News and analysis
August 28, 2015

Gordon and Betty Moore Say Science and Measurable Results Should Guide Grants

Susanna Frohman, San Jose Mercury News

Gordon and Betty Moore want their $6.4-billion fund to support efforts that will have a lasting impact and that will attract others to the effort.

Gordon and Betty Moore would like their foundation to choose its battles wisely, sticking to grants that use a scientific approach to make a large, lasting, and measurable difference, the couple announced Friday.

The Moores started their foundation in 2000. Since then, the grant maker has actively supported environmental and conservation projects, scientific research, patient care, and programs in its native San Francisco Bay Area. But Friday’s statement of donors’ intent posted on the grant maker’s website is the first time Mr. Moore, 86, and Ms. Moore, 87, have formally articulated their intentions for giving.

With assets of about $6.4 billion, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is the nation’s ninth largest private philanthropy.

Scientific Approach

Mr. Moore is a Silicon Valley technology pioneer, cofounder of Intel Corporation, and originator of "Moore’s Law," which predicted the rapid growth in the power and speed of computer processors.

Reflecting their technology background, the couple wrote in their statement that scientific methodology should be the "cornerstone" of most of the foundation’s efforts, which will continue to focus on the same broad subject areas it has in the past.

Future leaders of the foundation should make grants based on whether a potential grantee is working on an area of great importance, whether the foundation’s assistance will have a lasting impact, whether the support will result in measurable results, and whether the foundation’s involvement will attract others to the effort, according to the Moores.

They also suggested that when a program fails to produce sufficient results, the foundation’s future leaders should be willing to shift resources to more promising grantees. But doing so should be "carefully considered and deliberate so as not to jerk the grantees around," they wrote.

Setting Limits

The couple cautioned against spending money with "good intentions" on big problems that might be too large and complex for the foundation to make "measurable, durable" improvements, like climate change and K-12 education.

Similarly, health-care grants should be limited to where the foundation can make a unique contribution, and regional grants should be limited to grantees that can demonstrate concrete results, the couple wrote.

They’d like other areas, including the arts, religion, disaster relief, and efforts that promote civil disobedience to be placed off-limits altogether.

Founders’ Intent

The statement, which Mr. Moore shared with staff in May, boosted spirits, according to Harvey Fineberg, who took over as president in October.

"It provided a basis for the entire staff to reacquaint ourselves with the founders’ intent," Dr. Fineberg said.

Sometimes a lack of clarity about a donor’s intent can create legal hassles after a founder dies. The couple’s wishes should be viewed as aspirational rather than as a binding document, said Lloyd Mayer, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School who spoke generally about statements of donor intent and had not seen the Moore document.

"The statement itself is unlikely to have any legal impact," he said.

The Moore’s intent wasn’t to set funding priorities in stone, according to Dr. Fineberg.

Indeed, the couple stressed in the document that foundations sometimes need to adjust to changed circumstances.

"We recognize the world is changing rapidly and that it is impossible to predict very far into the future how it will evolve," they wrote. "In the long run, we are dependent on the wisdom of the trustees to guide the work of the foundation."

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