Giving Away $100 Million: A Peek Behind the Curtain At Macarthur Foundation
The MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition began as an experiment in openness, in response to criticisms that the philanthropic sector is too insular, not sufficiently focused on impact, and too risk averse. Instead of an introspective process, by which we would decide on an issue or problem as the focus and then design the strategy, we decided to issue a public, open call: “Tell us what problems $100 million can solve, and how.”
We proposed a $100 million grant—large by any standards—to be awarded by a competitive process and to be used over a compressed period, because we believe that there are some categories of problems that can be solved if they receive this kind of focused attention and resources at scale with need. Conversely, there are some problems where that may be less likely to work. (Different problems require different approaches.) We see the value in a diversified portfolio of grantmaking—responsive, strategic, and even “speculative” (the MacArthur Fellows Program invests specifically in individual potential). We also see the value in a diversified portfolio of risk. A single grant of $100 million is admittedly a very risky proposition—but, as our president Julia Stasch has said, “philanthropy is best positioned to provide society’s ‘risk capital’.” . . .