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Barron’s recently released its list of the world’s top high-impact givers. These philanthropists focus their donated dollars on addressing root causes of social and environmental problems, thereby having a greater, more long-term effect than simply treating the symptoms.

But it doesn’t require billions – or millions – to be a more effective giver. You and your small business or giving circle can also have an impact that goes far beyond the dollar amount you invest. For example, $65 to Save the Children can educate a girl in an undeveloped country for a year. According to Save the Children, “Statistics show that girls with a good education delay premature marriage and childbirth and provide better nutrition and education for themselves and their children later on.”

The following philanthropists have developed high-impact strategies that lead to impressive results and inspire all of us to think strategically about our giving plans.

“The first thing is in your own community, and then take the next step in poor countries.”
– Bill Gates
Philanthropist Claim to Fame Mission and Strategy Mega-Impact Results
1. Pierre and Pam Omidyar Omidyar Network Founder of Ebay Invests in businesses and nonprofits that aim for social change. A $100 million fund established at Tufts University is set to produce $1 billion in microloans in developing countries while also turning a profit for Tufts.
2. Jeff Skoll
Skoll Foundation
Ebay’s second employee Awards unrestricted three-year grants to 59 entrepreneurial groups trying to build a more peaceful and prosperous world. One of this year’s grant recipients has trained armies of large rats to sniff for landmines in Africa.
3. Chris and Jamie Cooper-Hohn
The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
Chris is manager of one of Britain’s largest activist hedge funds Much of the fund’s profits and fees are directed into a foundation run by Chris’ wife Jamie, now totaling $2.5 billion in assets. The foundation uses various leveraging techniques, such as aiming to save kids by saving their mothers.
4. Eli & Edythe Broad
The Broad Foundations
Created two Fortune 500 companies: KB Home and SunAmerica, Inc. Develops programs for causes that no one else is pursuing. Projects include: a lending library to galleries and museums; training superintendents to run more efficient schools; funding young doctors’ medical research.
5. Thomas Siebel
The Meth Project
Tech billionaire Funded a massive anti-methamphetamine ad campaign in Montana (2,000 billboards across the state, 61,000 TV spots) to warn teens about the drug’s devastating effects. Montana dropped from its No. 5 ranking in the U.S. for meth abuse to No. 39. Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Colorado and Hawaii have replicated the program, with more states to come.
6. Donna & Philip Berber
A Glimmer of Hope Foundation
Founded online trading firm CyBerCorp, which he sold to Charles Schwab Seeks to help Ethiopians lift themselves out of poverty through Integrated Rural Development. To date, they have financed 3,600 water wells, 400 schools and 6,500 microloans, reaching an estimated two million Ethiopians.
7. Bill & Melinda Gates
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Co-founder and chairman of Microsoft Corporation; now dedicated to his foundation full-time. World’s largest foundation with $34 billion in assets, with ambitious aims such as an AIDS vaccine. Impressive results in the areas of global health, poverty and development, and education. Malaria cases have declined by 50% in many parts of the world.
8. Paul Tudor Jones II
Robin Hood Foundation
Chairman and CEO, Tudor Investment Corporation Raises money to help address the overlapping issues facing New York’s poorest. Developed precise metrics for determining most effective programs.
9. Helen and Swanee Hunt
Women Moving Millions
Daughters of Texas oil mogul H.L. Hunt Harnesses the power of other wealthy women to help women’s causes ranging from basic health to job training. Launched in Nov. 2007, the organization had raised more than $176 million by April 2009.
10. Richard Branson
Virgin Unite
British industrialist Takes an entrepreneurial approach; e.g., in 2006 pledged all his profits from transportation businesses over the next 10 years, estimated at $3 billion, to developing green energy. His Carbon War Room rewards individuals and scientists for coming up with new ways to control global warming.
11. John Wood
Room to Read
Former Microsoft executive Strives to break the cycle of poverty through childhood education. Its programs have reached more than three million children and distributes a new book every three minutes.
12. Arpad Busson
ARK: Absolute Return for Kids
