How to Give Your Fortune Away

You write a check to charity, but does it really make a difference? Enter the team of Penn researchers cracking the code on what kind of giving works best. (Surprise: It’s not always what you think)

ENTER KAT ROSQUETA and her millionaires. A Philadelphia native, Rosqueta, a petite 42-year-old woman with a short black bob, graduated from Yale, then went to work for more than a decade in community development and venture philanthropy in San Francisco. “I got tired of people telling me nonprofits had to be more business-like,” she says, sitting in CHIP’s singularly unimpressive offices on the Penn campus, in a Frank Furness-designed twin on Walnut Street. (No high overhead here.) “I wanted to understand the tools and vocabulary that help businesses succeed.” So she went to Wharton and got an MBA. She served for five years as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, helping businesses strategize and reorganize, but she was always thinking about social-impact work. While she was on maternity leave with her second child, she got wind of something starting up at Penn. EEventually, she signed on as founding executive director of that “something,” which turned into CHIP, part of Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice.

The original founders, who are determined to remain anonymous, chose three areas on which to focus: U.S. education, disadvantaged populations in the U.S., and global health and development. Using just over $1 million in funding from the founders, funds from social-change drivers like the Ford Foundation, and fees charged for seminars and workshops, Rosqueta and the team she assembled—five staffers and another five or so student researchers—weed out what works and what doesn’t in effecting change in those sectors and how much it costs.

Early on, CHIP conducted in-depth interviews with dozens of high-net-worth philanthropists on where and why they give. Most, like Reese, had made their money in finance. They listed peers as their most trusted sources of information on giving; they said they wanted to be involved in causes beyond merely writing checks. “They wanted to give more,” says Rosqueta, “but they weren’t confident it wouldn’t be wasted. They wanted to know more, but they didn’t have time to do the work themselves.” CHIP used their input to develop its methodology.

Take the issue of malaria—a persistent global health challenge, according to physician Carol McLaughlin, CHIP’s research director for global public health. The disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, kills a million people worldwide every year, and causes one in five child deaths in Africa—one every 30 seconds. McLaughlin and her team analyzed all the research they could find on preventing and treating malaria—random-controlled studies, quasi-experimental studies, government reports, NGO reports. They talked to experts around the world who work in malaria treatment and prevention—research scientists, physicians, nurses, clinic staff: “We look for people who know the sickness well and have been in the field for years.” They also got down to the grassroots, researching communities affected by malaria. They were searching for preventive models that were proven to work.

“All the data showed that deaths occur when a community doesn’t have access to doctors or clinics,” McLaughlin says. So her team next looked at models that have successfully reached isolated populations in various countries. Then they talked to nonprofits and government agencies that use such models and calculated: What did they require in terms of money, staffing, government support? How many children were reached? How many children were saved? What did that mean for the health of the community? In other words: What impact was achieved, and how much did it cost?

All this digging and analysis makes sense, because big bucks are at stake. In 2007, charitable giving in the U.S. topped $300 billion for the first time, a level that has survived the downturn. And when donors give to organizations and programs that don’t get results, it can be tragic. In the 1990s, the Annenberg Education Challenge frittered away half a billion dollars in a hodgepodge of unsuccessful attempts at improving U.S. schools. Nobody wants to see that happen again.