Melissa Stevens
Executive Director, Center for Strategic Philanthropy
Health and Medical Research and Philanthropy
Melissa Stevens is the executive director of the Milken Institute's Center for Strategic Philanthropy. The Center for Strategic Philanthropy works to maximize return on philanthropic investment by ensuring that innovation used to address one social issue is translated to another, best practices and metrics guide new and existing giving programs,...
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#GivingTuesday 2016: A Guide on How to Give Smarter

By: Melissa Stevens
November 29, 2016

Today we celebrate the fifth Giving Tuesday and the second since the Center for Strategic Philanthropy (CSP) was launched in April 2015. Since 2012, #GivingTuesday has captured the world’s imagination and harnessed the power of social media as a force for good. In 2015 alone, it raised $116 million from over 700,000 people in 70+ countries. Given that it raised just $10 million in 2012, #GivingTuesday has yielded astronomical year-over-year growth, and 2016 is expected to be even bigger.   

One of the more charming #GivingTuesday “traditions” is the #UNselfie, where thousands of people from hundreds of organizations turn narcissism on its head to raise awareness for foundations like the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the UN Foundation, one of the original founders of #GivingTuesday. Given that Black Friday 2016 has already smashed 2015 records and Cyber Monday is expected to do the same, it is only fitting that #GivingTuesday 2016 should also be stellar. Unselfie

Giving Trends in 2016

#GivingTuesday also offers us the opportunity for year-end reflection about the state of philanthropy in the U.S. and around the world. One major trend that we have observed here at CSP is the significant uptick in philanthropic gifts pledged to medical research. The year isn’t even over, and we already count at least $3.35 billion pledged. By contrast, our best estimate for 2015 was $569 million.

We suspect that 2016 is anomalous, given that the total is comprised almost completely of three major gifts from big name donors: Paul Allen who pledged $100 million in March; Sean Parker who pledged $250 million in April; and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which pledged $3 billion in September.

Anomaly or not, we are thrilled to see that some of the world’s smartest and most innovative philanthropists are choosing to invest their philanthropic dollars in medical research. CSP counsels philanthropists, family offices, wealth advisors and foundations seeking to make transformative philanthropic investments. Medical research is an area where philanthropic capital (vs. government or commercial capital) can have a significant return on investment and an outsized impact. Specifically, philanthropy can be used to:

  • Deploy capital to de-risk early stage assets for follow-on funders;
  • Invest in research tools (animal models, biomarkers, etc.) to better understand disease progression and efficacy of therapies;
  • Build patient registries and clinical-trials networks to ensure enrollment of patients at the right time;
  • Support nonprofits and patient advocates in conversations with drug makers, payers, and regulators about expectations and evidence needed for decision-making; and,
  • Create incentives for team funding and support early-career scientists.

Smarter Giving in Scientific Research: Meeting Unmet Needs

Earlier this month, at the Partnering for Cures Conference, in partnership with our sister organization, FasterCures, we released our 11th Giving Smarter Guide (GSG), "Funding Scientific Research."

With support from Apex Foundation, FasterCures and the Center for Strategic Philanthropy analyzed current and best practices for funding scientific research, which included interviews with foundation leaders, philanthropy advisers and government stakeholders. In the "Funding Scientific Research," we help donors map out a pathway for defining their philanthropic priorities and aligning them with the unmet needs of a research field and the existing funding ecosystem, and effectively deploying the capital to universities and research institutions.

The report provides entry points into funding research primarily conducted in an academic or medical setting. Written for individual philanthropists and foundations who may be new to scientific research, the report walks the reader through the process with a series of questions and key takeaways.

FSR Outline2

1. What are my philanthropic goals?
- Understand the stages of scientific research (from basic science to clinical trials) and how they align with your goals.
- Create a well-defined vision, mission, strategy and objective to guide your philanthropy, and also clearly and consistently communicate your interests to the scientific research community and relevant stakeholders.

2. What is the current state of the research and who are existing supporters of research?
- Identify potential research partners — from academics, nonprofits and industry — in the disease research ecosystem to help determine the research gaps your philanthropy can address.
- Given the state of research, what award mechanisms can I use to achieve my goals?
- Explore which mechanism — a university-directed gift or a sponsored-research award — is right for you.
- Tailor the award to focus on the specific research gaps, such as scientific unknowns, segments of the research workforce or research infrastructure to enhance the capabilities of the entire research ecosystem.

3. How do I find research proposals?
- Craft a Request for Proposals (RFP) to communicate your strategic priorities to the wider research community and highlight the research questions and objectives you wish to address.
- Widely disseminate your RFP to maximize the number of proposals addressing your specific research question.
- How do I judge the merit and potential of a submitted proposal?
- Consider both the quality and merit of proposals, as well as the ability of the researcher to complete the work successfully.

4. Engage disease research experts as part of the review and selection process.
- How do I write a research grant agreement?
- Upon identifying the proposal you wish to fund, craft a grant agreement, the legal document that outlines the terms, conditions and goals of the grant.
- Effective communication with the grantee and research institution is critical to advancing your foundation’s stated mission and strategy.

5. How do I monitor a research award?
- Progress and final grant reports are key checkpoints of the funding process, and should capture the roadblocks and proposed solutions of the awarded project.

6. How do I measure success?
Measuring the success of awarded grants involve both tangible and intangible impact metrics.
- Tangible metrics include fruitful collaborations and follow-on funding, as well as research infrastructure development and workforce directly supported by the award.
- Intangible metrics include the development of new and innovative thinking for the field, and whether the work demonstrates the kind of scientific ambassadorship your foundation wishes to project.

Throughout the report, we also highlight standout examples of philanthropic support for scientific research. These cases range from a focus on original research that doesn't rely on existing data by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, workforce development by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to a collaborative project review and modification model employed by the Jain Foundation.

We welcome all feedback on this Giving Smarter Guide for Funding Scientific Research, and we hope that it can prove useful to funders— big and small — as they embark on funding scientific research of all sorts, medical or otherwise. Effective giving is by far the best giving — another charming #GivingTuesday tradition that works all year round. Happy #GivingTuesday 2016 to all!