London-based financier Focused on meeting strategic goals in the areas of HIV/AIDS (South Africa, Mozambique), Education (UK, India) and Children in Care (Eastern Europe). The group has freed 1,700 kids in Eastern Europe from institutionalized care, and ensured that 50,000 children of AIDS patients in South Africa can attend school.
13. Bill & Hillary Clinton
William J. Clinton Foundation
Former U.S. president/ current U.S. secretary of state Develops partnerships through the Clinton Global Initiative, challenging governments, business, academics and other leaders to develop innovative solutions to lingering problems. Provided schooling for 10 million children, safe drinking water for 12 million, and a reduction of 40 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide emissions.
14. Jane Rosenthal, Craig Hatkoff & Robert De Niro
Tribeca Film Festival
Three filmmakers Founded in 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan through an annual celebration of film, music and culture. The first festival, in 2003, generated an estimated $50 million for local merchants. The event has now drawn 2.3 million moviegoers to the downtown neighborhood.
15. Jimmy Carter
The Carter Center
Former U.S. president Champions global peace and human rights; seeks to eradicate treatable diseases. Monitors elections in more than 70 different nations; helped farmers double or triple grain production in 15 African countries; helped nearly eradicate Guinea worm disease.
16. Sunil Mittal
Bharti Foundation
Founder of Bharti Group, India’s largest telecom company Leverages partnerships with IBM, Vodafone, Oracle and others to spread the country’s economic gains to more of the population. Opened more than 200 so far, training teachers and setting up libraries nearby.
17. Brad Pitt
Make It Right Foundation
Actor Donated toward 150 new low-income homes in the New Orleans area hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina. The homes feature innovative design and green technology; the template is now being used by other foundations and governments
18. John Fisher
The KIPP Foundation
Founder of Gap stores Seeks to reenergize America’s public school systems Launched 82 free schools in 19 states, mostly in inner cities. Gave critical seed money to Teach for America, which sends college grads into the poorest school districts.
19. George Soros
Open Society Institute
Hungarian-born hedge fund manager Has championed nonviolent democratization since the 1970s and operates via a strong network of governments, organizations and individuals around the world. Helped spark the nation of Georgia’s democracy, financed college scholarships for black students in South Africa and donated $100 million to cushion the impact of the economic crisis on Central and Eastern Europe
20. Howard G. Buffett
Howard G. Buffett Foundation
Warren Buffet’s eldest son A farmer himself, Howard Buffett has been a leader in helping displaced African farmers return to their homes and resume work in areas like Kenya, Somalia and Darfur. Funded Global Water Initiative for crucial, rural water-projects in 13 countries.
21. Earvin “Magic” Johnson
The Magic Johnson Foundation
Former basketball star; currently a corporate endorser Having tested positive for the HIV virus in 1991, Johnson leveraged his celebrity to help lessen the stigma attached to an HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Foundation has provided free testing to more than 38,000 Americans in 16 major cities.
22. Marcos de Moraes
Zip Educação/Instituto Rukha 
Brazilian business mogul Helps eradicate child labor and addresses issues of violence through humane developmental programs for youth and their families. Of those children targeted, 97% of have effectively stopped working and 93% are enrolled in school.
23. Jennifer and Peter Buffett
NoVo Foundation  
Peter is Warren Buffet’s second son Focuses on helping women and girls in developing nation. One of the foundation’s microfinance initiatives funneled $3 million in grants to 14,000 Bangladeshi girls, helping them start businesses.
24. William Barron Hilton
Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
Hotelier Has directed that 97% of his wealth, or approximately $2 billion, will be left to the foundation, to be routed to a number of small, high-impact causes. Foundation’s programs include supplying sewing machines to nuns to run vocational training in Vietnam, educating disabled toddlers across the U.S., and providing housing for homeless, mentally ill individuals in Los Angeles.
25. David and Cheryl Duffield
Maddie’s Fund 
Founded PeopleSoft Inc., a human resource and CRM software company, now owned by Oracle Corp. Named after Duffield’s miniature schnauzer, finds homes for some 70,000 dogs and cats each year and fights euthanasia at shelters. Launched a program at Cornell University that trains veterinary students in medical practices for animal shelters.

