After steering the world’s richest foundation for the past five years, Jeff Raikes
is now taking on an even bigger job: improving the effectiveness of philanthropy as a whole.
An unprecedented amount of money is expected to flow into charitable pursuits over the coming decades, the outgoing CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said in an interview last
week. “I think the question we all have to ask ourselves is: Will that money be well-spent on behalf of society?”
With its emphasis on metrics and measurable results, the Gates Foundation introduced a bottom-line mindset to improving the health and financial well-being of the world’s poorest people. Now Raikes would like to see that approach applied more widely.
“In business, there’s a lot of work and a lot of resources that go into determining what is more efficient and effective,” he said. “In comparison, there’s not much that goes into philanthropy.”
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Raikes will step down from the Gates Foundation on April 30. His successor is University of California, San Francisco Chancellor Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellmann, a biotech expert and the foundation’s first leader with no Microsoft ties.
Raikes was new to global health and development when his old friends Bill and Melinda Gates picked him to lead their $36 billion foundation in 2008. But he shared the Gateses’ data-driven sensibility, honed during 27 years at Microsoft, where he rose to leadership of the profitable Office division.
Raikes guided the foundation through a recession and a period of explosive growth, with the number of employees nearly doubling to about 1,200. He also oversaw a major reorganization, during which the foundation focused more tightly on priorities like child and maternal health and eradication of polio and malaria.
Raikes said his varied experiences give him a “unique perspective on some of the things that can generally help raise the level of quality of philanthropy.”
He doesn’t have a specific niche in mind yet but has been conferring with universities and other philanthropists about how best to approach the problem.
Charitable giving is expected to swell through 2050, as baby boomers pass on their wealth to their children — and their favorite causes.
Tom Tierney, chairman of the Bridgespan Group, which advises nonprofits, estimates that the amount of money going to foundations and other nonprofits in the first half of the 21st century will be 10 times more than that donated during the entire 20th century.
“You’re going to see, in my view, what you might think of as a new breed of philanthropist,” Raikes said.
Unlike the titans of the early 1900s, who generally gave most generously post-mortem, today’s philanthropists are more actively engaged and focused on having an impact during their lifetimes.
That makes foundations — like the Gates Foundation — more willing to take risks to come up with game-changing approaches, Raikes said.
But after several generations have passed, most foundations are run by trustees whose main concern is protecting the institution’s reputation, Raikes said.
“I think active donors will be a very positive catalyst for philanthropy in this century.”
Raikes and his wife, Tricia, are already acting on lessons he learned during his time at the Gates Foundation.
One of the goals of their Raikes Foundation, headquartered near Gas Works Park, is fostering what’s called “student agency”: a mindset that will help middle-schoolers succeed academically.
They started with a systematic survey of research, picked an approach proved to work, and are testing it out in schools and monitoring the results.
“Philanthropy is a journey, and most philanthropists are drawn by their hearts,” Raikes said. “But to be most effective, you have to pair the heart with the mind.”
Sandi Doughton at: 206-464-2491 or firstname.lastname@example.org