blue Meridian has secured $750 million.

Six "general partners" have committed $50 million or more and will help select the grantees and monitor their performance. Two are couples — Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive of Microsoft, and his wife, Connie, and Stanley Druckenmiller, a former hedge-fund manager, and his wife, Fiona. The other four are grant makers: the Edna McConnell Clark, George Kaiser Family, and Samberg Family foundations as well as the Duke Endowment.

Four other funds have given $10 million to $50 million and are "limited partners": the William and Flora Hewlett, JPB, David and Lucile Packard, and Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family foundations.

‘Overemphasis on Brand’

"The history of philanthropy teaches us that real progress on really tough challenges almost always necessitates deep collaboration among funders and other organizations," says Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

But, he says, grant makers don’t work together nearly as often as they should. He thinks philanthropy’s embrace of business practices is part of the problem.

"In the late 90s and early 2000s, the influx of well-meaning M.B.A.’s and McKinsey consultants into philanthropy sometimes led to an overemphasis on brand and uniqueness that makes sense in business but doesn’t make sense in philanthropy," he says.

Mr. Buchanan points out that the formation of Blue Meridian Partners comes on the heels of Civil Marriage Collaborative, an 11-year, $153 million effort to support organizations pushing for marriage equality. He hopes the partnerships signal a growing interest among foundations to work together.

In her letter announcing the formation of Blue Meridian Partners, Ms. Roob writes that the collaborative invites other grant makers to invest together in individual grants.

The stakes are high, she says: "Without large, long-term investments of growth capital for organizations with proven results, we’ll continue to salve but not solve our big social challenges."

Note: An earlier version of this article inadvertently left out the Duke Endowment as one of the general partners in the collaborative.

Send an email to Nicole Wallace.