 – LuAnne Speeter


Small businesses are notoriously generous and they often don’t receive the credit. While large corporations tend to get the press for their philanthropy, they in fact contributed only 5% of the $307 billion donated in 2008.* Individual donations amounted to 75% of total dollars donated, and much of that was from small business owners.

But large corporations are strategic in how much they give and who they give to – they have to be, in order to accommodate budgets, boards of directors, compliance parameters and more. Small companies, on the other hand, usually don’t have a philanthropic mission and goals in place, making unplanned donations out of compassion to solicitors. And while those donations may not seem like a lot at the time, they can add up to a large percentage of your bottom line.

If you’re a small business owner, would you be more strategic with your giving if you knew how profound of an impact you could have?

The Center for High Impact Philanthropy, a department of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, recently released a guide for donors who want to ensure their dollars produce maximum results. “High Impact Philanthropy in the Downturn” focuses on three areas of need that are most critically affected by the recession:

  • Housing: preventing foreclosures
  • Health: sustaining primary and preventive programs
  • Hunger: ensuring access to food

This well-researched, evidence-based guide gives specific solutions to the need areas, the impact the donation amounts would have, and the real costs that are incurred by individuals and our society without the donations.

For example, one solution to the foreclosure problem is to provide homeowners with access to nonprofit housing counselors. In order to keep a client at risk of foreclosure in his or her home for at least 12 months, it would cost between $300 and $3,800 for effective counseling.

However, compare this to the costs of a single foreclosure: up to $34,000 in municipal costs, a reduction of $7,200 on average in property values of neighboring homes, and a rise in violent crime at a rate of 2.33% per percentage point increase in the neighborhood’s foreclosure rate. Add to that the direct costs to the individual and, indirectly, society – increased risk of homelessness, financial distress, stress and mental illness and loss of learning and development in children.

As you put together a giving strategy for 2010 – as a business or as an individual – think about those areas that can deliver the greatest impact. Where to put your money is as important as, if not more important than, how much you give.


– LuAnne Speeter

Imagine investing in community improvement – while your money stays put in your bank account! That’s what you’re doing when you stash your cash in a community development financial institution (CDFI).

A CDFI is a financial institution whose primary mission is to provide credit, capital and financial services to individuals and businesses in underserved communities. Nationwide, there are more than 1,000 CDFIs that operate as banks, credit unions, loan funds or venture capital companies. You can find them in every state, serving both rural and urban communities.

In 2007 alone, CDFIs have*

  • Leveraged $621 million with private investments.
  • Opened more than 800 accounts for the previously unbanked.
  • Financed the construction or rehabilitation of more than 4,000 affordable housing units.
  • Financed businesses that created or maintained nearly 30,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

While CDFIs have been around for many years, they’re needed now more than ever to enable growth in communities that would otherwise not have access to financial services. Some of the many success stories CDFIs have brought their communities include:

If you’re considering a CDFI for a personal or business account, you can search by state or “impact sector,” such as small business or housing, at It’s a good idea to check’s Safe & Sound ratings to ensure the CDFI you choose merits at least three stars.


– LuAnne Speeter

Have you had the privilege of working with a business that provides exceptional service in an ethical and socially responsible manner? Well, not only can you patronize the company – and provide valuable referrals – you can also go to the next level by nominating it for an award.

A number of programs recognize businesses that go the extra mile through corporate volunteerism and charitable contributions, as well as demonstrate a high level of ethics, community leadership and professional integrity. While recognition programs are not usually a motivation to act in an ethical manner, they can reward businesses by helping them retain customers, attract new clients and recruit quality employees. Even more important, recognition programs remind businesses that they can make a real difference in our communities.

