Slate 60 Could Reward Biggest and Best
Slate, the daily on-line magazine, picked up and executed a brilliant idea when they launched a list of the world's top donors more than ten years ago. (See the 2007 list here.) According to an intro to the list that Slate's David Plotz wrote in 2006:
The Slate 60 attempts to fuse two essential but conflicting aspects of the American character: generosity and competitiveness. So, it's not surprising that the inspiration for the list came from a man rich in both qualities, Ted Turner. In 1996, editor Michael Kinsley was struck by remarks Turner made in an interview with Maureen Dowd: The CNN founder bemoaned the influence of the list of richest Americans, saying it discouraged the wealthy from giving away their money for fear of slipping down the rankings. Turner suggested that a list of charitable contributions could inspire rich Americans to compete in a more beneficial way.
Unfortunately, the Slate 60 60 has not always been a source for such innovation. Americans are far more clever about making their money than about giving it away. The >Slate60 chronicles tons of monogrammed university giving - endowing an already plush school with the Daddy S. Warbucks School of Business. (In each year of the Slate 60, more than half of donors have signed checks to universities.) And plenty of donors make the list by leaving their
art collection to the Metropolitan Museum or local equivalent.
While Slate's effort may not have advanced the cause of fusing generosity and competitiveness, I wonder if they might not consider refining their ranking in ways that might. Could they, for instance, slice and dice the list to advance donors who are meeting unmet need, whose efforts are characterized by "experts" as innovative, or who systematically capture and communicate data that demonstrates the impact of their efforts?
I'm not saying it would be easy to create such an approach but the instinct is so right on. What if there was some way to publicly encourage major donors to reconsider that multi-million dollar contribution to an endowment campaign because, as former Slate senior editor Michael Kinsley said of Seattle's cyber-rich philanthropists on a Lehrer news segment, "They want their homeless shelter to be better than anyone else's."
Gates, et al, are changing the rules of the game and philanthropic strategy is a discipline coming to the fore. It makes sense that Slate would capture that emerging gestalt in ways that advance the dialogue.