Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Moore learned something, and Gates is being silly

I sat down this evening to write some complimentary things about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation based on an "announcement" from the Chief Operating Officer that was posted on their website a few hours ago. Cheryl Scott made, I thought, some good counterpoints to the nasty L.A. Times articles as well as pointing out how notably transparent the foundation is with both its grantmaking and its investing, which is true and they deserve credit for. Broadly Scott pointed out that choosing pure investments is a lot harder in practice than it seems to people who've never tried to do it, which I have no doubt is true, but I won't try to re-create her words. That doesn't make the issue of investing being aligned with mission go away, nor did Scott suggest that it does.

But now that reply has vanished from their website, gone without a trace. I can't find any cached copies of it online either, wish I'd thought to save it -- if anyone sees a copy, a pointer would be welcome here. This was, earlier today, the URL.

I suppose some public relations expert convinced somebody atop that food chain that any public response to the slanted newspaper articles simply dignifies the latter, or maybe somebody whose last name starts with a G didn't like what Scott said? If so then I think they're wrong but it's their party and they can cry if they want to. Seems a shame though, why not be the adults in contrast to the L.A. Times' adolescent cheap shots?

Regardless of that, I spent some time on their website and confirmed that they are more overtly transparent than almost any other foundation around. They not only have their entire list of grants on the web (which a fair number of foundations are now doing including the one I work for) with annual summary statistics, plus all the basic financials (ditto), they also put their full detailed tax return with all schedules up there -- meaning the complete list of their endowment investments. Which in their case is literally thousands of pages (big PDF files) and not a quick or easy read, but the point is, it's there in full. That's a standard of transparency everyone in this sector should aspire to.

Down the West Coast a ways, fellow dot-com billionaire Gordon Moore has by his own admission had some humbling experiences with his big new foundation. Like Warren Buffett and many others he has learned firsthand that doing philanthropy well is not nearly as easy as successful businessfolk often assume, and he says he's found religion with regard to transparency. Benefit Magazine's writeup is fairly long but worth the read.

1 comment:

sdrone said...

I wouldn't want to manage such a huge investment fund. It becomes virtually impossible to find places to invest money that would a) meet your critera and b)can handle the type of large investment you're going to do.

It's similar to the reasons a huge mutual fund that isn't an index fund often has problems keeping up with market returns.