The following are a few recognition programs that express appreciation for the positive impact of Minnesota’s businesses:

The Jefferson Awards were founded in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard as a national recognition program for individual and corporate volunteerism.  Beginning in 2008, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal teamed up with the Wilmington, Del.-based program to present awards to Twin Cities businesses for their outstanding public and community service. This year, 12 companies received the award – one per month – and will be honored at a reception at the Hotel Ivy in Minneapolis on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

The Minnesota Keystone Program recognizes and honors companies that donate at least 2% of their pre-tax earnings to the community.  The program was begun over 30 years ago and is offered through the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. It also serves as the basis for Minnesota Business Gives, a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiative. Businesses that enroll in the Keystone Program can choose to participate without public recognition. In-kind donations can be considered in the calculations, and closely held businesses can include personal as well as business donations. See worksheet for more information about calculations.

Now going into its 11th year, the Better Business Bureau Integrity Awards are presented to companies in Minnesota and North Dakota that have demonstrated a commitment to conducting daily business operations in an ethical manner. The BBB invites nominations by individuals who feel a company has shown an exceptional degree of ethics. Nominees are then categorized according to company size, based on number of employees. A panel of independent volunteer business and community leaders reviews the entries and decides on the winners.

Minnesota Business Ethics Award was established in 1999 by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures at the University of St. Thomas. The MBEA Program seeks to raise the standards for business ethics in Minnesota and to recognize businesses that reflect the highest standards of ethical performance.  Like the BBB’s Integrity Awards Program, MBEA recipients are selected based on company size. A business may be nominated for an award by a customer, client, employee, vendor or a private citizen who is impressed with a company’s ethical business conduct. Local finalists may also move on to compete at the national level.

– LuAnne Speeter

When it comes to charitable giving, most of us assume that corporations and foundations carry the load. However, according to the Giving Institute/Giving USA Foundation, 75% of the $307 billion contributed in 2008 came from individuals and 7% from bequests. Corporations and foundations provided 5% and 13% of charitable contributions, respectively.

Individuals tend to be even more generous when they take part in an increasingly popular phenomenon known as “giving circles.”

A giving circle is a social group in which individual participants pool their donations and decide together where the money should be distributed. A study released in May 2009, “The Impact of Giving Together,” shows that those within a giving circle tend to contribute more than if they were to give on their own. Giving circles exert significant influence in other ways, as well. According to the study:

  • Giving circle participants are more strategic about cause selections. Members put more effort into researching organizations and give toward a specified vision for change.
  • They have a more long-term perspective and are more likely to make multi-year gifts.
  • Members give to a broader array of causes, especially those that support women, ethnic and minority groups, the arts and culture, neighborhood development, advocacy and international aid.
  • Giving circle members also express a stronger sense of civic responsibility, channeling their energies into community involvement and changing government policies.
  • Participants gain a greater understanding of philanthropy and the issues that nonprofits face in serving their constituencies.
  • They believe they have better leverage in affecting change in the community, that giving can have a positive impact on the health of the community, and government should do something to reduce income differences.

If you’re interested in starting your own giving circle, start by researching through the Minnesota Council on Foundations or your own regional resource. Make it your primary goal to help foster a greater level of commitment from members, thereby increasing your ability to influence positive results. Also, think about the size of the group; larger groups tend to focus more on the strategic giving aspects, whereas smaller circles value civic engagement and volunteerism.

– LuAnne Speeter

When was the last time you read a money-advice article that didn’t start out with the words, “In these tough economic times”? That phrase makes it sound like we just need to trudge through this; it assumes we’ll eventually return to the good old days of relative abundance.

In reality, though, life going forward may be quite different, and that will greatly affect our charitable giving.

The “new economy” will require us all to redefine abundance. We may never return to the days when we had the discretionary dollars that allowed us to merely skim from the top in order to feed a substantial giving portfolio. From now on, we may need to form new guidelines for giving by examining our lifestyle and deciding “how much is enough?” – and “how much is more than enough?”

