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November 20, 2015

Opinion: What's Behind Top Donors' 'Aspiration Gap'?

In a Forbes blog post, two leaders of a philanthropy consulting firm explore what they term the "aspiration gap" between wealthy donors' goals to effect broad social change in areas such as poverty and education and the actual targets of their most generous giving. William Foster, a partner of the Bridgespan Group, and Gail Perreault, a senior director at the firm, break down research by the firm on major donors' "big bets," which they define as contributions of $10 million or more.

Reviewing public comments by Giving Pledge signers and top donors as ranked by Forbes, Bridgespan found that nearly 80 percent name a "powerful social change goal" among their top priorities, but only 20 percent of their "big bet" gifts from 2000 to 2012 went to such causes. Eighty percent benefited institutions such as universities, hospitals, and cultural facilities.

Mr. Foster and Ms. Perreault analyze reasons behind the gap, including the difficulty of achieving measurable success and the high level of public risk associated with social-change big bets. But they also cite "hopeful signs" of philanthropy tackling challenging problems, such as the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's focus on climate change and criminal-justice reform.

Read a Chronicle of Philanthropy article on the Bridgespan Group report and three charities that have attracted "big bet" donations.