Making Big Bets for Social Change
Stanford Social Innovation Review | December 23, 2015
The following excerpt has been republished with kind permission from Stanford Social Innovation Review. It was written by William Foster, Gail Perreault, Alison Powell, and Chris Addy.
When Don Fisher stepped down as chief executive of the Gap in the late 1990s, he and his wife Doris decided that they wanted to tackle one of the most difficult social challenges in the United States: improving public education. Through an expert advisor, they learned about the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), which at the time consisted of just two charter middle schools—one in Houston and one in New York City. And after lengthy due diligence, the Fishers committed to giving $15 million over three years (roughly three times the organization's annual revenue at the time) to bring KIPP's results-oriented methods to many more communities and students.
The Fishers bet big, and they bet smart. KIPP schools make a real difference in the lives of their students: the majority of fifth graders enter KIPP with skills below grade level, but they move into high school with above-grade-level skills. KIPP alumni are graduating from college at rates that exceed the national average in all income groups and at more than four times the rate of the average student from a low-income community. In fact, KIPP's success has been a large factor in pushing forward the charter school movement. "Their gift gave us permission to think big," says KIPP CEO Richard Barth. "We would not have 183 schools today if Don hadn't encouraged that kind of thinking."
Many of today's largest donors admire the Fishers' bold commitment and the results it has helped produce. They say that they want to follow suit. A review of the public statements of U.S. donors who have committed to the Giving Pledge and those listed in Forbes 50 Top Givers reveals that 60 percent articulate a powerful social change goal as their dominant philanthropic objective—eliminating disparities in health care, for example, or providing better educational opportunities for people in need. Nearly 80 percent state that such a goal is one of their two or three top priorities.
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