Minnesota’s nonprofits are redefining themselves in the new economy, too. Dealing with the effects of rising unemployment, tighter household budgets and reduced government assistance, many of the state’s charitable programs are cutting their budgets and staff, and consolidating efforts. Others are being forced to dissolve, leaving the most vulnerable in our communities with fewer resources.

As a result, our donated dollars are more necessary than ever.

You can still be an effective giver in this economy – it just may require you to be more strategic in your philanthropy. Talk to your financial advisor and tax professional about how to make the most of your donation. Ask how to better time your gifts, which assets to select, and if you should consider a trust fund (such as a charitable remainder trust or charitable lead trust) or a donor-advised fund.

Nov. 17 is Give to the Max Day!

Minnesota’s new online giving Web site,, makes giving to your favorite charities easier than ever. And on Nov. 17, 2009, every donation made through the site will receive a portion of a $500,000 match by The Saint Paul Foundation, Minneapolis Foundation and Bush Foundation. Donations must be $10 or more and paid online through the site to be eligible. Learn more about making your donation more effective on Nov. 17.

– LuAnne Speeter

Chances are, you started up a corporate giving program because you care about one or more causes and want to make a difference – whether your goal is to help eradicate a disease, provide a warm meal or shelter for those in need, or clean up the environment. Just participating may seem to be reward enough, but measuring and promoting your program’s effectiveness is a wise business strategy.

There are a number of stakeholders who will benefit by learning the program’s results:

  • The partnering nonprofit organization
  • The individuals who are the end recipients of donations and volunteer efforts
  • Your employees
  • Your board of directors
  • Your customers who contribute to your cause program
  • Community members

Promoting the results gives a positive boost to all those involved and encourages ongoing effort.  It also enables you to make adjustments during the process to better reach your goals, and to help you assess at year’s end whether to continue the cause relationship.

First, decide what you want your corporate giving program to accomplish, and then which metrics are important to track. Consider the following areas:

Donations and donors

Generate enthusiasm by setting a financial goal and a timeline. In many cases, the nonprofit organization can help you determine your first year’s goal based on your company size. For subsequent years, develop a stretch goal that exceeds the previous year.  Track online donations through a dedicated landing page on your Web site, or through sites such as Keep counts of noncash donations, such as number of toys donated to Toys For Tots or pounds of nonperishable items for food shelves.

Corporate growth and brand perception

Determine how much your company revenue and brand reputation is benefiting from your cause promotion by gathering a variety of metrics and other information, such as:

  • Leads generated from cause marketing efforts tracked through unique toll-free numbers, URLs or “how heard” questions
  • Sales trend (over  five years, if possible)
  • Share value trend (over five years)
  • Customer testimonials
  • Focus groups and customer surveys on brand perception

Employee satisfaction, loyalty and recruitment

According to the 2009 Corporate Citizenship Study, 56% of survey respondents believe that working for a socially responsible employer makes a difference. Determine the effects of your corporate social responsibility program by measuring the following:

  • Employee satisfaction through surveys conducted before the program’s initiation and annually thereafter
  • Annual contribution of employee volunteer time, five-year trend
  • Employee growth, five-year trend
  • Employee retention, five-year trend

Include the above results in your annual report or as a separate corporate social responsibility report. Round out hard data with testimonials from a representative of your nonprofit partner organization, customers, employees and community members.

– LuAnne Speeter

Related post: Enrich the lives of your employees with socially responsible efforts

Maybe it’s shyness, humility or simply Minnesota Nice. But many small business owners around the state are keeping the good they do for charity to themselves. Whether they’ve contributed a check, a percentage of annual sales or employee volunteer hours, some companies never get the word out to the public.

That’s a shame.

By being quiet, you could be depriving your cause. Your donation is only a portion of the potential benefits your chosen charity will derive from your partnership. If you really want to maximize your effectiveness, take on the role as ambassador. That means you could:

  • Show photos of your volunteers in action on your Web site, on your company’s Facebook page or in your newsletter.
  • Include the cause’s logo on your home page and add your commitment, such as “2% of every dollar you spend with us is donated to help [cause name] achieve its goals.”
  • Display your cause’s logo with photos at point-of-sale locations.
  • Talk about your cause – world of mouth is the most powerful influencer.
  • Submit press releases about your cause partnership to local newspapers. Increase the odds of it being picked up by including a human interest story, too.

Minnesota businesses are generous. According to a 2002 survey of 595 companies conducted through Building Business Investment in Community,* the vast majority of businesses make cash contributions to their favorite charities:

Business size by # of employees

% of businesses making cash contributions









In addition, many companies donate products, sponsor scholarships and events, contribute employee hours to school and community projects, and serve on nonprofit or agency boards. Add more impact to your generosity and dedication. Tell the community about your partnership, give information about the cause and provide others with a way to contribute, too.

*A project of the Minnesota Council on Foundations, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and 12 Minnesota business and philanthropic organizations.

– LuAnne Speeter

Many charitable organizations make donating to their causes as easy for consumers as purchasing from a favorite online vendor. You’ve probably seen the “Donate Now” buttons on pop-up windows for a merchant’s charity or on e-mail messages from politicians.

A new program – – is set to launch on Nov. 2 and will enable participating charities in Minnesota to not only provide online donation capabilities, but a number of other features to facilitate giving. For example, donors can search for a charity based on type of cause – such as an animal shelter or free clinic – or by location. Plus, donors can track their donations to various charities in one location, making reporting easier at tax time.

Better still, gives donors the tools to generate group giving through social media sites, such as Facebook. And, depending on the charity, you’ll be able to designate how your donation will be used.

While is directed to individual donors, it can easily be adapted for use by business owners, too. For example, consider sending an e-mail blast to your customers specifically to promote a cause – preferably one that is rooted in your community – and include a donation button. Draw readers in by explaining your personal commitment to the cause or tell the story of an individual whose life could be made better by your customers’ support. Begin a Facebook page dedicated to the cause to track the donations and invite your customers to share their thoughts or experiences. 

With the holiday season and end-of-year giving nearly upon us, now is the perfect time to select a cause for your business. Online giving makes it easy to launch a fundraising program and generate support that could make a real difference in your community.

– LuAnne Speeter

If your company’s social responsibility program includes volunteerism, it can have tremendous impact not only on the community, but also on your company and employees.

How the community benefits

  • Increased access to resources
  • Improved health and welfare
  • Enhanced economic development
  • Community needs are addressed

How your company benefits

  • Enhanced reputation
  • Increased product/service awareness
  • Raised productivity
  • Improved staff satisfaction and retention

How your employees benefit

  • Increased community awareness/involvement
  • Heightened employee satisfaction
  • Acceleration of professional development
  • Opportunities for leadership
  • Improved attitude and outlook 
Source: Corporate Volunteerism Council – Twin Cities

But what motivates employees to offer their time and skills to a charitable cause? The answer may surprise you.

In past years, personal recognition was the primary motivation for corporate volunteering, according to LBG Associates, the firm that launched the study involving more than 8,000 employees in 36 companies. However, the latest study, conducted from late 2008 to early 2009, showed the following:

When it comes to recognition, employees rank “a donation made to my charity when I volunteer” highest among all other forms of recognition.

When asked to rank the reasons they volunteer, employees listed the following on a 1-5 scale, with 5 as “very important”:

  • The cause is important to me personally (4.35)
  • Community organizations are experiencing financial hardship (3.61)
  • My volunteering results in a donation for the organization from my company (3.53)
  • The cause is important to my company (3.35)
  • The charity came to the company to talk about what they do for the community (3.08)

When you’re selecting a charitable organization and you want maximum participation from your employees:

  1. Start by looking at several options that are relevant to the majority of your employees’ interests and skill sets.
  2. Choose venues that are local and easily accessible.
  3. Ask employees to vote among the charities and go with the most popular choice(s).

– LuAnne Speeter


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